I am in McDonald’s staring at a poster for the new McRib sandwich. The photo shows this huge, juicy, succulent rib — the size of half a cow. The photo is just begging you to buy a McRib. Although I have never eaten a McRib, I do have experience with McDonald’s hamburgers. I’m sure you all know what I’m talking about. The photo shows a thick patty with a watery tomato, pickle, and lettuce packed on high on a bakery-fresh bun, and then when you get the burger, it is… a typical McDonald’s hamburger, a grayish, flacid disc that barely fits in the soft, limp bun. So, I am asking myself — and you — why is this not considered false advertising? There are stringent controls on the words that go into advertising. A company can get sued for lying to their consumers with their words. I can’t run an ad saying that if you come into my car dealership, I will sell you an Acura, and then give you a Corolla. So, why hasn’t anyone ever sued McDonald’s for the fakery of their food photos?
My photographer friend, Kim, recently went to a class in Los Angeles to learn the techniques of commercial food photography. From what she told me, it sounded like a fascinating class, with food photography an art form in itself. She told me how sandwiches are stuffed with cotton to make them thicker, and food coloring is used to make chocolate look more chocolate-y. And photographers get big bucks for this deception, on-the-set fakery done before the use of Photoshop.
Do you ever notice that readers like the “real” and “authentic,” in writing? We like to read about struggle and drama. On the other side, have you noticed that we tend to love the photographs that should be in a glossy magazine? Beautiful settings. And beautiful people. Our families look near perfect. Our yards are always clean. The laundry on the couch is always hidden. Everyone has nice hair. Special filters are used to create a mood. Photoshop is employed to rid us of blemishes.
Of course, writing is also fake. We have our own literary brush tools. We can completely change the mood of a sentence, but switching a word, or adding punctuation. Some of us are more poetic in our words. If I say that my friend was “as angry as a bulldog,” I am giving you a visual picture. But it is still manipulation, like a yellow filter, or the Hipstamatic app in the iphone. My friend is not really a bulldog. I’m not even sure bulldogs are “angry.”
I am not a photographer. So I am curious. Are you searching for any truth in your photos? If you take a perfect photo of a perfect family in front of a perfect home, are you trying to express the Platonic ideal of your family? Are words more suited for communication and expressing truth (if you so choose), and photos more for beauty and glorified image?
I know media images of beauty are always a popular topic with my female friends online. But I’m not sure we should trust corporate America to determine what is “real” for us, women or otherwise. When I see those Dove “real women” campaigns, I mostly see photoshopped size 8 models instead of photoshopped size 2 models.
We tend to look down our noses at the use of “advertising” techniques in writing, seeing them as manipulative, but applaud the same techniques in photography. Why does beauty always have to be so “prettified?” Why do we always talk about our search for truth and authenticity in art if we don’t really want to see it or express it in our images?
Does any of this make any sense? Maybe not. I’ll tell you one thing — that McRib sandwich looks good!