Start your week on the right foot with these informative topics regarding world issues and relevant topics
by Corey Gray
In the past few years as social justice and activism have (thankfully) become a main interest of many people, the media has responded by showing much more diversity than ever before. On the surface level this is a blessing; finally, we’re getting somewhere! The world is getting better! But the more information you get, and the deeper you dig, the lines between bringing light to an issue and capitalizing off of it start to bleed into each other. It’s often very hard to discern the intentions of these companies, and though social justice and making a profit aren’t mutually exclusive, I think we should all become more aware of it. It’s reckless to passively ingest media. It’s also equally, if not more reckless, to blindly form an opinion based on someone else’s thoughts because everyone has a different perspective on things. It’s not rational to have an opinion that you didn’t form yourself after taking the time to analyze the media and think it over. That’s what I want to get you thinking about with this article.
Let’s think back to a few years ago when everyone was going hard at the fashion industry about unrealistic body standards being reinforced in fashion ads. Aerie launched the aerie Real campaign, wherein the company vowed to not heavily Photoshop their models, and also to use a more diverse array of models for their ads. The company garnered a lot of praise because Photoshop has become such an integral part of the industry, and this campaign was an inspiration to teen girls with body image issues. This gutsy move increased the brand’s sales 20% in 2015, so the campaign is still the main focus of the brand today. This clever marketing scheme could be viewed as manipulative, preying on the low self esteems of teenage girls, and all. Remember, any company’s main concern is about how to get the most money and how to keep their brand relevant in this competitive market. An important thing to consider when companies make a major change like this is the timing. The aerie Real campaign started in 2014, when the fashion industry as a whole was under fire, and many companies were jumping on the body positive bandwagon. One of the other major ones was Victoria’s Secret’s “The Perfect Body” campaign. They clearly tried to catch a ride on this #bodyposi wave, but completely missed the mark. They featured only thin models, and that coupled with the slogan got a lot of people demanding an apology from the beloved lingerie brand. The brand instead just changed their campaign slogan to “A Body for Every Body”, but kept the same campaign picture. Of, course it could be just a coincidence that many brands chose to take this route at the same time, but that’s for you to decide.
One of the most successful body positive campaigns ever attempted was done by Dove. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty was started in the early 2000s at a time when companies weren’t even considering going in that direction. So, right off the bat this one feels more genuine, but still the company has made statements explaining that they started the campaign because at the time they were being overshadowed by competing companies, and they needed a way to revive their brand. This campaign has become their entire brand at this point, and when something is that ingrained into a company, it does feel very genuine, but who knows, the company could still just look at it as a clever marketing strategy and could be up in their offices just laughing at all of the failed body positive campaigns as of late.
My next example is the beloved Netflix original series: Orange is the New Black. The fourth season of this series came out recently and really went ham with the racism and violence. This could be seen as a powerful portrayal of the racism that black people face, but when you take into consideration that all of the writers of the show are white, excluding one Korean-American writer, a different picture is painted. Rather than black writers writing about the murder of innocent black lives, it’s mostly white writers who have never faced racism who are killing and torturing characters of color. No matter how genuine the intentions, it’s misguided of them to not even hire a more diverse writing team. That just means there are that many more white people making money off of black suffering. Another misguided part of that show is the introduction of a straight-acting gay corrections officer. They even hired a straight actor to play this gay character, which undermines how they had always hired queer actors to play queer characters in the past. It seems as though they used this new gay character as an example to not make judgments because anyone can be gay (apparently even a straight man, according to the show’s makers), and even got in an awkward attempt at a humorous scene where Piper tries to seduce him. Of course, none of these things seemed necessarily malicious and the majority of people watching the show didn’t notice any of this, but that’s why I’m writing this. I’m urging all of you to look deeper into the content you’re taking in.
The final example is Buzzfeed. Buzzfeed allegedly had a diversity team a few years back in attempt to pander to the growing social justice market, but fired all of the members of the team when their content failed to generate enough traffic. Now, they have the habit of just getting unpaid consultants, especially trans POC, a group with very little representation whom often has to work for free just to get represented and feel included. The company, now at an estimated worth of $958 million claims to not have enough money to pay the consultants. So they get to reap the benefits of creating content that gains the support of most groups, especially marginalized groups, because they do a damn good job of feigning equal representation when in reality all of the money goes to the white cis straight men at the head of the company.
I implore you to keep in mind that nothing can be taken at face value. Companies are first and foremost about money, which doesn’t necessarily mean everything they do is completely selfish, but it’s still important to do your own research on matters and decide whether or not what a company is doing is worthy of your support. This is a very crucial moment in history and we shouldn’t settle for blatant inequalities and pandering. There are incredible small locally owned businesses everywhere that have less questionable values, and you can find tons that are run and owned by POC and queer people. Whether it be a small boutique that shows true diversity with their models, or an indie movie that was written by a trans POC, or a small online news source or magazine with a diverse group of writers, much like this one. By supporting socially unjust companies, we are contributing to the problem. We should educate others on these problems and make the world more aware. Companies serve the people, and if we refuse to support them, and give them constructive and rational ways to change, then they’ll eventually have to, even if just a little. The media is getting better, but I think we would all feel a lot better if it would do so more quickly, so let your voice be heard! Never underestimate the power and influence you have.