Tagged: media

Visual Culture, Identity & Representations in the Media

Media representation of tattooed individual tend to be limited to dangerous machismo and “otherness”, outlaws and outcasts.

Here are some examples:

Vern Schillinger in HBO TV series Oz (1997-2003) – Aryan brotherhood crime syndicate

Screen Shot 2013-04-10 at 12.56.36 AM

That ’70s Show: Season 3, Episode 22: Eric’s Drunken Tattoo (2001)
The bookish character of Eric get’s a tattoo to prove how masculine and dangerous he is

Psychotic criminal Max in Cape Fear (1991) – classic representation of “other”, machismo and danger

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) represents both outlaw and outcast with her behaviour, her style and her tattoos


Beeler, Karin E. Tattoos, Desire and Violence: Marks of Resistance in Literature, Film and Television. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2006. Print.

Social Identity & Whedon Month

The Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff) played by Scarlett Johansson in the Joss Whedon film: the Avengers (2012)

Interesting expression of fan culture: Joss Whedon Month on Facebook where for the month of April all his fans change their profile pic to one of his characters from his works:




He also has a free webcomic, titled Sugarshock!, a blog and other collaborates in online media.

As a screenwriter, film/television producer, director, comic book author, composer, and actor, influenced by Jean-Paul Sartre and other writers such as Ray Bradbury and Tim Burton his works is pretty extensive and many of his work have attained cult status. He is also the founder of Mutant Enemy Productions and co-founder of Bellwether Pictures.

What I find particularly interesting is the frenzy and loyalty of fans who identify with his characters especially at the multi-genre comic con conventions to the point of living their lives (often in meticulous detail) for a short or long period as their interpretation of one of these characters. Having the icon of your Facebook page is not as involved as “identify performance” – but it could still be seen as a way of extending one’s identity through fan culture.

There are also similar events such as Renaissance festivals and Cosplay conventions where adults dress in fantasy costumes in a way that would be expected of an adolescent  exploring the “possible extensions of self” (Elliot 1986, quoted in Kaiser 1996:162). So what is so intriguing about this type of performative identity for adults? Is this is a way to avoid a horrible reality of a suffering psyche in a way that is less self-harming that crack?, a fetish thing? or just a way to alleviate a dull 9-5 life? or?

Susan B. Kaiser asked the question of whether role-play dress is important “in terms of providing some means for ‘escaping’ from mundane daily routines,that could also be an expression of creativity,” but discovers that there is very little academic literature about this and that too “little is known about fantasy dressing; this is an area with a great deal of potential for contributing to an understanding of creativity and self-expression” (1996:163).

Jen Gunnels has also explored this area and found that the “behavior isn’t necessarily mere escapism”. She argues that “adults engage in costumed role-play to explore an identity that may not be practicable in everyday life”. She also notes the social, and communal nature of such events. For example, she observed members of Generation X  revelling in and comforted by the popculture of their childhood at a Star Wars convention she attended in NYC . Gunnels reasons that “Star Wars helped socialize this generation and may be providing a template for their own parenting, especially because current socioeconomic issues are not dissimilar to those of 1977. In this way, cosplay, as a performed identity, can provide a means of permitting individual agency and social commentary on current and past social stresses.” (2009).

Scholars, such as Joseph Campbell (1968) and Bruno Bettelheim (1991), claim that fairy tales and myth are vehicles for the interpolation of social norms for a society. In our post-modern world, these fairy tales and myths are expressions of popular culture such as films, television programmes and video games. Since these events are particular to industrialized  nations, perhaps this is our contemporary way of re-connecting to old world socialization and interpolation through performance art in the way of Shakespearean theatre or masks and dance used to?

So my questions remain but now I have new ones: Is dressing up as Buffy or Black Widow  perhaps just one of our tribal masks that help us illustrate our society’s meta-narrative?, or could it be a way to resist those narratives and find empowerment in an over-mediated society?…or perhaps it is just about escapism, alleviating boredom and sex?


Bettlelheim, Bruno. (1991). The uses of enchantment: the meaning and importance of fairy tales. New York: Penguin.

Campbell, J. (1968). The masks of God: creative mythology. New York: Viking Press

Gunnels, Jen. (2009). “A Jedi like my father before me”: social identity and the New York Comic Con.Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 3

Kaiser, Susan B. (1996). The social psychology of clothing: Symbolic appearances in context. 2nd ed. New York: Fairchild Books and Visuals.

