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The dangerous world of Photoshop and digital retouching

Published: Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Updated: Monday, January 18, 2010

No matter how beautiful you think Keira Knightly may be – and she’s a knockout – her breasts are not as large and her waist is not as a narrow as you’ve been led to believe. When the difference between her real body as it appeared on advertisements in England and her ‘enhanced’ body being shown in America was discovered, the actress tried to appear glib . “I would love to have breasts!” she told Britain’s GMTV in 2007, adding, “I’m never going to get them. I’m naturally who I am.”

Why would I be talking about Miss Knightly’s modest breasts when there is a war going on? First, because girls are hurting themselves to imitate cartoon characters and the second more philosophical concern is that our very definition of reality is being assaulted by the ever-growing use of Photoshop and digital retouching. The French President (and husband to a model) Nicholas Sarkozy recently released his vacation photos to the media, who only published the images once his slight jelly rolls were digitally removed.

Both Bush and Obama are fitness freaks. Imagine how nice it would be for the next president to skip the push-ups and simply have the media make him look fit.

How many times did you personally meet Obama or Bush? Not many of you can say you’ve met both. We only know what we’re given by television and the internet. England and France are beginning to investigate these practices and demand a label when more than 5% of a photo is fake.

Stateside, there is no one in authority who is trying to make sure that the images you see have any basis in reality. This is not a trivial concern. Our ability to comprehend what we see has taken millions of years to evolve. Only in the last ten years have our brains have been asked to not always believe what they see – for the first time ever.

Anti-smoking groups have advocated going back into the black-and-white films of earlier times to remove the abundant cigarette smoking, so that children will not be exposed to ‘good guys’ who smoke. This may seem a little silly but good-intentioned. But what of the next step when some group begins removing African-Americans from films of the same era, since most of those roles were demeaning?

Perhaps we should make George Bush look six foot three when he stood on the rubble of the Trade Centers rather than the five foot eleven he actually was. It could be a more inspiring picture for future generations. Do we want a media that delivers us factual information or do we want our news to display a world that is impossible to find in real life?

Of course I’m well aware that the space aliens in Star Trek are not real, and I’m not talking about obviously fictional programming. But if we, as a people, are going to make reality-based decisions, we should be given reality-based images from sources that claim to be non-fictional. The Soviets once infamously took pictures of East Germans sneaking out to the West and turned them into propaganda by telling the audiences back home that those were pictures of Westerners sneaking into the Soviet Union.

Without access to undoctored footage, no one was able to disagree. If we rely only on digital records, whether documents or pictures, we leave ourselves open to our history being tampered with to a degree that it has never been challenged before. Paper forgeries are a difficult ‘art’ and manipulating film-based photographs will always leave a mark.

Digital works can be changed with a half-dozen mouse clicks. If we want to jettison all analog recording technology (including paper books) because it isn’t cool or convenient, we do so at our own peril.

We don’t have to peer into the future in order to find some troubling repercussions of digital fakery in the media. According to the cheerfully named Professional Guide to Diseases up to 10% of the population suffers from an eating disorder, with the male population of suffers growing. 40% of nine-year-old girls have reported dieting. Of course anorexia has existed before airbrushing and digital enhancements. Some people are better looking and some people are out of shape. No law is going to change that. Publishing pictures of women who are supposed to be real but are in fact cartoons does nothing but set up girls to fail. If Keira with her natural beauty, her personal trainers, her nutritionists and massage therapy can’t make herself appear ‘attractive enough’ to satisfy advertisements, then how can any insecure young girl know when to quit pushing herself? We want women to be as pretty as gods, but gods don’t have to die. Untreated cases of anorexia often end with a skinny corpse laying in the grave. If you or someone you know may have an eating disorder, call the Counseling and Testing office at 334-5340.

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