Sunday, March 13, 2005

Airbrushing History 

Hell is other people removing your cigarette. France's National Library has airbrushed Jean-Paul Sartre's trademark cigarette out of a poster of the chain-smoking philosopher to avoid prosecution under an anti-tobacco law.

Other anti-smoking media revisionism happens here and elsewhere; recent victims include Courtney Love, the Beatles, Robert Johnson, Jackson Pollock, James Dean, and Paul Simon.

It should go without saying that changing our images of the past to reflect the present is a sinister and slippery slope. At its worst, the strategy can support the kind of revisionist "evidence" that currently flames Holocaust denial -- if there's no pictoral evidence in the popular mind's eye, it's that much easier to believe it never happened, and dismiss those who would say otherwise.

Imagine "whiting out" slaves from the earliest sepia-toned historical photographs of the American South, and you get the idea in spades.

(From Hutch and Russ Kick via Boingboing.)

For more of the best medialit, infocult, popcult, and otherlit bits hitting the web, check out boyhowdy's tinyblog.

posted by boyhowdy | 11:24 PM |

rant I still find it amazing that smoking is now reviled and they can even take the cigarettes out of advertisements (perhaps to make sure kids don't emulate their role models by taking up smoking?) yet alcohol is still plastered on every second ad in magazines, billboards and every goddamn other place. Just as addicting, just as deadly, just as disgusting, and "second-hand drinking" kills even more people. It just makes me freakin sick. /rant
Though I agree that the continued portrayal of lacohol in the mass media represents a pretty drastic double-standard, my primary concern here is not how dangerous you or I think smoking or drinking might be, but rather the very act of reframing an individual or a social truth, and in doing so stealing the ability of the long-dead to retain their dignity and their selfhood. I mean, guns kill more people than alcohol (and are more present in mass media, I believe), but I wouldn't want a generation to grow up thinking Jesse James reasoned people to death when robbing banks, either.

That said, and to be fair: I understand the urge to use commercial art to reinforce social ideals. Prep school teachers are confronted with the need to balance teachable moments with the need for students to absorb world-as-is on a daily basis.

I just think, when you put that desire up against the demand for media images to represent a kind of historic and even journalistic truth-of-the-times, it pales in comparison.

After all, there's plenty of PRESENT to use to portray your social ideas. You don't need to steal the dignity of the dead to pass your social ageda along.
I agree totally. I just needed to rant. :>> Besides, how many kids see a billboard with some cowboy smoking and say "ooo I gotta try that" versus the ones who descend into their friend's parent's basement and get accosted that way. "Pssst. Wanna smoke? It's cool. If you don't smoke, yer not cool!" etc etc. I fail to agree that seeing ads (even constantly) has more of an affect on kids bad habits than peer pressure and parental example.
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