Lizzie Miller’s flab



My highly intelligent 15-year old daughter said to me that there was nothing wrong with the picture except for her tummy. I pointed out that flab was normal and, of course, that’s the point of the furor that’s surrounded the image. There’s an excellent article that was published in The Guardian here.

The most striking part of the article, apart from a photoshopped version of the above image unfortunately not on the website, was a comment by Liz Jones, fashion editor of the misogynist Dail Mail:

‘Jones says the reason we are sold “perfection” really is as blunt as trying to make us to buy more products. “The advertisers and publishers need us to believe the lie that if we do what we are told – buy stuff – we will look like the women in the pages of the magazine.’

Of course media theorists have long since known this as I wrote in Image and Representation (2nd edition, 2009, p. 213):

‘[Angela] McRobbie has shown how the “teenage press” typically constructs the girl’s body and therefore her sexuality as a series of problems – breasts the wrong size or shape, spotty skin, lifeless hair, fatty thighs, problem periods, The list is endless. The advertisers, of course, who are the ones who benefit economically from these magazines, always have a product that can, at a price, solve the problem. (Fiske, 1989, p.102)’

I would like know Tory politician Michael Gove’s opinion on this. He proposed, last month, that subjects like Media Studies should be worth less points at GCSE because they are ‘soft’. Could the subconscious reason for the denigration of the subject be due to the that it reveals the consumerist nature of society that fuels such body-image neuroses?

John Fiske (1989) Reading the Popular (Routledge: London and New York)
Angela McRobbie (1982)

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Watching the watchers

Watching the watchers

The only Latin I know is ‘Nils satis nisi optimum’ (‘Nothing but the best’) as it’s the motto of Everton FC. Quoting it has always seemed to me to be an example of elitism; communication only to those with a ‘classical’ education. Wikipedia tells us:

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? is a Latin phrase from the Roman poet Juvenal, which literally translates to “Who will guard the guards themselves?”, and is variously translated in colloquial English as “Who watches the watchmen?”, “Who watches the watchers?”, “Who will guard the guards?”, “Who shall watch the watchers?”, “Who polices the police?” or other similar translations. (

By quoting the Latin, the fact that this issue is an old one is emphasised. There’s also the connotation that this conundrem is universal; ‘who polices the police’ is certainly in the news. Yesterday’s Guardian reported how activists were arrested for asking a policeman for his number ( Footage of an Iranian protestor shot by ‘security services’ (security, surely, only for the ruling classes) was posted on YouTube and Facebook. Also yesterday, Israeli human rights group won the British One World Media Award; they’ve given Palestinians cameras to record abuses (although the word ‘abuse’ doesn’t cover what’s happening in the photo above) against them.

Robert Sheckley’s novel The Status Civilization (1960) describes a society where individuals are brainwashed to police themselves; if they commit a ‘crime’ they give themselves up. This repressive society used technology against its own people; however Web 2.0 is allowing the people to use technology against oppressors. 30 years ago Blair Peach was killed, by the police, at a demo and they got away with it. This year we see Ian Tomlinson being attacked at the demo (here) although we still wait to hear if anyone will be held responsible.

Web 2.0 is ‘we media’ and it is the best chance to make democracy (‘derived from the Greek δημοκρατία (dēmokratía (info)), “popular government’ – Wikipedia) work.

‘Tits out girls’: but this is M&S

In May the store Marks & Spencer wilted under the power of Web 2.0 as a Facebook group protested against the increase in price of DD bras. In a classic PR strategy, M&S sought strength out of weakness and admitted its mistake with an ad campaign of a shapely, large breasted torso with the copy ‘We boobed’:


Recently a new campaign, linked to the company’s 125th anniversary, has drawn upon the ‘we boobed’ image; however this time the image of the breasts is not linked to the mistake they made and only shows the breasts, no torso:


This overt fragmentation, and sexual objectification, of the female body was examined by Laura Mulvey in her classic ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ (1975) where she stated that the ideological function of this fragmentation was to portray femininity as something abstract and mystical. While men are usually represented as part of their environment, the eroticized close-ups of women serve to define them not as individuals, but as fragmented beings who exist only for the male gaze.

Given that the original ad was primarily aimed at women (with large breasts) we can adapt Mulvey slightly and suggest that these images are also for the female gaze. They are intended to represent an ideal for women to aspire to; an ideal based upon sexual attraction. Women are defined by how they look and not by what they do.

The copy of the second ad, ‘quality worth every penny’, can also be linked to the body and by using the discourse of sexual commodification we can see that women are being encouraged to prostitute themselves: be sexually attractive and get a desirable (high-earning) male.

