James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘photo manipulation’

With Jessica Alba too fat, Keira Knightly too flat, Faith Hill too plain & Sarah Palin too real, how should mags portray Michelle Obama?

Posted by James McPherson on December 11, 2008

Since one of the most glamorous women we’ll be seeing on magazine covers for the next few years will be Michelle Obama, and despite one magazine editor’s call (in a different context) to “let Michelle Obama’s real self shine,” one wonders how far editors and art directors might go to make the First Lady look better–or worse–than she appears in reality. Though Hillary Clinton and sometimes Nancy Reagan (neither of whom always acted as dutiful stand-by-their-man Bush ladies) were obvious exceptions, the media usually treat First Ladies nicely, and articles and TV pieces have already focused more on Obama’s style than on her substance.

Remember, Newsweek drew criticism for letting Sarah Palin look “too real” (despite Joe the Plumber/Author now calling Sarah Palin “the real deal” even as he disses John McCain, the man most responsible for what we can only hope will be fleeting fame for Joe). And while a good fake Barack Obama may be hard to find, as Time reports, much of the reason for the Palin uproar is that we aren’t used to reality with our magazine images. Virtually any image that appears on a magazine cover or in a calendar has been airbrushed or otherwise altered, especially if the image is that of a woman. A quick Google search shows you can even find “excellent body enhancement tutorials” online, to “improve” the people in your own photos.

News organizations might use Photoshop or airbrushing to fix flaws in a photo, but popular mags, movie posters and calendars use technical tricks to fix the “flaws” in a model. For a recent example, see Calipari’s treatment of Jessica Alba, as reported by the Daily Mail. (See the before and after photos below). Keira Knightly and Faith Hill (in Redbook, yet) are among the women who have also had parts of their bodies “enhanced”; see examples of others here.

At least we can probably be sure that Michelle Obama won’t be appearing in a future version of the latest Fox News slideshow.

alba-1alba-2

Posted in History, Media literacy, Politics, Women, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

The benefits of Chinese Rolexes, moving pyramids and expandable breasts

Posted by James McPherson on August 12, 2008

Politicians lie, and as long as the falsehoods come from the ones we like, we accept them gladly. If it’s our own candidate spinning the yarn, we adhere to the Fleetwood Mac strategy: “Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies.”

Iran recently used Photoshop to lie about a missile launch. China now admits faking its Olympics fireworks display, which seems a bit odd considering that fireworks would seem to be the last thing China would have to fake. What’s next–we find out the Giant Pandas are really Disney-style animatrons, or that the 360-member Mormon Tabernacle Choir is bulking up its performances with extra taped voices?

Still, even the fireworks deception is not a huge surprise. For one thing, China has long been known as a great place for fakes: Rolexes, designer clothing, DVDs, etc. For another thing, especially when it comes to the media, real just isn’t real enough.

While we overlook political falsehoods, we are more upset (and should be) because we all know the media lie (the problem is, we typically don’t know when). They may be lying now, in a sense, to make the presidential race appear closer than it is. Magazines airbrush every model, deleting acne and often enlarging breasts. National Geographic moved a pyramid, and CBS digitally dovered up an NBC logo with its own. (See a great range of such lies, with photo examples, here and here.) Smut peddlers use the same techniques to create fake pornographic images of movie stars and–more troubling from both ethical and legal perspectives–children.

But with the exception of the last example, one might ask, “so what?” After all, we are a nation of liars. We can’t seem to help ourselves. The biggest problem isn’t that people lie to us, in my view. A more serious problem is that we cannot recognize lying when we encounter it.

An excellent Columbia Journalism Review book review of Farhad Manjoo’s latest book, True Enough: How to Live in a Post-Fact Society, summarizes how Manjoo discovers and points out that thanks to “selective perception” we are largely incapable of distingishing truth from fiction. We all have our own “facts,” and we’re sticking to them.

That inability to discern truth from falsehood is perhaps the best reason for a liberal arts education, or at least a few classes in logic and media literacy. Since most Americans will get none of those, however, perhaps we should be thankful for the obvious prevalence of lying. As we increasingly encounter falsehood, recognizing that it comes from all angles, perhaps health skepticism will increase.

Trusting nothing is a start, better than trusting everything or better than trusting a select few media sources. Learning what to trust, and why, is a goal worth striving toward. No lie.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Media literacy, Politics, Video, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »