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Designer Death (Trigger Warning)

mkleins Icon Posted by Melanie Klein

August 22nd, 2010

Ain’t nothin’ hotter than a dead girl. -Jennifer L. Pozner, Editor of WIMN’s Voices

Vogue Italia’s recent oil spill shoot and Rachel Zoe’sI Die” fashion spread join Lindsay Lohan’s set of “artistic” photos shot (no pun intended) with Tyler Shields earlier this year.

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Like a lot of other people, I don’t find violence against women funny, glamorous, inspiring or particularly artistic unless there’s a critical examination of violence spelled out in the artist’s statement. As I stated in an earlier post:

Our media landscape is populated with endless streams of images and messages glorifying, eroticizing and diminishing the serious nature of violence against women, an issue that some have called a hidden pandemic and others have labeled an epidemic of global proportions.

As Gwen Sharp at Sociological Images asked in a post when Lohan’s photos hit the internet:

“Lohan and the photographer have angrily responded that the images are just art and people shouldn’t get so upset. That, of course, isn’t the point. The bigger question is why photographers, artists, fashion editors, and others continue to find images of sexualized violence toward women compelling.”

What is important to remember when photographs like these are released is that they are part of a spectrum. They do not stand alone as just one photograph or just one photo shoot. These images are part of a larger trend of images that feature domination, aggression, violence against women, and “dead” women (or as Jennifer Pozner dubs them, “beautiful corpses“). Through the use of body language, make-up and clothing victimization is implied and violence becomes commonplace. This gory stream of images, featuring mangled women with mouths agape and eyes glazed, is practically unremarkable in the pop culture landscape, especially in advertising. These 3 sets of images follow close on the heels of my recent posts critically examining the rampant misogyny and striking resemblance between Marc Jacobs ad campaigns and images of actual crime scenes of murdered women.

Of course Marc Jacobs isn’t the only violent offender. The collage below was mostly created from my personal collection of ads, a collection I have been compiling for the last decade. You’ll see that Marc Jacobs is joined by Duncan Quinn, Dolce and Gabbana, Roberto Cavalli, Zac Posen, Victoria’s Secret, Cesare Paciotti, and Louis Vuitton.

Through the use of glamorized and often sexualized images of violence, adverting reflects the dominant cultural values; masculine control, power and domination in contrast to submissive, silent feminine passivity. Lets face it, these advertisements are a component of the larger, mainstream cultural climate. They are not representative of a few violent misfits.

The advertising industry is one of the most prolific components of the all-pervasive “culture industry.” Through mass produced images, our cultural tastes and desires are created and nurtured, becoming normative and commonplace.

Is it not through this pleasure and entertainment that cultural objects are produced and advertised, thus creating the cultural industry? Entertainment challenges our moral decision-making and promotes the right vs. wrong, good vs. bad debate amongst the masses. Furthermore, through this entertainment we are taught an attitude of passive acceptance.

We dismiss these images as unremarkable. Expected. Entertainment. These oversimplified sentiments dismiss the notion that this spectrum of images is in any way a fundamental thread in the violent fabric of the culture or that it manifests in tangible ways. I still marvel at the throngs of individuals that dismiss our media culture as a benign.

When the Lohan, Vogue Italia, and Rachel Zoe photos are viewed along with violent ad imagery, we are given a gruesome vantage point into our mainstream hypermasculine, hyperviolent culture that in turn desensitizes us to the serious nature of violence against women.

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Ad collages by Kristin Espinosa.

Additional images originally posted at Feminist Fatale.

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