Original Magazine Cover:
Though the image displayed above is not explicitly an ad, it nevertheless is an experience that people consume, in which whether it was intended or not, it commemorates a message of standardization that is harmful if persisted. Culture jamming is a process by which an original image is altered to subvert the meaning, showing the underlying narrative of an image or corporation. Although culture jamming is usually an anti-capitalist tactic, it is crucial to use the same critical lens when consuming other modes of media. I chose this image for this assignment because of how literally eye-catching it is, along with its corresponding popularity due to the picturesque portrayal. It is easy to become mesmerized by this type of image because of the beauty this young woman holds, which is what we first notice about this magazine covering refugees escaping Afghanistan. However, the reason why this image is so eye-catching is because of the default beauty standards already set, in which are encompassed by euro-centric characteristics. In our capitalist world, the commodification of beauty is perpetuating a fixed narrative in which promotes white-beauty ideals, ultimately excluding those who do not fit within the predisposed mold due to their “inadequacy”. At a larger scale, this narrative promotes the superiority of white features, in which because these are the only characteristics being presented, people will resonate with them more and believe in their precedence. Thus, this cycle validates and standardizes the white experience, creating it as a default, in which those who possess these features will be taken more seriously. Furthermore, there is nothing explicitly wrong with this magazine cover, as the young refugee woman’s story is valuable. Yet, this begs the question, if she did not display big, blue/green eyes, a small nose, straight hair, and lighter skin, would this image have the same impact? There is egregious privilege in white features, and as a society, we need to unlearn our euro-centric biases which we have used to view people and their experiences as credible or not.
My philosophy for this culture jam is to highlight the ways media is overly saturated with white presenting folks, in which harm our perception of what our diverse world looks like. I changed the title of National Geographic to White Physiology to highlight the normality and subsequent obsession of whiteness across the globe. Physiology within biology is how certain parts of our bodies function, and to play off that, by adding the word “white” it front of it, it emphasizes how whiteness has become a normal function and standard in the world. Metaphorically, the philosophy of white physiology has created mandates on who is seen as a valuable member of society, in which is showcased by the young, refugee woman with multiple euro-centric features. Also, exchanging “white” for “national” was a strategic approach to highlight white Nationalism within America. Though National Geographic does not push a white Nationalist agenda, nor do I believe they are consciously trying to perpetuate prejudice, the slight micro-aggressions of white nationalism within Western society, such as the glorification of white features, are embedded within the magazine cover itself. National Geographic is leaning into the biases of their audience in which further promotes our predisposition of inherent white superiority. Additionally, the latter text on the cover further develops this theory by blatantly showing exactly what this cover is achieving. Instead of illustrating the destructiveness of Afghanistan at this time as the original author did, I am illustrating how destructive our xenophobic biases are. Lastly, show-casing the immeasurable pain that refugees are subjected to through the palatable euro-centric lens is not revolutionary. To create empathy for all there is a need for representation, in which ultimately fosters the dismantling of xenophobia, which accepts and promotes diversity.
Howard, B, C., Parker, L. (2016, November 2). ‘Afghan Girl’ Sharbat Gula Denied Bail, Reported Ill. National Geographic. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2016/11/afghan-girl-sharbat-gula-denied-bail-hepatitis-c/