Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Why wrapping a woman in duct tape is not a good way to get people to enrol to vote

Like Deborah, I've been unable to find anything on the American feminist blogs* about the Declare Yourself campaign, and specifically the image of Jessica Alba which I blogged about briefly last night. Have a look at that post if you want to see what I'm talking about; I'm not really interested in reproducing it more than is necessary for discussion.

The rest of the shots used for the campaign show various celebs (many I didn't recognise, I am so not down with the kidz) with their mouths sealed though a variety of methods - sewn, nailed, stapled, stuffed with a bow tie, you get the idea. All have tears tracking down their face, showing their deep sorrow at the silence they suffer.

So I understand the point of the campaign is to encourage young people to enrol to vote. And I know that there seems to be a general belief in Media Land that in order to get through to the youf one has to employ "shock tactics" and be "edgy". But aren't there other ways to be inventive and get cut through that don't involve wrapping an apparently naked woman in duct tape?

The Alba ad seems to be the one the campaign has used to launch their enrolment drive, and it just comes across all wrong to me. When I see an image like that I don't think of electoral matters, I think about domestic violence, the subjugation of women (particularly in some places overseas where the restrictions women face are far more aggressive than in Aotearoa New Zealand), and actually I think about slavery. I would have thought in a country where the history of the civil rights movement, and everything that went with it, is still within living memory, they would have thought a little longer about this, and come to the conclusion that such an image was not a good idea, even if the woman they use is not African American.

I'd love to see the focus group research on this one. I can only assume that they sat a group of young hetero men down in a room, showed them the image, and then asked them if it would encourage them to enrol to vote. Sex sells yet again, seems to be the conclusion they came to. And even better than just sex; sex in which an attractive young woman is tied up, crying and vulnerable. That must sell Christmas to turkeys (or, voter enrolment to the apathetic even).

Finally, the whole campaign completely ignores the fact that actually there are external barriers to voting in the USA. There's the difficulty of enrolling in some states (or indeed staying on the roll), the practical realities of getting some bosses to release workers to cast their vote, the difficulties some people face in making it to a polling booth for reasons of cost, time, childcare, and access. It's not as straight forward as the message "only you can silence yourself" suggests.

P.S. I also noticed that in all but one of the male celeb pics in the gallery you can clearly see that they are clothed. But in all three female shots, guess what?

* I did find this post at Australian team feminist blog The Dawn Chorus.


lauredhel said...

A few people (including me) have been discussing it on Sociological Images.

weka said...

I'm surprised those US feminist blogs haven't picked this up. Have the photos not been out for long?

Less of a surprise is that there was so little discussion at The Standard.

Apathy Jack said...

I dunno, while all your arguments are valid, I didn't actually think of slavery or of gender-based discrimination the first time AI looked at the image.

Sure, I did think about sexual sado-masochism, but most of the people I know who are into that enjoy it in the confines of a monogamous relationship with their partners.

I also note that there's a seemingly naked dude with a ball gag in his mouth and a look of sheer terror on his face. If one was going to be arguing that the Alba pic was inappropriate, one would also want to look at that one for the same reasons.

(Of course, one could point out the sad expression on her face as evidence that she is being abused, but to go too far down that road would lead to arguments like "Look, in the thumbnails Xtina and LaToya's tears don't show up, and their expressions don't really convey sadness. They must enjoy acts of physical horror that would seem graphic even in a slasher movie being performed on their lips..." Which is dumb.)

Meh, either way I'm not trying to start an argument, just pointing out what I noticed. Actually, the main thing I noticed about the Alba pic is that, probably by dint of being the only one not by David LaChapelle, is simply the least visually interesting shot there.

Carol said...

Unfortunately, I think it's possible that some women could have been involved in choosing and/or endorsing that picture.

In recent years I've heard women supporting that kind of image. IMO, it has to do with the widespread marketing of such images so that they have become pretty normalised.

There are items that I have enjoyed reading on The Standard, but generally haven't found them that sussed on gender issues.

Julie said...

Thanks lauredhel for the link, it's good to read what people who know more about this stuff think of it :-)

I was wondering about the pic of the African American with the ball gag, particularly as he's the only man who isn't obviously clothed, but I felt a bit unsure about writing about it as these are celebs but I don't know who he is. Not the best reason for not writing about something, I freely admit! I guess I was a bit nervous that there would be some kind of obvious explanation for his shot, like he's done that in a film or something, that I didn't understand because I have no idea who he is.

weka said...

Julie, comments seem to be disabled in your lastest post (Nerves).

muerk said...

I find these images very disturbing, especially those that involve piercing with bolts, staples etc. Certainly the Alba image has the sexual aspect, and that looks to me about glorifying sexual violence.

Except for the image with the bow-tie, these images are offensively violent.

I found the fish hooks image to be quite sexual as well, the come hither eyes, the mussed bedroom hair, the amount of skin.

The combination of tears, sexual innuendo and violence is unpleasant.