the image above was photoshopped. then a liberal british politician complained. all of a sudden, lâncome recalled the ad.
but isn't the l'oreal/lâncome ad supposed to deliver exactly such an image? to be an ad is precisely to instantiate and negotiate with such hyperbolic properties. why? because it sells! that julia roberts really doesn't look like the image in the photo is irrelevant. this is exactly how the target audience wants to see her.
here's l'oreal's justification for recalling the ad:
... while L'Oreal admitted to retouching and denied the retouching was misleading, it did not actually provide the ASA with any evidence of how much retouching was done ... to establish that the two ads were not misleading.let's analyse the first part of the argument: "misleading" means "purposely deceptive" as in photoshopping with the intent of being deceptive. kind of circular, since photoshopping is already deceptive. a technique does what it does and photoshop is an enhancing technique. i.e., once photoshopped a photo (in its realistic modern sense) becomes a kind of digital illustration (i doubt ASA will agree with this assessment).
then, there is second part, i.e., how to establish that an ad is not misleading, which boils down to l'oreal's claim that roberts' photoshopped image is achievable if used as directed, i.e., as long as the image is "consistent with the public perception of her as a beautiful woman."
who is naive enough nowadays to believe that an ad should follow a one-to-one truth correspondence between a subject and its image? when "true" means "achievable" an ad becomes irrefutable, because there is always a possible world where someone cakes her face with l'oreal makeup as close as roberts' ad. see that it may never happen in our world and still be possible!
none of this is new. is this cecil beaton photo of greta garbo in the 1930's not retouched?
unless we rule out light effects + lens filters + photo development. not bad for a surpassed capitalist paradigm!
l'oreal lâncome's recall shows that the media operates at the level of simulacrum, which surpasses -and is more glamorous than- truth. now the reasons coming from the policing watchdog groups seem exaggerated, dogmatic -as if women can't tell that ads are not veridical, and so, the more reasons to pay attention to them!
all of which brings me to jean baudrillard, who had a sixth sense for these games of simulacra. his idea was that the seductive qualities of the image provoke a kind of ecstasy. the observer catatonically absorbs the image regardless of its truth content. in his essay "the sacred horizon of appearances" he explores this ambivalence:
... these appearances are not in the least frivolous, but occasions for a game and its stakes, and a passion for deviation -the seduction of the signs themselves being more important than the emergence of truth- which interpretation neglects and destroys in search for hidden meanings.