Camille Reyes

Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

Nuclear Energy Propaganda-Now in Three New Flavors!

In Advertising, Culture, PR on March 27, 2011 at 3:25 pm

A friend sent me a link to three pro-nuclear energy propaganda shorts featured on and Mother Jones.  The first was created, it would seem, in Japan as a response to the current disaster at Fukushima.  They equate potentially lethal levels of radiation from the reactor leak there to a cartoon character named Nuclear Boy, who has diarrhea.  The video is bizarre, perhaps owning to my Western sensibilities, or maybe because it is wrong in any language.  Even the team behind South Park might think twice about turning a nuclear disaster into one giant fart joke (emphasis on might).

Most disturbing is the treatment of the brave plant workers hailed by other media as the Fukushima 50.  Their sacrifice, with death almost certain and likely painful, is reduced to a group of anonymous doctors who are trying to help cure the sickness of the plant.  The narration cops to the dangerous nature of this healing work, and solicits gratitude, but it remains sanitized in the telling, free from the toxic poo and the stench of real death.  Of course, to deliver a frank treatment might cause panic, and the point of the short is to ease the fear of the public.  Yet this very motive is dangerous when it holds no connection to reality.  Cultural differences or no, glossing over a real threat with ill-timed humor is unacceptable.

In 1952, General Electric produced the second short featured on the link.  It is ostensibly about nuclear energy production, and its benefits.  I admit to a certain culturally specific seduction with the beautiful (to my eyes) hand-drawn and now nostalgia laden animation, the soothing, authoritative, and familiar voice of the narrator, and the easily digestible science.  In fact, the explanations about the way atoms and nuclear fission work seemed more effective than my high school Chemistry textbook¹.  Yet the propaganda has some insidious work at play:

  1. Like the Japanese video, it tries to infantilize an extremely complex subject, rendering it meek, without fangs.  Radiation is characterized by a dancing fool with an atom for a head, not a dragon, a bulldog, or even a boy with the runs.
  2. For essentially the same purpose, it uses ancient myths, but with a modern twist that dispenses with pesky hubris, i.e. the main point of Greek tragedy.  No, in this animated adventure atomic energy is personified by various muscular giants (read Gods): the warrior, the healer, etc.  All represent the wonderful potential of nuclear energy, and as the narration makes clear, all these giants are under the thumb of mankind.  The only reference to the dangers of nuclear energy come around minute 11:00, and pass quickly to an exciting array of applications to make our lives easier.
  3. This brings us to the wonder of bringing good things to life!  The old GE advertising tagline is apt here.  The short makes no mention of the company’s role in making all sorts of products from bombs to electric juicers to propaganda films.  It strikes me as a super stealthy way to promote a new Cold War rhetoric.  We use nuclear energy to power the stuff you want to buy, and conveniently keep the Russians subordinate to the power of some specific men.

The third short (linked above) is more overtly branded, a clear sign that we are dealing with another contemporary project.  The Simpsons and Fox Television lend their talents to create Smilin’ Joe Fission, a wild-west alien character on a mission to tame jumping bars of radiation.  The considerable educational merit of the GE short is lost, replaced with a bunch of yuks, including Joe’s attempt to hide that pesky nuclear waste under a carpet.  My assumption, given many hours of Simpson watching, is that this moment is satiric, a wink to the audience that the gremlins of nuclear energy are persistent.  However, the overall effect invites the viewer to buy another Bart toy, and allow the nuclear gun slingin’ to continue unabated, albeit with a yellow hue.


¹Of course, back in high school I was too busy singing musical numbers and writing radio commercials about scented tampons for my English class to really pay attention to the periodic table. The spot ended with the sound of a maxi-pad ripping off underwear.  My teachers had a love/hate relationship with me.  I like to push the envelope (what does that even mean?), but my chuckles end at nuclear radiation.


Fat Jeans in the Spin Cycle

In Advertising, media on March 6, 2011 at 10:04 pm

While folding my laundry at the mat the other day, I was subjected to the most confounding form of misogyny, the kind perpetrated by women on other women.  It is called the Wendy Williams Show.  Cheryl Burke, a young celebrity and dancer, was the guest.  If you watch the clip, you’ll see Wendy bring up Cheryl’s weight issues.  They show a photograph where Wendy says she looks “fine.”  Perhaps Wendy meant fine as in “damn, that girl is fiiiine,” but Cheryl certainly doesn’t take it that way.  She says she looks fine like she’s wearing a grey turtleneck, sweat pants and white socks in Birkenstocks. Fine. Meh.  Soon, the “after” picture pops up, and Wendy excitedly says, “I can see your ribs.  You lost a lot of weight.”

At this point, I suppressed the urge to throw my large, fine, folded panties at the screen.  The claps of approval from the live studio audience were nauseating.  I could just picture some kid with a headset on, raising her hands urging the robotic crowd to clap on cue.

Cheer for the suppression of your entire gender!  Yay!

Cheryl looked better than fine in the first picture; she looked absolutely beautiful.  As for the second picture, it is a subtle portrait of hate.  She is posing in a red suit.  She looks hungry.  She looks desperate.  Each rib screams in succession: “Look at me now Hollywood bitches!  I conform!  I have an eating disorder called FullFast!”  Cheryl really believes in FullFast.  Like really, really.  It’s a spray that kills your appetite.  Just don’t mix it up with RoundUp!

And because Wendy Williams cares so much about her viewers, she’s giving you all a free sample of our national disorder.  Like most women, I worry about my weight.  Although I love my father beyond measure, I will never forget all the times he’s called me “chunky” or after coming home from an adult soccer league match to watch me play, saying “if you lose weight, you’d run faster.”  More damaging still are the hurtful words from other women.  I noticed when my abuela stopped calling me flaca, or skinny.  No more Cuban bread for me.  Solace is not to be found in our mass media either, even on so-called women’s shows.  Solidarity doesn’t work on television.  Compassion and community doesn’t sell FullFast.  Self-loathing does.

Two women very close to me have struggled with eating disorders.  They both happen to be empirically attractive.  Yet foreheads on toilet bowls are not pretty.  Spraying shit in your mouth is not sexy.  The media has long upheld a false mirror to women.  The media, our parents, our siblings, our lovers, our friends, our own minds are guilty.  Yet this particular problem is hardest on women; and the media, as our arbiters of public opinion, are the worst offenders.

I worry the resurgent, media-darling fight against obesity will be co-opted as justification for the media’s brokering of air-brushed images, spray-on bodies. Doctors quoted in the press urge us to get fit or die, yet they leave it to the people without medical degrees to define what fit is.  According to trend expert Wendy Williams, Cheryl Burke is a model, one who has overcome the adversity of the image conscious Hollywood, to show us just what a killer collarbone can do.  The televised Cheryl Burke is fit–fit for the furthering of gross stereotypes, fit for daytime television, fit for your manufactured applause.