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Friday, 14 March 2014

Robin Thicke, Lily Allen and a Zebra...

All walk into a bar.  The barman asks, "why the long face?"  The Zebra replies, "because they've both been criticised for the creation of inappropriate images/music, so the round's on me".
Okay, this story is quite old now, but I bring it up in relation to publicity - the dangers thereof.  I was planning a few photos the other week for my next show Hang.  I was to stand, dressed in my fetching zebra onesie, holding up a protest slogan - the play is partly about a man called Brian who wants to be a zebra and is persecuted for it.  It is, to some degree, a satire, a political drama, a think piece.  It is also hopefully funny.
But as I thought about the implications of this image I started to come a bit unstuck.  In the play there is a logic to Brian's protest.  It is both funny and entirely serious.  It is and it isn't a parallel to other civil rights protests.  In the context of the play this relationship between the serious and absurd should be clear - it should not be misunderstood.  Out of context then things look quite different.
So, I thought I'd do a shoot of Brian protesting, but then I thought this might be trouble.  I was going to have him holding a placard with a slogan - but what?  I wrote out a few and did a rough shoot to try them out - more for this blog than for actually publicity.  Here are two of the test photos.
Number 1.  "I am normal and I want my freedom."
This is a quote from the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band.  It is a generic cry for non-conformity.  It is safe.

Number 2.  Some People are Zebras - Get Over It.  This is a spoof of a famous gay slogan campaigning for equal rights.  In the context of the play this would be alright.  As a separate image it says, "Being Gay is as absurd as wanting to be a zebra".  This is not what the play is about and I would be distressed if this is what people took from it.  It is not acceptable, it would never be used (except as illustration for the argument of this blog post).

So what has all this to do with Robin Thicke and Lily Allen?  Well, back in the mists of 2013 Robin Thicke produced an enormously successful song Blurred Lines which was widely judged to be 'a bit rapey'.  The lyrics and the cavorting naked ladies in the video were deemed misogynistic.  His defence for the video was that the director of the video was a woman and the naked ladies thought it was fine, so what was the problem?
Ironically Lily Allen then put out a video for a song critical of exactly what Robin Thicke represented, but in a shot in her video she had a number of black ladies twerking behind her.  This was deemed by some to be slightly racist.  Her defence for the video was that the dancers were fine with it, so what was the problem?  The Robin Thicke defence, as it were.
The problem is, of course, obvious.  It doesn't matter what you think is fine in the context of a rehearsal, a play or when recording a music video - once that image, play or video enters the public sphere, I will be interpreted in its own context, the context of the world around.  The reason why I haven't used the above ideas for actual publicity photos is because their meaning outside of the play is fluid and so can come to mean something very, very different.  Even within the context of the play Hang there is room for misunderstanding of the message of the play.  Audiences do not always understand the difference between what characters say and what the play is saying - confusing, for example, the presence of a racist (sexist/zebrist etc) character on stage and the play being racist (sexist/zebrist etc).  But that's a totally different problem to ensuring clarity in your messages to the media.
This is one of the reasons why people come a cropper with social media - they don't appreciate the number of interpretations a statement or image can have when decontextualised.  We have all (those who use social media) at some point found a lighthearted comment be interpreted as an attack.  This is why lol was invented - to explain to the reader that something is a joke.  Lol is context.  Lol is sometimes vital.  But I can hardly put lol next to my photos - that would just make matters worse.
So, instead, a silly trailer.  I like my trailer - it's fun, it's silly and I don't think you can misinterpret it.

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