Thursday, September 19, 2013

In Invitation to Participate in Something Real

I'm working on a multimedia piece that explores the idea of self-image and the internet. This piece is part of a whole larger work that is a collaboration with my husband, Dan Waber. The seeds of my idea come from some disillusionment with social media. I'd love your help with my plan, which will be part writing, part movement, part image. If you're intrigued, read on for the seeds that are sprouting to form the project, and the specifics for participation.

The Seeds

Seed One: A couple of years ago I was on a television show. It was a really great life experience, but nothing I continued to pursue. I now get casting calls for a variety of projects, including what are called web promos. A web promotional is a video created to go viral. Many of them are the heart-tugging or "this is so totally amazing OMG!" videos everyone is sharing because they are so "true." They aren't. Most of them are stealthily (or not so stealthily) disguised advertisements. What's so insidious about this type of advertising is that no one wants to admit that they've been kanoodled into sharing an ad. You shared it to your wall, and all your friends have liked it and commented on how touched they were, or how brilliant it is, or any number of comments that make you feel satisfied for having shared it. A great example of a web promo are the Dove Campaign For Real Beauty videos. It's a more obvious campaign - Dove is a company that produces a line of beauty products - we all know that so they aren't hiding anything. What I find creepy about it is that they create videos (which likely had casting calls, btw) that encourage self-esteem while selling you products that promise to erase lines, firm skin, and give you super shiny hair. I'm going to just call that campaign out for the bullshit that it is. There are many others, and they get shared as if they are truth. They are propaganda.

I once got a casting notice looking for "soccer mom types" to be interviewed on a news program about a current event. It was a rush call. It wasn't a testimonial for a product - they were casting people to look like they are "on the scene" to ask them questions about what was going on. The people who actually were on the scene either didn't look good enough or couldn't speak coherently I guess. Whatever the reason, they needed to gloss the news up a bit.

Seed Two: Last week I downloaded an app for my phone called Perfect 365 after reading about it: "Perfect 365 is a one-of-a-kind portrait app that allows anyone to easily select trendy makeover styles or fine-tune every detail of their face to get perfect portraits. It's fun. It's easy. You'll want to enhance all your party photos and share them with everyone!" That fueled my curiousity about what makes us feel like we have to be perfect all the time, or somehow better/younger/faster/smarter than we are. It also dredged up some thoughts on my own self-image issues and what I share online. Fun times.

I took a couple of photos and pushed them through the Perfect 365 app, and this is what I got. The top photos are the originals. The bottom photos are the "fun and easy perfect portraits!" Sorry about the nightmares you are about to have (I'm referring to the "perfected" photos that erase all personality from my face).

Perfect 365 can make my nose thinner. I can also slenderize my face, eliminate blemishes, soften skin, add foundation, change my eye color. You can do all sorts of "perfecting" manipulations with this app.

Seed Three: A friend shared some stories about Ok Cupid and Tinder. Tinder (another smartphone app) culls your Facebook profile photos and location, and matches you with people in your area. From there, a person can "like" you based on your photo alone. If you "like" them back you can contact them. My friend said that she puts Tinder on her phone for awhile, waits to get a "like" or two so she feels good, and then she never contacts anyone and deletes the app.

Seed Four: Seed Four is just a stew of all these things - research into the McCarthy era for an upcoming poetry residency, the emails I get for casting calls seeking women 25-40 years old who are "pretty, elegant, and charming but approachable with a down-to-earth quality," (what does that even mean?) the advertising I see shared through social media as if it were real, the reality show casting calls, fashion magazines, my own weirdo desires to be beautiful. The perfect storm for creativity, and for exploring what is real and true.

With the ability to easily change how you look, what is real on social media? What do you believe is true? What do you think about how you look? I've got a lot of questions churning after erasing all of my neck wrinkles.


If you want to participate, you'll be asked to do the following:

Answer a few questions about self-image, self-esteem, and the internet.

Email me a photo of yourself for a Perfect 365 manipulation. You'll get to approve or deny the use of the photo in the finished piece.

If this seems like a women-only project, it's not. I would love to hear from men, too. If you are interested in participating, please Email me.