Monthly Archives: April 2008

Words are Powerful

Laurie says:

Deb and I consider the essays and texts that accompany my photos to be vital to our work. We spend lots of time doing outreach, lectures, workshops etc., and working with the communities of people who are photographed in order to get the right texts. We listen a lot. We never have an exhibition without texts. So when I saw this story on Muzzlewatch, the Jewish Voice for Peace news blog, I was really struck by it.

“After only 2 days, in response to complaints (which have not been made public), Stanford University removed photographs on April 9 by Lisa Nessan, a young Jewish photographer and peace activist who has spent a great deal of time in Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories…”

And then a day later

“Actually, it was the captions and the title of the photo exhibit. The Stanford administration approved photos of Palestinians taken by photographer Lisa Nessan for an exhibit called “Hope Under Siege.” But when the sponsoring student group, Students Confronting Apartheid by Israel (SCAI), changed the title to “Life Under Israeli Apartheid” and others on campus complained, the administration pulled down the exhibit after just two days. Students say the captions all include information from human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

Nonetheless, Stanford offered to reinstate the entire show without the title or captions. Student organizers wisely said NO, and held a protest instead. The campus group Students Confronting Apartheid by Israel (SCAI) writes that it was “part of their “Women Under Fire” series that highlighted Jewish resistance to Israeli apartheid.”

Four of the photos without the original captions are on Flickr.

People always say that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” but sometimes words are powerful. All too often without context photographs that have strong social change aspects become depoliticized art that can be appreciated only aesthetically.

When we worked on publishing Women en Large, we turned down publication offers from two otherwise excellent feminist presses because they would only publish it if we pulled the text. We were told it was “too polemic”.

I’ve been told numerous times by people who saw Women En Large in galleries that without the text they wouldn’t have appreciated the social change meaning of the work. Words are powerful.

I really respect SCAI’s decision not to allow the exhibition with the captions censored.

Thanks to Jean Pauline from Bay Area Women in Black for sending me this.

Gastric Bypass – It’s Not Just for Fat People Anymore

Lynne Murray says:

Remember those 1950-60s sci fi movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Night of the Living Dead where everyone you know turned into an alien or a zombie? I just had that experience last Sunday night when 60 Minutes, a news show I have respected for years, broadcast essentially an infomercial for weight loss surgery.

The story suggested that gastric bypass surgery would “cure” diabetes and “reduce the incidence of some cancers.”

I am still angry about this because I believe in investigative journalism, and 60 Minutes usually digs way deeper than simply broadcasting one side of an issue. They didn’t bother to talk to anyone with any negative effects from the surgery or to any experts who contradicted the surgeons who are pushing the operation.

If the 60 Minutes researchers had done more than a cursory examination of outcomes for gastric bypass surgery they would have been able to find disturbing information that this is far from a “cure” for diabetes.

Amy Tenderich at Diabetes Mine, a blog about diabetes, shares reports from some victims of the “gastric bypass “cure” for diabetes:

Mary Lou Gerstle shared her experience: “The real reason I had the gastric bypass done was to improve my diabetes. My diabetes has not gotten better. It’s been no help for glucose control! I’m even more out of control now than I was before. Now I know that there’s no real clinical evidence that this surgery helps diabetes. In fact, right now I am considering an insulin pump.

There is a kind of “reporting” that consists of turning a press release into an article without even bothering to check the facts. Then there is the kind of journalism that wins Pulitzer Prizes because the reporters actually investigate. Washington Post reporters, Woodward and Bernstein were encouraged to “follow the money” during the Watergate investigation–to find out who is profiting from a given situation, trace the roots of corruption and expose crimes and deceptions. Sixty Minutes often does that, but when it comes to weight loss issues, they might as well be taking kickbacks from Jenny Craig.

I should have seen which way the wind was blowing when Lesley Stahl did a report that was essentially a valentine to Hoodia, an African plant used as an appetite suppressant.

Stahl’s eyes lit up when she heard that this miracle substance might allow a person to not eat for a day or more. No one questioned her remark as bizarre or unhealthy.

In what universe is it considered healthy and desirable not to eat for a day or more? Oh, wait a minute. I sometimes forget (believe me I’ve worked hard to forget) that in our deranged collective world view food deprivation, whether enforced by drugs or surgery is always considered to be “good for us.” In fact, anything that may lead to weight loss, no matter how small or temporary, is also considered to be healthful

I am not saying that Stahl has an eating disorder. I’m saying OUR ENTIRE CULTURE has an eating disorder, which Stahl and 60 Minutes are now servicing with uncritical, infomercials in the guise of news reports.

Whether or not there is a direct profit motive for 60 Minutes, there certainly is a contempt shown by the producers. What does it matter if they get it right when any reporting on the subject of fat is a “women’s issue” or an issue concerning sick, fat people? Unlike thin people who get sick, fat people are assumed to have brought it upon themselves, presumably by consorting with the Devil of their baser urges for the Bad Foods in Large Quantities.

Anyone seen as willfully sick (like fat people) are either in league with the Evil One, or in the case of diabetics, like the victims of witches in the old Salem Witch Trials, have they succumbed to temptation. If the flesh can be mortified through the scalpel they can be healed, cured and redeemed.

A book I’ve been reading, Carol F. Karlsen’s The Devil in the Shape of a Woman, Witchcraft in Colonial New England, has a fascinating section about how beliefs in Europe about old women in particular became so accepted that there was no need to debate them (in fact, it was dangerous to question them):

No colonist ever explicitly said why he saw witches as women, or particularly as older women….

Human societies relegate certain information to the category of self-evident truths. Ideas that are treated as self-evident, “as too true to warrant discussion,” constitute society’s implicit knowledge.The Devil in the Shape of a Woman (pages 153-154)

The connection between overeating and fatness/sickness is seen as so “obvious” by our societies that no one, including most doctors bothers to question whether it is true. The assumption is that all fat people eat too much and drastically cutting their food intake through drugs or surgery will solve every physical problem they have. If they suffer because of the drugs or surgery–well, they brought it upon themselves.

Karlsen quotes anthropologist, Monica Hunter Wilson in calling witchcraft beliefs, “the standardized nightmare of the group…The Devil in the Shape of a Woman (page 181)

Certainly fat, whether it be displayed on other people’s bodies, or creeping up to latch itself onto oneself, is the worst nightmare of the American public. The visceral equation of fat with sickness, weakness and sin is so strong that even medical professionals take it for granted, parroting junk science and never looking at the actual, scientific data.

In an afterword to the 1989 paperback edition of her book, Karlsen notes: “The links between the demonization of women and other difficult-to-subordinate groups…remain largely unexamined.” The Devil in the Shape of a Woman (page 261)

What could be more difficult-to-subordinate than fat? I’m not referring to fat people–we’re only start to stand up and demand equal treatment. But persistent, unbudgeable fatness, like a visible manifestation of the sin of greed, is a specter that haunts Americans in particular. In preying on these anxieties rather than drilling down to factual results 60 Minutes is demonstrating how far they have fallen from journalistic adequacy.

Note to 60 Minutes–I used to love you, but it’s all over now.