(adapted from Image and Representation, Nick Lacey, 2nd edition 2009)

BBC news balance and the wagon wheel

Not going underground

Not going underground

Last Wednesday the BBC One o’ Clock news covered the underground tube strike in London. It was a standard report except for one thing: the Major of London, Boris Johnson, was interviewed and he stated that the strikers should go back to work; however, the striker’s Union was not. Broadcast news in the UK has a duty to be impartial, which usually meant that stories were deemed to have two sides. So in this case the case for the strike should have been put.

In 2007, the BBC acknowledged that the ‘two sides of the story’ idea of balance was no longer viable:

Impartiality in broadcasting has long been assumed to apply mainly to party politics and industrial disputes. It involved keeping a balance to ensure the seesaw did not tip too far to one side or the other. Those days are over. In today’s multi-polar Britain, with its range of cultures, beliefs and identities, impartiality involves many more than two sides to an argument. Party politics is in decline, and industrial disputes are only rarely central to national debate. The seesaw has been replaced by the wagon wheel – the modern version used in the television coverage of cricket, where the wheel is not circular and has a shifting centre with spokes that go in all directions.

Despite the BBC deciding to shift toward the ‘wagon wheel’ approach there is still no justification for not including the Union’s viewpoint in the report last Wednesday. In addition, it was reported that the attendance for the England football team’s match that evening was going to be badly affected. The viewers were left with the impression that a lot of people were being greatly inconvenienced for no justifiable reason. Overall, it was a very badly put together report.

The evil telly in the bedroom

'Behaviour guru'

'Behaviour guru'

Sir Alan Steer was appointed as Tony Blair’s ‘discipline Tsar’ in 2005 and spoke to the NASUWT’s conference this week. The Guardian reports him as saying that ‘children should not have televisions in bedrooms, and should be protected from the bad influence of footballers and celebrities.’ Media Studies folk need to ask ourselves, yet again, why is it politicians and there advisors still believe in the ‘effects’ model of audience behaviour because it’s bollocks:

Research based on the ‘effects’ debate works on the premise that audiences uncritically absorb media messages and act upon them. In this theory, if we watch a party political broadcast we would then desire to vote for that party; we would want to buy every product that we saw advertised; we would want to perpetrate violence if we saw violence represented in the media. It is often termed the ‘hypodermic model’ because it assumes that consuming the media is the same as injecting a drug as it has a direct affect upon audiences.

The ‘debate’ would be laughable, as it is ridiculous, if it was not for the fact that much censorship is ‘justified’ because of the alleged effect the material would have on (certain) audiences. David Gauntlett has surveyed the effects debate literature and one conclusion he has drawn is:

that if, after over sixty years of a considerable amount of research effect, direct effects of media upon behaviour have not been clearly identified, then we should conclude that they are simply not there to be found. (Gauntlett, 1998, p. 120 – see also here)

Despite this, the belief in the media can have a direct affect on audiences has a great influence on our lives. (Media Institutions and Audiences, p. 145)

The link between moral panics and new technology is  well established, which is why video games and the internet are favourite media topics for demonisation. However Steer’s focus on television harks back 30 years, though in those days few people could afford to have sets in bedrooms. It seems the place of children’s TV is a key to his worry: presumably he believes children are sitting alone watching footballers and celebrities as a way of learning how to behave. Of course children are more likely to be playing games on their TV (which, incidentally, is good for you – see EU report) or social networking online.

As the teacher quoted at the end of The Guardian‘s report said: ‘Which planet is he on?’

The Fourth Estate doing what it’s meant to do

A few minutes away from death

A few minutes away from death

Newspapers, in their print form, are on a death watch. However we need the ‘fourth estate’ to counteract governmental attempts to control the people. Edmund Burke is reported to have stated, during the 18th century in Parliament, that the Fourth Estate, the press, was the most important Estate of all. The other three are the Courts, Religion and Parliament. The Fourth Estate, Burke argued, acted as a check on abuses of power by the other three Estates, by holding them accountable to the electorate and providing information to ensure democracy can operate efficiently. The police state-like tactics used by the Metropolitan force recently has emphasised this and all praise to The Guardian for its role in revealing the abuses. Check out the videos they’ve received.

The end of lads’ mags?

No relation

No relation

Does the news that Maxim is to close herald the end of lads’ mags? This is how The Guardian sees it.

It’s likely that there’ll be more closures in the market sector (well, that’s true of all print sectors) but the brands will continue online. This is ironic as it was probably the ‘nipple count’ on the Internet that led to the decline of lads magazine. See pp206-14 of Image & Rep (2e).

The book argues that sexism in the media is as great as it was in the ’70s, before the second wave of feminism highlighted the ridiculous way women were treated. The only difference now is that ‘women as sex objects’ are portrayed as self-expression on their part.

Editor of the original Loaded (the seminal lads’ mag), James Brown, has an interesting take on Maxim‘s demise in the Observer.