thoughts for march 2005

martha, martha, martha!

Posted 12 years, 2 months ago

The current cover of Newsweek features a photo of Martha Stewart looking great after her ordeal in prison. As the magazine was published before Stewart’s release, the Newsweek cover was assembled using an airbrushed photo of her head and a model’s body. Stewart and her PR people love the cover, and aren’t offended.

So a question was put to me—Was the Newsweek article unethical? This was my response.

Was Greedo Murdered? If someone superimposed an open fly onto the Bill Clinton _Rolling Stone_ cover, and passed it off as an unretouched image, that would be irresponsible photojournalism. If someone pasted a gun into Elian Gonzalesís hand that was pointed at the ATF stormtrooper , that would be irresponsible photojournalism. If somebody airbrushed a banner trailing from the plane that crashed into the WTC that said ìI BOUGHT YELLOWCAKE IN NIGERóLOVE, SADDAM HUSSEINî, that would be irresponsible photojournalism. (But they would be eye-catching images.)

In fact, if not understood as an illustration (which Iíve read Newsweek was labeled as such) all of those examples would be misrepresenting the truth to influence public opinion. They would be an alteration of reality after the fact. They would be nothing short of lies generated to push someoneís agenda. Propaganda is not journalism.

But fabricating a shining, perfect housewife image of domestic diva Martha Stewart would be irresponsible photojournalism? Get serious.

Does He look fat to you? In Michaelangeloís fresco of the Last Judgement, the image of Christ is high and center, orchestrating events of the end of days from chaos to order. Do we care what heís wearing? Who is his stylist? No, we donít care because clearly thatís not the message of the image.

On the other hand, the image of Martha returning fresh, glowing, confident (and svelteó rar! ) was the message of the Newsweek cover. And I embrace it. Why? Because that image did everything it was supposed to do. It got you anticipating the return of St. Martha. Will she look that great when she arrives? Is she better than she was before? If she met me do you think sheíd like me? Buzz, buzz, buzz.

Ethical Selection I donít see it as being a question of ethics at all. Creating an image of ìNew and Improved Marthaî is true to the message of the image. It promises. It delivers. So trim your nosehairs! Weed the lawn! Hang new curtains! There is no duplicity. There is only our perfect Martha.