Oldest Cover Girl Ever and Still Hot

tt vogue

At 74 Tina Turner (aka Anna Mae Bullock) on the cover of Germany’s Vogue magazine has reset some expectations – or has it?

She looks impossibly young for 74, as if gravity or elastogen deterioration were some urban myth – and light, free flowing, straight tresses and a very overall pale golden colour, she looks very different from her photos of the 60s and 70s

Is this cover breaking barriers? Or maintaining the status quo? What is the message to young women? older women? and men? What are the effects on identity?

tt 1975-2010 tina-tur-10tt 1962

Video Games and the Construction of Violent Masculinity

Much of the research I have read on this topic (and I have exhausted myself doing so as I have two children who play video games and one of them is male) suggests no “direct” cause only correlations – in other words it is complicated, and the propensity for violence cannot be blamed on any one factor just like listening to heavy metal music, or reading comic books does not “make” you a sadist however if you already are, you are likely to enjoy the masculine and violent themes of much of that media and the same goes for games like Grand Theft Auto or Doom.

So producers wash their hands of the issue saying they are just catering to the consumers. The problem is that culture and media are so imbricated that there is no pinpointing of ONE source of messaging – it all works together to send hegemonic messaging to citizens that women want manly men, and you are supposed to want a woman, therefore you must be a manly man, and to do that you must be tough, and then there are various interpretations of what that means.

Social and evolutionary psychology studies suggest that the drive to procreate, and to survive underlies all this, then of course there are the factors that affect your psyche before you are seven. By then the messaging from your family, your community, your society and your culture are well embedded in your brain, before you have the capacity to think critically about it. As youth or adults we can laugh at some of these themes and assess them for the ridiculous fantasies that they are, but as children we cannot and if this is the main messaging that we are sending to our children, then we cannot be surprised that these concepts are so deeply engrained in our culture.

Anthropologists and psychologists will also argue that what was appropriate for the survival of aggressive nomadic sheep herder tribes (like the Britons and Celts – who many White Canadians are descended from as opposed to more peacefully-oriented agricultural societies) are not always the same skills we need to navigate contemporary society…so there is our ancient, inherited knowledge and belief systems, along with our individual drives, our cultural values, media messaging, family, community and school dysfunctions (that likely have included violence on some level), mentors or role models, hormone levels of testosterone and personal goals, abilities and resources that all factor into whether or not a man, or a woman for that matter, is likely to be more or less violent and aggressive.

My point is – that humans have the unique capacity to over-ride their lizard brain urges with frontal-lobe critical thinking, which is what makes more so-called civilized, chivalry and gentlemanly conduct possible, but it is slower and takes more effort, and is sometimes impeded by chemicals (drugs, alcohol, etc) or different physiological/psychological abilities. So there is no one answer to this issue.

Personally, I limited outside messaging (TV, Internet, Magazines and newspapers) with the youngest members in our household and when it was allowed, it was never restricted, but always mediated and deconstructed by older family members that usually resulted in interesting discussions. I think this is the key because I don’t believe in censorship or “molly-coddling” children – they need to learn about the world and know the ugly and the beautiful parts of it, so they can deal with it. Therefore, I think that training children to think critically is more important for personal empowerment and the future of humankind than blaming media.

nb: My son and daughter are now in university, seemingly well-adjusted and generally doing well in life. Although they spent a few early years annoyed with me for the differences in our household when compared to that of their friends – by middle school they were more appreciative and could quickly recognise biast messaging. 

Polyamory vs Monogamy



There are a lot of errors and misleading information on TV shows and movies about Polyamory (unsurprisingly) They generally  do not do a very good job of representing the whole community because (a) it is very hetero-sexist and (b) poly people have lives to attend to around sex just like everyone else (also Julia correctly assumed) – the white/hetero/sex focus of the show is what appeals to the mainstream because it validates primary couples and tells them it is OK to have multiple partners for sex (like: swinging and adultery) . Also many polyamorous relationships are ‘closed’ relationships not ‘open’ in that there are ground rules as to when/how/why/who/where/what can happen before another partner is taken on by an individual or a group – this is in the interest of respect for feelings, safe sex and protection of the core group.

