After todays class, the first thing I did was to watch this clip of David Foster Wallace holding the speech “This Is Water” that Seth Matlins started out his lecture with, and I was stunned. Matlins really got to the point of it all in his lecture, that we are not always aware of our most obvious and natural surrounding, because it is the only thing we know, but hearing the original speech was another thing. The focus in both however, was really to help people understand and raise awareness of this environment around us, this world we live in.
In Matlins case, the focus of this awareness was what harm media, pop culture and advertising really can do to us, and especially on young girls. It was very interesting to hear Matlins story and how he came to realize that he, in fact, was “in water,” from how he was privileged by being a rich, white man working in advertising and marketing, and then coming to see the world through his daughters eyes. I think that this is not only a realization that a white, upper-class male must come to see, I for one did not know I was in water (to keep the metaphor going); I did not know I was part of a minority group that is still not being seen as equal to the “majority” group; I did not know the number and statistics of how bad the visibility of women is in pop culture (like how only a few top grossing/award winning movies passes the Bechdel-test, how few of them movies are women centered, and how few women work in the industry) and I did not know about the huge impact that advertisement, simple images (or so I thought..), have on us..
I was brought up in a society where boys were not treated that differently from the girls and when I heard about stuff like gender discrimination and gender bias, I always thought that, “Yeah, it exists, how terrible, but it’s not present in my world, I haven’t seen it, it doesn’t affect me etc.. Or I’m lucky to be born in this country, at this time, where such problems does not exist”. I have never considered myself to be naïve or ignorant, but yes, thoughts like those passed through my mind, before I realized that I too, was in fact, in water. So in order to change things, we first of all have to make sure that people realize that we are living in a world like this, and not brush of the problem as if it were only affecting others, or as if is a problem already solved (because it’s not), and the first step to do so is to cause awareness.
Matlins pointed out that with this bill he has proposed, that will ensure that photoshopped advertisements that gives a distorted picture of reality, often portraying an unrealistic ideal, have to say that they are indeed, only a photoshopped image. If this bill passes, or if advertisers/marketers self-regulate their ads, it will perhaps not change the whole industry nor fix the whole problem, but it will raise awareness to the issue and that in turn, will make a difference, and eventually, might even create a change in the whole industry.
(Originally written on 2014/10/02 as a reflection on Seth Matlins guest lecture)