The Spin Cycle: Another Look at Hillary Clinton and the Photoshop Fiasco

In the immediate aftermath of Bin Laden’s death, the meme-conducive photo of Obama, et. al., in the Situation Room quickly made the rounds. Some of the digital manipulations were quite satisfying— President Obama holding a video game controller, or Keanu Reeves sitting at the table, calmly participant-observing.

Then, whoops! Just as fast as a squirrel can photobomb your vacation shot, it turns out women can be taken out of the picture.

NPR and the Washington Post reported that Di Tzaytung (a Brooklyn-based Orthodox weekly) had deleted Hillary Clinton and Audrey Tomason from the now-famous photo. This got picked up in the Jewish blogosphere and in the feminist blogosphere and pretty much everywhere else—it’s such a clunky and unsophisticated example of tsnius that it’s hard to pass up the opportunity to mock. I mean, talk about low-hanging fruit! There’s nothing as funny as an obviously botched and misguided photoshop job.

Di Tzaytung responded to the uproar, writing: “Our editorial policies are guided by a Rabbinical Board and because of laws of modesty, does not allow for the publishing of photos of women.” Which, hmmm.

But ok, big surprise, some Orthodox men are trying to efface women from the big picture. What else is new?

I think this event reflects more our ever-changing ideas of evidence and proof—the role of imagery in today’s information-rich architecture of communication. Incidentally, the larger coincident debates—whether or not to release photos of Osama Bin Laden’s corpse, or President Obama’s decision to release his long-form birth certificate—are another side of the same coin. By now, the photoshopped slimming down of models and actresses is taken for granted. But the realization that “facts” can be manipulated as easily as women’s bodies? That’s just starting to sink in.

Why is this a feminist issue? For me, it brings to mind some of Judith Butler’s writings on censorship. “Censorship is a productive form of power: it is not merely privative, but formative as well. I propose that censorship seeks to produce subjects according to explicit and implicit norms…” That’s the formation of discourse that she’s talking about—and we’re talking about a stark reminder of how powerful the patriarchal system is in Orthodoxy.

This censorial act was a reminder that politicized censorship has a role, and that it has broad implications for the dispersal of power within and across communities, both Jewish and non. This case just happens to have been ridiculously obvious.

Photography is far more manipulable than we tend to remember, especially in this day and age, when everyone has a point and shoot and their very own mouse to then point and click with. Roland Barthes wrote in Camera Lucida, “The Photograph is violent: not because it shows violent things, but because on each occasion it fills the sight by force, and because in it nothing can be refused or transformed…”  Oh dear…   Those were the days…

6 comments on “The Spin Cycle: Another Look at Hillary Clinton and the Photoshop Fiasco

  1. Shimon on

    Is this an example of women being kept out of the big picture? A catchy phrase but I’m not sure it’s accurate. While I don’t agree with Di Tzaytung’s editorial line I’m pretty sure that they don’t have a problem quoting Hillary Clinton in the text. So women in high-powered roles wouldn’t be an obstacle to their reporting. Therefore, we’re left with the issue of tzniut. Clearly, Di Tzaytung is being machmir, i.e. many poskim would argue that the refusal to publish images of women (who are modestly attired etc) is not necessary according to Halacha. But I fail to see how the fact that they’re being strict upon themselves in this regard is of such import to anyone else – except as an exercise in Haredi-bashing.

  2. Alissa on

    If they own the paper, then they can do what they want. Everyone changes around photos– look at how they change around the imagery for anti-Israel photos all the time. I think it is absurd to take a woman out of a photo, but that is their belief, ok fine, but at least they aren’t making a lie out of the imagery.

    I didn’t read their article, did it say, “Clinton was also in the picture but we have taken her out for religious reasons?” That would be fine.
    I would love to see an article that say, “woman 10 lbs too fat, we have altered her image to make her look better!” And could they do that to my rear end while they are at it?

  3. anna on

    Of course they can do what they want. But that doesn’t make it right. How would the men like it if every man’s face in the newspaper was obscured by a big black smudge for “modesty”, but the pictures of women were printed for all to see, perfectly acceptable? I think it’s really insulting to claim a modestly dressed woman doing her job is such a nasty, lustful sight they have to wipe it out of their religious newspaper, but men are A OK no matter how they look.

  4. Jodi Traister on

    I question whether this is a case of religious “modesty” going too far or whether these gentlemen are practicing sexism disguised as religious freedom. This is an antiquated story I believed to be played out in decade-old scenarios. Therefore, I find myself sadly disappointed in religious men using media to demean women who deserve accolades instead of photoshop erasure practices.

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