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Saturday, September 8, 2012

So it's Propaganda. So What?

I am instantly suspicious of people who want to "raise awareness". Raising awareness does not actually cure cancer, or feed hungry people. In the case of propaganda, which is entirely about manipulating your thoughts and emotions, awareness is actually the thing though. Be aware of what truth and what falsehood inheres in a photograph.

Art is supposed to manipulate your thoughts and emotions. That's how you know it's working. Let it!

Be liberated from worry about truth and some phantom of journalistic integrity. Consider a photograph of a poor man in his home. Is he really poor, or is he the photographer's college roommate? Is that house a set? Who cares! We know for certain that the photographer, if at all competent, framed the image to maximize the sensation of poverty. We know for sure that the photographer chose not to publish the photographs of the man smiling happily, showing off his new watch, his new car. Why worry about whether the man is really poor? The point is to make us empathize with the poor, to remind us that there are poor people. Are there poor people? Why yes, there are. In that sense, the photograph is true and accurate. It may be propaganda, but like much propaganda the narrative it is supporting is in fact pretty much true. Incomplete, but true as far as it goes.

The only time to really worry about it is when a photograph is trying to change your mind or change your vote or change your bank account. If you feel a photograph doing those things -- this is where the awareness comes in -- you can stop and consider what might have been just outside the frame. What was in the frame 10 seconds earlier, and 10 seconds later? Someone shot this and selected it to change your mind, your vote, or to lighten your wallet.

Maybe they're right, maybe your mind and vote should change. Maybe your wallet has too much money in it. Maybe they're wrong. You get to decide that, really. Stay sharp and don't let the bastards manipulate you. At any rate, don't let them manipulate you too swiftly and easily.

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