Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Dove Video Conversation

Something interesting happened today (as it does sometimes).

Yesternight I was browsing Facebook and came across this video. I actually thought it was going to be about the unreliability of face sketches for actually identifying criminals or finding lost people. It wasn't. Anyway, I was intrigued, so I watched it. 

I thought it was good. It was far from being wholly scientific (the artist could have tried to make the sketches of the women describing themselves less attractive than the sketches done from people describing someone else), but I didn't worry too much about that—this wasn't posing as a research experiment—it was obviously trying to be sentimental, not scientific. I wasn't sure how to take the presence of the man as the "interpreter" of the descriptions. I'm not sure why that would matter, but that was an initial reaction I had. I also had some reservations because it was produced by a corporation, and they must have ulterior motives, and I couldn't see what they were getting at, besides having a message about beauty...which is related, but seems to be more of a public relations move. I liked the message in it that we can be our worst critics at times.  

After quickly considering my response to the video, I decided it was positive enough to pass the message along. I reposted it without voicing my reservations about its origins or the subjectivity of the "experiment" and the portrayal of its results.

Later I was browsing Facebook (again) and came across a post that linked to a blog post talking about how the video above made them a little angry. Reflecting on my own reservations about the video, I clicked on the link. 

After figuring out that you have to hover your cursor over the words to make them not light grey and therefore readable, I read it. And I found that this person's argument against the videos was interesting. But I disagree on several points. I'll detail my differences below. 

But first, I should say that I'm glad that this person spoke up and voiced concern about the message of the video. That is, after all, what gave me the idea to voice mine in this post. 

Now for some things that didn't quite sit right with me. This will be in more thought clusters than an actual polished argument because I want to get this out and hear what people have to say rather than polish it until it's perfect but no longer being talked about.

This blog post imposes a lot of messages on the Dove video—that it's telling the audience what beauty is, enforcing the stereotypes, etc. 

My response: It's a short video, and I think the most salient message is that women are hard on themselves, too quick to see and amplify what they see as the negatives about themselves. And trying to convey too many messages may make it hard to effectively communicate any of them. Instead of being mad they didn't get all the messages exactly right, I think it would be good to congratulate them on the ones they did get right, and then encourage them to continue working to get down to encouraging women to be happy with who they are, and try to be their best selves. 

On a related note, the blog post says that this reinforces and doesn't challenge the culturally acceptable forms of beauty—the blonde hair, blue-eyed motif. 

My response: What if this is not supposed to be just a message about the literal? What I saw when I watched it was women who described themselves negatively and then came away seeing that they were overly harsh on themselves. 

The message about beauty was taken very literally. The blog post concluded that the focus on outward beauty was an indication that Dove advocates beauty as the number one quality for women. 

My response: Even though the message seemed to be mostly about physical beauty, a woman they spent a long time on was the one who said that one sketch looked "closed off" while the other looked "open and friendly." While they were based on pictures, are those strictly physical features?

The video did focus on physical beauty, but look at the origin of the message. Dove is a company that sells beauty products—it's in their interest to promote physical beauty. I think we could take more positive things from messages like these if we took corporations as participants in the conversation, rather than the sole disseminator of messages. Then we would be free to converse with them about it, including creating our own videos or media to respond, rather than trying to convince them to portray what we want them to. (I do think corporations need to be responsible in the messages they convey, but in this case I don't think they meant to be racist or say that beauty was the only good thing about a woman). And it started a discussion, right? It helped at least a few of us give ourselves some credit—It helped lift the burden, helping at least some women (I know of a few who reposted or liked the video) be less critical of themselves...and all with such a short video length. I think that's great. 

This video could be watched to mean something more significant than just a messages about physical appearance—physical appearance could be the vehicle for conveying a deeper message about how we view ourselves. It's easier to convey a message using physical representations for unphysical realities: a cave for our psyche, a tree for a family, beauty for our intellectual or emotional self. We could see the outcome of this sketching exercise as an encouragement to treat ourselves more kindly and focus more on the things about ourselves that make us happy, rather than seeing the negative so much that it skews our perception of the great people we are. 

It might be the analytical part of me, and I realize that this is subjective, but I wanted to respond to that blog post and point out some additional possibilities. I like when things raise discussion, and I think this—how women perceive themselves and the issue of media messages—are worthy topics to discuss.

Speaking of which, there are a couple things I want hear your opinion on. What do you think of them having a man interpret the descriptions the women gave? Do you think it would have been different if it had been a woman drawing?

Did anything about this video strike you as off? What did you like about the video?

What about this speaks to people? Why has it gone viral (over 4 million views in 3 days)?

Do you find it patronizing? Encouraging?

Do you think it's sending intentional subliminal messages?

That is, what do you say in this conversation?

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