And the green cape brings forth the spring
Jeff Jacoby at Boston.com describes a new industry; or perhaps a very old one. The notion of altering the future by manipulating symbols in the present goes back to prehistory. It has returned with a vengeance in the form of politically correct instruction. But first, let's look back at prehistory.
Sympathetic magic, also known as imitative magic, is a type of magic based on imitation or correspondence. Imitation involves using effigies to affect the environment of people. Correspondence is based on the idea that one can influence something based on its relationship to another thing. ... In 1933, Leo Frobenius, discussing cave paintings in North Africa, pointed out that many of the paintings did not seem to be mere depictions of animals and people. To him, it seemed as if it was an acting out of the hunt before the hunt began, as well as a consecration of the animal to be killed. In this way, the pictures served to secure a successful hunt.
Pictures are still used today to "secure a successful hunt". Jeff Jacoby describes how textbook publishers create a synthetic image of the world for their audiences when the real one won't correspond.
You're a publisher of children's textbooks, and you have a problem. Your diversity guidelines -- quotas in all but name -- require you to include pictures of disabled children in your elementary and high school texts, but it isn't easy to find handicapped children who are willing and able to pose for a photographer. Kids confined to wheelchairs often suffer from afflictions that affect their appearance, such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. How can you meet your quota of disability images if you don't have disabled models who are suitably photogenic? Well, you can always do what Houghton Mifflin does. The well-known textbook publisher keeps a wheelchair on hand as a prop and hires able-bodied children from a modeling agency to pose in it. It keeps colorful pairs of crutches on hand, too -- in case a child model turns out to be the wrong size for the wheelchair.
Or you can simply buy pictures from organizations which specialize in fulfilling the unfortunate textbook author's need for quota pictures. Jacoby mentions Photoedit, a company which "specializes in supplying publishers and advertisers with positive images of ethnic and minority people in all walks of life." It claims that "over 75% of our image library features African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Gay and Lesbian, handicapped, and senior citizens in their daily life." Of course pictures of actual minorities might not be suitable for the textbook because the real thing sometimes doesn't match the image the textbook author must project. A little editing will set that right. Jacoby notes that one supplier of pictures
advises publishers that images of Chicanos can be passed off as American Indians from the Southwest, because they "look very similar." Similarly, Golden notes, a textbook photographer tells clients that since the "facial features" of some Asians resemble Indians from Mexico, "there are some times where you can flip-flop."
And we are back in the world where Warner Oland can play Charlie Chan. After all, if a Swede can play a Chinese detective in a Hollywood movie, it's only fair to let a Filipino play a Mexican in a textbook. But sometimes the Mexican can't play the Mexican if, for example, he has blue eyes. Jacoby observes that "authentic Hispanics who happen to have blond hair or blue eyes don't count toward the Hispanic quota 'because their background would not be apparent to readers'". But it is really Jacoby's next anecdote that takes us back to the prehistoric world of cave art and sympathetic magic. If you can't find your minority, Photoshop one in.
In 2000, the University of Wisconsin at Madison featured a group of students cheering at a football game on the cover of its admissions brochure. One of those students was Diallo Shabazz, a black senior who hadn't been at the game. University officials, desperately wanting the new publication to reflect a diverse student body, had lifted Diallo's image from somewhere else and digitally inserted it into the football shot. "Our intentions were good," Madison's director of university publications said when the deception was exposed, "but our methods were bad".
But the road to hell is sometimes paved with good intentions. Reality isn't always what we are certain it should be, even when our carefully selected images try to create it. If the picture below really isn't true, so the argument goes, it ought to have been.