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Insensitivity toward domestic violence cannot hide behind excuses

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Did you know that one in four women has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime?

Or that three out of four Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence?
These alarming statistics are why I was so appalled by recent advertisements and photographs making light of domestic violence. Last month, as I was perusing the internet for my daily dose of news, I came across an ad for Fluid Hair, a hair salon in Canada. The advertisement depicted a woman sitting on a couch with voluminous hair, cute 1950s heels, a smartly cut green dress, and a black eye. Standing menacingly behind her is a man, whom we can infer is her boyfriend or husband, holding a diamond necklace. The tagline on the ad reads, “Look good in all you do.”

Cue feelings of righteous rage.

As the granddaughter of two amazing grandmothers, both of whom have either had to go through or deal with domestic violence, I can safely say that one in four women would be greatly offended by this ad. When your grandmother tells you stories of leaving her husband because the beatings became too much to handle, working ungodly hours in a hose factory to support four kids, and generally starving from lack of alimony, you tend to overlook the humor or artistic concepts the writers are trying to convey in such ads.

And it’s not the only glamorization of domestic violence roaming the internet. Photographer Tyler Shields posted outrageous photos of Glee’s Heather Morris on his website at the beginning of this month. Morris, garbed in a polka-dot dress reminiscent of a pin-up girl, sports a shiner on her left eye. The series of photographs shows a smiling Morris tied up by the cord of a hot iron, lying across an ironing board, drinking water from a hot iron, and gleefully ironing Shields’ crotch.

In both the Tyler Shields photo shoot and the Fluid Hair advertisement, art was the cop-out defense for insensitive portrayals of domestic violence. Sarah Cameron, owner of Fluid Hair, said that her company “just like[s] art, and it’s also subjective.” Shields also defended his photos in an E! interview, saying, “In no way were we promoting domestic violence. We wanted to do a bruised-up Barbie shoot and that’s exactly what we did!”

When looking at these incidents as works of art, the lines between right and wrong, and offensive and acceptable, are blurred. Isn’t art supposed to raise questions? To challenge society and make the viewer think deeply? Looked at in this way, these advertisements and photos don’t seem like such a big deal. Yet something about the subjectivity of the statement, it’s okay because it’s art, rubs me the wrong way. I mean, I’m sure Ed Gein — a famous American serial killer during the 1950s — thought his bowls made from human skulls were art. However, that doesn’t excuse the murders he committed.

And yes, using an example like the disgusting Ed Gein to make my point is a bit dramatic, but it does force one to look past the straw-man excuses Shields and Cameron make in defense of their so-called works of art. In addition, the commercialism that drove these incidents weakens any claim they have toward being made purely for art’s sake.
The Fluid Hair ad was created to bring in revenue and create press for the salon; its main motive was to increase cash flow, not make an important cultural statement. Shields’ photo shoot with Heather Morris also seemed driven by commercialism; he picked a well-known actress from a well-known show to make a series of domestic violence photos that he later put up for sale for a couple thousand dollars. At that point, is it art or sensationalism?

Regardless of anyone’s opinion on whether or not ads or pictures depicting domestic violence are artistic or tasteless, there are some hard facts that should be considered. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), “85 percent of domestic violence victims are women,” with most cases of domestic violence never reported to the police. Children who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partner. The NCADV also states that domestic violence costs the economy $37 billion annually in medical and mental health services and loss of job productivity.

Taking the considerable and lasting emotional, physical, cultural, and economic effects of domestic violence into account, I would have to agree with Shields and Cameron’s critics in saying that their respective ad and photos were more than a little tasteless. Domestic violence is not something to take lightly in any terms, especially when this issue affects 25 percent of our country’s female population.