Archives for posts with tag: Sociology

A Hello! (UK) magazine released earlier in September with Kate Middleton on its cover reveals a few intriguing underlying elements that shape our daily consumption of mass media today.

Most striking, at first glance, is the over-favorable presentation of the Duchess, especially in light of the (melodramatic) scandal over her topless photos that shook the royal family in September.

Whilst the topless photos, and the scandal that followed, represent the “moral degradation” and “obscene” behavior of an anachronistic royal house—which, at best, discredits and delegitimizes its mere existence—the cover of this magazine garrisons exactly the opposite.

This is apparent, firstly, in the subtitles of its cover where “an unforgettable week of triumph and tears” and “she has a very positive aura”, embellish and boost Kate’s (formerly tarnished) public image. This, accompanied by the serene picture, has taken her stature from a morally corrupt, or perhaps even “ordinary” woman to a heroine, a saint, a Virgin Mary—so to speak.

The text sustains this, but the image conveys it directly to the consumer. The veil, with its binary symbolism of oppression, gender inequality and backwardness on the one hand, and female innocence and moral standing on the other, is conveniently and strategically used to transmit the latter.  Unsurprisingly, the white woman wearing a veil can communicate exactly this, meanwhile a woman of color hardly can (see post below).

Again here, topless or nudity represents transgression, as opposed to the veil which conveys purity and integrity.

Lastly, the feature of heroism emerges as she comes from the “east”, which, in its most orientalist understanding, can communicate an exotic adventurist imagery already enmeshed in the consumer’s mind. Her “triumphs” and “tears” tell a story of a courageous and brave woman, perhaps much like her lamented mother-in-law, who is altruistic and caring.

So not only is she heroic, saint-like, but also, at the same time, a very human individual. She cries, the poor girl!

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“Because we believe in her,” reads a heartening UNICEF advertisement depicting a young girl in veil, at Schiphol’s international airport in the Netherlands.

When I asked a woman to step aside to take a picture of the banner, she looked puzzled. Perhaps unsurprising, as for the uncritical passerby there might be nothing unusual about the picture. But there’s something quite troubling when an NGO can manage to convey a message with only six glossy words and a simple picture of a smiling child.

The Child’s Double-Imagery

At first glance, the image radiates the innocence of a child. But this, through our white male western gaze, is quickly tarnished by the garment that covers her head; a symbolic manifestation of oppression, gender inequality, cultural inferiority and general backwardness. Her gender, age and ethnicity inform us she is inherently passive, subjugated, vulnerable, powerless; a victim. The picture needs to say no more.

At the same time, our western gaze allows us to identify a common humanity: the innocence of a child. And it is this common humanity that stirs the conviction of our cultural superiority that accords us the moral duty and responsibility to “civilize” and “rescue” the inferior “other.”

“Because we believe in her” vs. “Because they don’t believe in her”

Behind the self-identifying wording “we” or “us,” the modern, civilized, moral and omniscient white hero, whose high ethical standards are unquestioned, is uncovered.  This is juxtaposed to the implied but unknown “them” who, in turn, are imagined as repressive, illiberal and apathetic; the villain, the lesser human. They do not care about their children, not least the female ones. But hey, fortunately, We do!

It is appalling for one that a humanitarian organization of such high standards manipulates pre-established prejudice and stereotypes, which abound in the increasingly Islamophobic Dutch society, to obtain funding for its projects. But it is perhaps more worrying that these visual and narrative discourses of Orientalist nature have been so deeply internalized that this advertisement’s consumer immediately perceives the young girl as a victim because of a headscarf and the color of her skin.