Monday, March 5, 2007
"Reading" the news
Body modifications are in the media every day, and there is not better place to find such daily indications of how the body is to look than in the news: newspapers, online news, etc. I may not read the paper everyday, but I will browse through to read headlines, scan captions, examine the photos, click on photos of the day. Like the television news, news prints have become increasingly visual with pictures taking up more and more room. Images are, as we have all begun to recognize, culturally powerful; they encapsulate an event into a finite moment. At best, a photo can present a whole story, and at worst, they can reinforce negative stereotypes or perpetuate ethnocentric ideas.
Lately, reading the paper, I have become more aware of the pictures I examine. I see subtle messages and influences that dictate to me "how things are." Hearkening Foucault's knowledge/power idea, pictures on the media present cultural ideas as norms, naturalized and inarguable. Scarily, they can transmit powerful ideas to a large group of people or, specifically like the New York Times, to a particular class. In a way, these images police and curb the actions immediately of those who read them and a little bit later on those who interact with the readers. To be fair, I admit to "reading" two forms of print: New York Times (paper) and the BBC News (online news.bbc.org). Both forms of news cater to specific audiences both socioeconomic class defined and regionally defined. I began to read the BBC news when I was studying in London so I could be abreast to European affairs. But the audiences is not what I wish to discuss. The aims of this post is to cause any readers to be wary of what they see.
The news is "objective." The images one sees would never say, "In the Business section, we see men (Asian or white) in suits. This is the appropriate uniform for business people. A business career is typically a male profession." Or better, "In Fashion today, we see more very thin, young, white models. They frail frame makes them the perfect hanger to place clothes upon. This way designers can objectify them so that their clothes are the "true" show and not the people displaying them. She has a dead bird on her head, she is wearing clothes that resemble a garbage bag. This is the image that many young women look up to as the perfection of beauty." No, the messages we read are rather informative. They give a face to the story. To decontextualize the news print images, one must examine with a particularly harsh eye. Not all the images presented are negative. The new Burkini allows women who follow hijab to wear swimwear and be lifeguards. At the same time, the only women shown in this attire are thin and Western perceived as beautiful. Images of "exotic" lands either show colorful happy people in traditional attire or desolate locations with young children wearing torn and dirty Westernized clothes.
Scanning the New York Times for the past week, the only times, I see images of minorities is A) African or African Americans who have passed away, who are playing sports, or who are in court B) Asian males who are in business suits and participating in the stock market C) Asian immigrants who have horrible living conditions. Women are models, mothers, or teachers. I don't think that the reporters use these images to say, "This is how things should be." But to look at them at face value, one can think, "This is how things are. And how can I change this?"
I will post some images, and even post a photo of my own. See what you think. What story can you say about this image. Look beyond the happy faces, the colors, the tears. What is the story really saying. A picture holds within its borders a proverbial 1,000 words. What do you read?