Photo Real – Molly Crabapple on Photoshop, Feminism, and Truth
Two weeks ago, Jezebel published un-retouched outtakes of Lady Gaga’s Versace campaign.
Without Photoshop, Gaga’s wig was more wig-like, her makeup flat beige, but she was the same skinny, strong-nosed chameleon that Stephani Germanotta has always been. The outtakes were not interesting but showing celebrities without Photoshop is Jezebel’s brand.
Jezebel exploded in popularity in 2007 by offering a $10,000 bounty for originals of Faith Hill’s Redbook cover. The raw photos proved the magazine had liquefied the star’s waist, softened her nasiolabial folds, and brutalized her elbow into a bendy tube. This January, with more controversy, Jezebel paid another $10,000 for the originals of Lena Dunham’sVogue cover shoot. Those revealed only a tidied dress.
Jezebel’s is a feminism that seeks its scapegoat in altered images. To refrain from Photoshop is girl-positive marketing gold. Dove Campaign for Real Beauty delights itself by putting out fake filters that chide retouchers. Magazines sign “No Photoshop” pledges. Clothing companies crow that they’ve never taken a clone-stamp to their models’ thighs.
To these feminists, Photoshop is to blame to unrealistic body standards, poor self-esteem, and anorexia in teenage girls. The campaign against Photoshop is the perfect cause for white, middle-class women whose primary problem is feeling their bodies do not match an increasingly surreal media ideal.
Photoshop, the belief goes, takes a true record of a moment, and turns it into an oppressive lie.
But fuck Photoshop. Photos are already lies.
These Guys Made Up a Fake Case to Get On ‘Judge Judy’
Back in 2010, there was an amazing Judge Judy segment that featured four people in a dispute over some smashed TVs and a dead cat. You may have seen a clip of it called "Best Judge Judy ending EVER!!!!!"
The story was completely made up. Invented by four roommates in order to get a free trip to LA and some cash out of the Judge Judy producers.
The story they invented was, basically, that a guy called Jonathan had gotten wasted at the house of a girl named Kate and smashed two TVs that she owned. One of the TVs, she said, landed on her pet cat, Trips, killing it. You can see the full segment here.
I spoke to Jonathan, the defendant in the case, to hear his side off what happened:
VICE: What gave you guys the idea to contact the show?
Jonathan Coward: Well, my friend Kate, who was the plaintiff, had just moved up to New York from Baltimore, and she asked me what a quick way to make money was. I had some friends who went on Judge Joe Brown back in the late 90s. They were on there for some sort of roommate dispute. And they told me that the show pays the settlement.
Was that a genuine case?
Yeah. So I told her we could come up with some story for Judge Judy, and we would probably get the settlement and a free trip to LA, because we knew that’s where they shot. So we tried to think of a story that was absurd, something that would be good television. So I just threw out the idea of the cat thing, just off the top of my head. The whole point was that we need to have a story that’s entertaining, but also involves damaged property. I was aware that the cap for small claims was around four grand. Kate got real excited about it and emailed the show straight away. And they got back to her, and were interested in doing it.
How did they reach out to you?
They just called. I allowed Kate to give them my number. I was really dodgy and cagey about answering the phone, and I would like, talk to them for a second and hang up, and I told them I’d do it if they gave me an appearance fee and flew my friend Brian out for a character witness. I guess I was more concerned about making this more of a party for ourselves than anything else.
How much of the story that you guys told is true?
Absolutely none of it. Once they agreed to put us on the show, we realized that we needed to take roles and not have this be something that was completely see through. There were tensions at our house, so a slight amount of it was real.
"80 percent of women who experienced mostly negative emotions still felt that abortion was the right choice for them."
—Debunking the Seven Most Common Lies About Abortion
The Super Bowl Is a Web of Greed, Lawsuits, and Lies
The Super Bowl is a long, exceptionally polished television advertisement for the corporate state we live under that’s watched by over 100 million people. It ostensibly exists because of a football game, but the annual event has grown over the years into a kind of modern variety show that features singing and dancing during the halftime show, comedy sketches during the commercials, and gruesome blood sport during the actual game. America!
That’s the way most people experience the Super Bowl—as something that, like the Academy Awards and war, happens on TV. But the big game is also a kind of traveling circus, only instead of clowns and acrobats, the people arriving in New Jersey and New York are tourists, security experts, the 1-percenter oligarchs who can afford the ridiculous prices for luxury suites at MetLife Stadium, and actual sex slavers. The big game provides an awesome—in the old sense of “inspiring awe”—spectacle, but for anyone who has to deal with its mundane on-the-ground aspects, it’s a nightmare of greed, lies, and broken promises.
A True Rip-Off Artist
In 2009, I moved from St. Louis, Missouri, to New York City to “make it” as a photographer, a process that involved living in an apartment the size of a hallway with a view of a brick wall. I was broke, lonely, and desperate for work, when out of the blue I was contacted on Twitter by someone who went by the name C. S. Leigh.
Through the omniscient and infallible knowledge database that is Google, I learned that C. S. Leigh was a film director and a curator. An image search revealed photos of a balding, almost spherical man with black-rimmed glasses and a double chin. He told me he liked my stuff, and before long, I had agreed to take some photos for an art magazine he was putting out.
