April, 8, 2009

We Live in a Virtual World by David Byrne

A friend sent me this entry written by David Byrne. I posted the link but just re-read it and decided to post the whole thing….

“French public health officials are considering laws that would ban the promotion of eating disorders — including a requirement that magazines reveal the extent to which their images have been artificially retouched. It’s viewed as a public health issue because girls and boys (and men and women) are feeling increasingly ashamed of their bodies as they compare themselves to what they see all around them — images of bodies that are not real, that have been photoshopped, digitally airbrushed and heavily modified.

Of course, ever since the birth of the movie star early last century, their images have been cleaned up, improved and controlled. Celebrities and pin-ups have been with us for a long time, and the fairytale world of far-off Hollywood was always infinitely better than whatever small town reality you were living in. But it was just that — a fairytale kingdom that existed far away, with relatively few inhabitants.

The difference, I suppose, is that of quantity, not quality. These days, altered images are ubiquitous; the fairytale world threatens to engulf our own. The illusion is more complete, too — with digital technology it’s harder to see the smoothing. Stalin would have drooled at the possibilities. Almost nothing one sees in print or advertisements hasn’t been “improved” in some way, except maybe some journalistic news photos — and even those are suspect. There’s the visual field that consists of us and our friends, and then there’s the print world — certainly more dramatic, and often more physically perfect. We live in a parallel universe, slightly more drab and definitely more pudgy.

One can’t legislate the heavenly world out of existence — people need fairytales, after all — but maybe a more constant reminder to not believe everything we see would help us to retain some tenuous connection with our pathetic reality. The thing is, we can’t help believing what we see. When I look at an impossibly sexy woman on a billboard, I can tell myself that she’s been sculpted and smoothed to death, but I’m riveted and transfixed nonetheless. Instinct triumphs over intellect.

Pascal Dangin, a well-known retoucher who works on a lot of the images in fashion magazines (and for some fine artists as well), naturally doesn’t see it exactly that way. He makes photos that “improve on life,” in his words. But if I can paraphrase, he might say that he makes an image more like what it wants to be — and therefore it ends up being closer to what we desire to see. That doesn’t necessarily mean perfect — he is careful to avoid airbrushing the personality out of a person — but it does mean he’s certainly not against making quite a few (what he has determined are aesthetic) improvements.

The health departments are alarmed at the effect all this is having on young people. Boys hanker for steroids, and girls, a session with the knife, in order to look more like what they see in the magazines. Unfortunately, the magazines don’t just feature physically enhanced people — they’ve been heavily retouched as well. We would have to hand out some kind of high-tech, rose colored, photoshopping glasses in order to achieve a visual simulation of the media population.”