These errors are typical because they reflect mainstream misconceptions about alternative forms of intimacy: • “the new swingers”: was on the byline and as one of the interviewees pointed out – polyamory is different from swinging – but only slightly. Both forms of relationship involve all partners as consensual, whether or not they are involved in sexual intimacies or not – they are recognized, respected and there are many discussions as to what is okay and not okay – which is different for every group.

• “open marriage”: polyamory is not a form of marriage – that is polygamy – polyamory is much more – it is an identity, a philosophy, a lifestyle, and a form of intimacy. One does not have to be be ‘married’ (in any sense of the word) to be be polyamorous.

• polygamy: is NOT about ONE man get a lot of hot young wives – that is *polygyny* (and the wives are not always young or what mainstream America would consider ‘hot”). Polygamy simply refers to plural marriages, and includes women taking many husbands as in Nepal, as well as a man taking many wives – however in polyamory communities there are many genders involved. If one wishes to refer specifically to women taking many husbands it is referred to as *polyandry* and is generally not included in the countries that hold that Polygamy as legal. Polygamy has ancient roots in many cultures and is even recognized a s a legitimate form of marriage by Australia and the UK, in addition to being legal in many other countries.

• So-called news and reality shows both usually present a model of polyamory as involving a primary couple (ie: married couple) hetero sexual couple who “have sex with others”. This is also incorrect. Polyamory is inclusive and diverse and practised by couples as well as singles (ie: no one is ‘married’ de facto or otherwise) and is probably an even more popular in other cultural and LGBT communities than among white, married, hetero couples. * the jealousy and fears that are often discussed are typical of hetero-normative discourse because it is based on competition and other tenets of capitalism – like scarcity and ownership – it is part of social construction and how we are conditioned to think.

These shows also generally fail (purposely I am sure) to acknowledge that: a) 45-55% of people in so-called monogamous are/or have indulge(d) in adultery b) monogamous relationships can end for the same reasons that polyamorous relationships do c) 40-60% of mononormative marriages end in divorce in under ten years d) there is little research on alternative forms for comparisons.

Lastly – the main couple on the tv show “Polyamory” are new age-Californians also involved in sex-positive practises and trends like so-called tantric sex. Kamala Devi is an intimacy coach and her ‘name’ is actually more like a title as it is part of her profession, as ‘devi’ is the female aspect of the divine and ‘kamala’ is the hindu world for the lotus flower (and popular Hindu girls name). The tantric sex movement in North America is a complete construction loosely based on Hindu and Buddhist religious rites and philosophies. (but that is another topic). I am sure that being openly ‘poly’ and on TV has helped her business (she calls herself a coach, author and ‘goddess’ on her website). Many poly-people are not, because there is no legislation to protect their rights and many fear losing custody of their children or discrimination in a mono-normative society. And of course the show focuses almost completely on their sex lives – so the show is more akin to a ‘peep show’ as is much of TV.

An interesting ‘webisode’ that is actually produced and acted in by poly people can be found on YouTube under 3 Dog Pictures – there are two episodes every month that are under 10-mins long (that get better and more interesting after the first few!)

Whitewashing or not?

Some celebrities seem to appear in media portrayed much paler than when compared to some less edited photos

Image Image

Sanna Lathan: mediated media image & quick capture


Kelly Rowland: quick capture & mediated media image


Gabourey Sidibe: quick capture & mediated media image

Image Image Image

Halle Berry: mediated media images and quick capture

Freida Pinto: quick capture & mediated media image

Aishwarya Rai: mediated media image & quick capture

And some appear darker:


Alek Wek

Jordan Dunn


Lara Stone


Kate Moss

And there are some celebrities who are portrayed in both extremes




There is a theory that while these images may seem too pale to be natural for many of these celebrities , they reflect either the desire of the celebrity or- her real life transformation  – as discussed here regarding Beyoncé ‘s transformation

More excellent examples here of book covers and other media: Covers Matter

Other images included for comparison

Agyness Deyn

Gwynth Paltrow

Angelina Jolie

Jennifer Lopez


Nicole Kidman

The “Real Beauty” ad campaign and the femminine ideal of beauty


The Dove Evolution commercial (by Canadian director Yael Staav, 2006) & ad campaign for “Real Beauty” (Ogilvy & Mather, Toronto 2006) that so many have applaud, has been a mainstay in discussions about body image and media but there are some issues in the discussion that not discussed often enough: 

1: Is it authentic? or is it just niche marketing?