It seemed like the best thing that had ever happened to me. I did a fashion shoot featuring models in clothes from threeASFOUR and Chado Ralph Rucci and portraits of world-renowned perfumer Frédéric Malle and artist Meredyth Sparks. There was talk of my going to Paris and London for the Frieze Art Fair and Fashion Week, or perhaps attending Coachella to photograph bands for his magazine. It was as if C. S. had opened a door to the exclusive world of art and fashion and quietly slipped me into the front seat.
This Is a Lie
Photos by Jill Beth Hannes
How We Got the Skammerz Ishu Cover – We Spent Months Scamming a Scammer into Doing Our Work for Us
Scam-baiting is a form of internet vigilantism in which the vigilante poses as a potential victim to expose a scammer. It’s essentially grassroots social engineering conducted as civic duty or even amusement, a cross-cultural double bluff in which participants on separate continents try to outdo each other in an online tug-of-war for one’s time and resources—and the other’s private banking information.
The baiter begins by “biting the hook”— answering an email from the scammer. The “victim” feigns receptivity to the financial lure, engaging the scammer in a drawn-out chain of emails. The most important element of baiting is to waste as much of the scammer’s time as possible—when a scammer is preoccupied, it prevents him from conning genuine victims.
The cover of the issue you’re looking at is a trophy from the most elaborate bait I’ve ever been involved in. Three scammers, spread across Libya and the United Arab Emirates, set the con. They posed as a widow named Nourhan Abdul Aziz, a doctor named Dr. Ahmadiyya Ibrahim, and a banker going by Ephraim Adamoah. From Nourhan’s initial contact with my associ- ate, Condo Rice, to Ephraim’s actually donning an Obama mask and shooting our cover for us, 7,000 words were exchanged over nearly four months of emails. During that time, Condo and I negotiated our way through a labyrinthine net- work of fake websites, bogus documents, and broken English, and ended up with the weirdest photograph I’ve seen in a long time.
I Lied to My Wife, Flew to Lagos, and Got the Shit Beaten Out of Me Because of a Nigerian Email Scam
By now, everyone is well aware of “419” scams, also known as advance-fee fraud or Nigerian-email fraud. These are cons in which anonymous hustlers pose as corrupt African officials or exiled refugees looking to transfer Scrooge McDuck-ian heaps of cash into foreign accounts. They blanket thousands of email addresses with invitations, and the occasional gullible victim is tricked into forking over private banking information. There are a handful of variations, but most people with eyeballs and keyboards know to hit mark spam whenever they see anything of the sort sliming around their inbox.
In 2003, however, the con was less well known, and a friend of my father’s got seriously duped. When Laurent (his name has been changed at his request), then a 42-year-old salesman at a pharmaceutical company living on Réunion Island (a French territory in the Indian Ocean), received an offer to launder $1 million from a frozen Nigerian bank account into his own, it seemed to solve all of his money problems.
Instead, he wound up battered, bruised, and abandoned in a strange country. I spoke with him recently to find out what the hell happened.
About ten years ago, I was at home playing chess on my computer when an email from someone claiming to be the governor of Lagos, Nigeria, landed in my inbox. The subject line was URGENT, so I read it right away—actually, I read it a few times in a row. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
I don’t recall the exact wording of the email, but the gist of it was that the governor of Lagos West constituency, Bola Tinubu, had hidden around $1 million in a secret bank account to avoid taxes. The money had been stolen from public funds, the email continued, and the Tinubu family couldn’t use it because they were being closely monitored by the government.
They needed a foreigner to come to Lagos, take the money out of the account, and put it into a Swiss bank. That’s where I came in. Supposedly, if I sent $1,300 in cash to a Lagos address, they would get me a room in a luxury hotel, and I could come over and sign some documents that would be prepared by a lawyer, whose fees would run me another $1,300. I’d wind up with 5 percent of that $1 million, which sounded pretty fair to me.
What If Lawyers Wrote Ads?
Lawyers are to creativity what the Gatling gun was to the Spaniards at San Juan Hill. The amount of human ingenuity that has been killed dead, forever, by attorneys throughout history is impossible to calculate. If you asked IBM’s Watson the question, it would probably melt. But the legal crows weren’t always so powerful. Back in the good old Mad Men days of advertising imagination came before fear of litigation, resulting in some of the best campaigns ever produced.
In the spirit of the freethinking tradition that they strangled, let’s imagine what the world would have been like if lawyers had always operated with their heads stuck halfway into the creative department’s office. Some of our favorite taglines would have been gutted, and advertising would be just as castrated as it is now.
[Lawyer-approved ads are on the right.]
All “lawyer” images by Courtney Nicholas
VW Moon Ad
This ad ran in Life magazine on August 8, 1969, just two weeks after the astronauts of Apollo 11returned safely to Earth. The ad agency obviously had it in the can, ready to run, and probably sent film of it and a back-up ad to Life, just in case of disaster. Today, a DDB lawyer would have added an asterisk to the headline, or just shortened it like so, and slid it back under Bill Bernbach’s door.