I showed this video to my sixth graders. I wanted to remind them at the start of the school year that just as we must suspect E.H. Gombrich’s Little History of the World, we must also view photographs not just as accurate records, but as products of their time.
One class got where I was going right away, and we were able to move on to other things — namely, my lesson plan. The other class consisted of a number of girls and three boys who had clearly never been exposed to the idea that photos could be faked. They had also never encountered the idea that photographs of people could be so thoroughly edited and wrangled to make one person into someone else.
It ignited a firestorm of discussion that lasted most of the period, and continued on even after I tried to rein it in three times. Finally, I just gave in. We examined questions of Hannah Montana’s identity — as Miley Cyrus, as Destiny Cyrus, as Hannah Montana, as a daughter of a performer, as a performer, as a private person, as a public person, as a person managing her image, as a person whose mask is part of our theoretical reality.
The girls were highly offended that there was no way that they could ever live up to this standard of beauty. The boys were very much in the mode of “Dude, I’m never gonna marry a girl as ugly as that girl at the beginning. The girl at the end is the one for me.” They totally didn’t get that the girl at the end was non-existent. She wasn’t real, except as a massively edited product of a commercial process.
I wish there were a video that showed how boys are just as thoroughly manipulated by images as girls. Anyone know of such a video?