My self portrait for my week 46 was going to be aimed at the idea of shame… specifically with being a woman in the world, because we know that patriarchal ideas do not only exist in the United States. However, this week I have been really building my course for my University that I am teaching in the Spring and I guess the idea of shame does work itself into that conversation too – but this week more than ever the idea of representation, inclusion, empathy and pride all incapsulate what I want to talk about.
If you were to ask me what I like about myself, it’s my ability to feel emotions for experiences that I have not felt personally; empathy. A disturbing study found that only 20 percent of humans can reach outside of their own experiences to feel for others in walks of life they have not faced. This is why I constantly repeat to my students, “The downfall of humanity will be the lack of empathy and its abundance of pride.” Everything comes down to two questions for me.
- Can you understand another point of view even though you haven’t faced it head on yourself?
- If you found out you were wrong, can you accept that, correct it, and grow from it?
My light, is my empathy. The darkness I have over come, is my pride.
In building this course, which has turned mostly into a theory course, I’ve stumbled on so many things that are just heart-shattering to me. Typically students will think that professors know 100 percent of their content before teaching, but it’s just not true. My bachelors  degrees are in Advertising, Photography, and my Masters are in Visual and Critical Studies [theory] and Fine-Art Photography. Through this I decided to build a course titled “Advertising and Image,” which is / was going to discuss the impact that images have on society. As I started to re-read some content I was exposed to for the last decade, I also had to research new studies since literally technology is moving so fast that even information from last year is outdated. Through this I also have learned an incredible amount; of stats, ideas, and more so the impacts of racial and gender misrepresentation or lack of representation that set off norms and stereotypes across the United States throughout the decades.
Through this research, the idea of the image impacting society has not shifted [it’s been fairly constant throughout centuries] but the pace of how quickly information spreads has. I was solely going to look at advertising, but advertising is affected by cinema, cinema by tv, tv by magazines and all of this shifts cultural norms, stereotypes, representation and even laws in society. It’s SO interconnected that you cannot just focus on one medium any more – specifically because the public doesn’t rely on just prime-time tv, magazine or advertisements on newspapers any more – even cinema uses product placement to advertise to it’s viewers subconsciously, it’s just a major web of information and persuasive images to get viewers to accept ideas, products or norms.
I have a lot of things planned for January. I will be starting a grief series that will be extending conversation about what that looks like from person to person, and I also am doing a fun, ridiculous project surrounding the aesthetics of all of Taylor Swift’s albums [lol] with my friends for some light hearted shooting in between the serious. I also, think somehow I want to post an image [I need to figure out what these images contain] with weekly lectures I am teaching my students.
Why you ask?
You can learn a lot from the internet, but what you can not learn is perspective. The idea of higher education really elevates this. It places you in a room with someone who can mediate difficult situations, discuss hard history and create conversation about things we are too uncomfortable to talk about everyday. e.g. the idea of racial [mis]representation or complete lack of representation from the 1800s all the way until 1970. This lack of representation [or if it was represented it was harmful stereotypes] really does impact society. In advertising, and brands, we’ve seen it with Native cultures, Black cultures, Hispanic Cultures. Labels that are so stereotypical that they play into the narratives they were created to perpetuate to make White Americans feel safe in their homes with guarded, narrow-minded beliefs. I’ve read a lot of sad, alarming statistics, and I KNOW the power of the image is quite large, but damn I wanna talk about it with people outside of my classroom because it’s so important.
Representation and inclusion are the two things I am so passionate about. So I feel pretty obligated to educate the people that do follow my words in any capacity. Because like I said, I don’t like much about me, but what I do love and respect is my heart, my ability to feel what I have never felt personally, and the ability to understand that I will never understand what some of these heart-aches actually feel like. But I will discuss them, I will try to understand them, and I will educate fellow people that also will never have that ‘in’ on ways they can try to do so.
Media reflects society and society will reflect Media. If an idea is perpetuated or repeated enough, psychologically, it becomes harder for an individual to start denying it. Think about even conspiracy theories. The first time you read one, if you never really cognitively broke it down or questioned it, it may have seemed crazy. But think about the 5th or 6th time you heard it? Did it start to break down your walls of denial? Did you start to accept some of it? Psychologically this is normal. So any racist imagery, and misrepresentation of the gay community, gosh even the idea of covid being a hoax, will automatically start to make its way into the minds of millions, shifting the narrative, beliefs and ideas of a society. This, is where the discussion of Pride takes place.
My husband works in the hospital [he’s honestly given me such a level-headed perspective of covid throughout this whole pandemic], and he has seen people on their deathbeds on vents dying from covid – basically on their last breath – saying its not covid. The idea of this inability to just say ‘damn I was wrong and it feels bad,’ is the second part of my daily rants. Our assumptions about limited information given, yet jumping to the deepest conclusions put us in a box, that when further information is given [context], it’s almost too daunting for some to admit they didn’t know all of the information and shift their perspective. Instead they die in the hole they’ve dug for themselves, full of guilt like a monster hiding with them, never portraying they had any wrong belief. But that’s the point of life right? To make mistakes, to learn, to grow. It’s what every child is taught – it’s what we base our upbringing on. Why is it so unattainable for adults to do?
This is my encouragement to you, to extend your hand of empathy. Don’t fall into the narrative that it is this or that. Understand that humans are complex. Like the other day I was discussing the shooting in Oxford and mentioned there should be consequences for parents who let their kids get access to their guns [underage], as well as discussing the least important question is why it happened, but how it happened. From this one comment the person I was talking to assumed I was completely anti-gun [although what a wonderful world it would be if we all just lived with one another lol] and stated “well I have a different view because I am a gun owner and…” and I cut them off, and I said “see this is why our society is so mislead, I stated consequences and you took it as this or that, and that’s just not true.” I’m all for self protection in the right hands, I’m all for gun ownership but think common sense background checks, making sure abusers and domestic abusers don’t have the ability to kill their spouses out of a quick impulsive feeling of rage, but I’m not for a quick trip to walmart to be able to come out with a pistol that same day – just like cars, these things are dangerous – and can be most harmful to the person that possess them. But that one conversation just placed a lot into perspective with me – extend empathy, do not assume everyone is an either or person, understand life is complex, and if you are proven wrong, sit with it, and when you are ready accept it, move on, and grow from it.