The British-Dutch multinational corporation Unilever that owns Dove also owns over 400 other brands including  AvianceAxe/LynxBen & Jerry’sFlora/BecelHeartbrandHellmann’sKnorrLiptonLux/RadoxOmo/SurfRexona/SureSunsilkToni & GuyTRESemmé, VaselineVO5 and Wish-Bone that combined sell over 330,000 consumer products including foods, beverages, cleaning agents and personal care products with factories on every continent, making Unilever the third largest consumer-goods company in the world next to Procter & Gamble and Nestlé. This also makes them one of the biggest advertisers in the world spending over $8billion in 2010 alone.

Interestingly, other Unilever brand advertisements Axe (North America) and Lynx (Europe/Australia/Asia) are also commonly central to media and social science discussions regarding sexism. How does knowing that the same parent company produced both the Dove AND the Axe/Lynx ad campaigns effect the message of the Dove ads? and vice versa? or does it have any effect?

Does knowing of “extensive retouching” by a post-production artist Pascal Dangin for Dove’s Pro-Age ad campaign effect the message?

Does knowing that Unilever also promotes Slimfast and the popular Skin whitener/brightener products like Fair and Lovely and other such products affect the message of “Real Beauty”?

Does knowing that the “Real Beauty” campaign helped distinguish Dove from their competitors? or that, according to newspaper reports, sales of Dove products shot up 700% in the U.K. and have extended the brand which is  believed to be a direct result of this ad campaign?

Chomsky notes that:

“One of the ways you control what people think is by creating the illusion that there’s a debate going on, but making sure that that debate stays within very narrow margins.”


2. If the models are ‘natural beauties’ why are they all so light-skinned and with such ‘perfect’ skin, hair or teeth?

Is this perpetuated by hegemony? or shadeism? or both? There is no doubt that images are manipulated to be lighter or darker or retouched in other ways to make it ‘better’, ‘enhanced’ or ‘more beautiful’.


Why don’t we see more variation in media like different shaped eyes? or noses? cellulite? freckles? pores? lines? wrinkles? imperfect teeth? naturally dark skin? Where does the ‘perfect’ standard of beauty come from? Was it completely shaped by media or a cultural standard simply reflected by media? or both?

3. If we really are all beautiful “just the way we are” then why would we need to buy ‘beauty’ products sold be companies like Dove?

“Sizes six and eight notwithstanding, they’re still head turners with straight white teeth, no visible pores and not a sign of cellulite” – Bob Garfield (Advertising Age)


“disingenuous” – Dr. Barbara Altman Bruno (Worth Your Weight)


“As long as you’re patting yourself on the back for hiring real-life models with imperfect bodies, why ask those models to flog a cream that has zero health value and is just an expensive and temporary Band-Aid for a ‘problem’ that the media has told us we have with our bodies?”  – Rebecca Traister (“Real Beauty – Or Really Smart Marketing?”)


“Do you think Dove hatched its Campaign for Real Beauty because it cares about women’s self-esteem? No, it simply wanted to play to the pack-following newsrooms all over the world that it knew would give this campaign more media coverage than it could have bought with a decade’s worth of marketing.” – Jonah Bloom (Advertising Age)


“Advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don’t have for something they don’t need.” – Will Rogers


“…the brand for fat girls…” Seth Stephenson (slate.com)

4: If so many are so outraged, and so ‘informed’ why does it continue? 

“Black Canseco”, a self-described “industry insider” and blogger feels that:

“It’s simply part of the business; and the business does it because it sells; and it sells because the masses of folks prefer it/are comfortable with it/believe this is how it should be”

Why do so many people still buy ‘beauty’ products and services? and why do so many continue to degrade themselves, diet, alter their hair, resort to cosmetic surgery and lighten their skin? Why are so many so gullible for the marketing of the multi-billion dollar beauty industry?

The Body Project suggests that it is no accident that the emphasis on beauty products boomed at the same time women won the right to vote in the USA in order to distract women from more significant political, social and even moral/emotional issues.

These are all questions I do not know the answer to myself – but am avidly listening to the discussion around these ideas with great interest.

Fotoshop by Adobé by Jesse Rosten (2011)

Screen Shot 2012-09-29 at 9.46.04 AM

Filmmaker Jesse Rosten has created a great satire on the common beauty ad with funny one-liners like: “Just one application of Fotoshop can give you results so dramatic they’re almost unrealistic” and “Brighten eyes, whiten teeth, even adjust your race!” – check it out on Vimeo