Jay Meehan: Photoshop modesty
Ryan Summerlin June 3, 2014
The upside to the recent brouhaha over the seemingly random altering of yearbook photos of female students at Wasatch High School in Heber City is that it once again demonstrates to those on the cusp of adulthood that a quorum of their elders, those in power, often wallow in philosophically shallow waters.
With the perpetuation of "modesty" as their professed motivation and utilizing the popular "Photoshop" app as their weapon of choice, WHS yearbook staffers and advisors digitally modified the images to cover up what they considered too much skin. The fact that the application of the application didn’t appear consistent triggered a reaction by the students in question and, of course, a feeding frenzy in the media.
In some quarters, this isn’t about the appropriateness of dress codes per se, which can be easily defended on many levels, but rather about men, once again, making decisions that affect women. Not that those of the female persuasion weren’t involved in this particular process or didn’t actually wield the Photoshop cover-up tools at one point or another.
Of course, being an activist sort, upon first hearing of these school district shenanigans, I immediately and somewhat whimsically connected the dots to radical Islam’s longstanding war against female education and on to the recent abduction by Boko Haram soldiers of hundreds of Nigerian students.
This was obviously an indefensible and ridiculous analogy, but an extrapolation that suited my fancy at the time. If I were to actually adhere to such dogmatic beliefs, it might seem that I was holding monotheism itself responsible for such currently rampant behavior. Au contraire! I have a hunch misogyny predates even the prophets.
What I’m actually hoping for as an upshot to all this is that at least one of the affected students might have undergone a "butterfly effect" epiphany that would bring her around to where she might question and stand up against authoritative decisions in other areas, like say Climate Justice.
At a recent tribal gathering of the environmentally aware, I was quite pleasantly surprised by the sheer numbers of intelligent young people, including the pre-college-aged demographic, who have learned to see the long view of planetary health. Issues such as the ecologically detrimental effects of pipelines, tar sands, and "fracking" were very much on their minds.
Possibly, if not actually prodding them on to the frontlines of environmental action, the misguided efforts of their peers and advisors on the yearbook staff maybe could end up radicalizing them in a different fashion, like say shifting their focus to the "green" side, including their decisions on college majors and careers.
It’s all about that aforementioned "butterfly effect" of Chaos Theory. An apparently inconsequential event early in a system’s development, such as the Photoshopping of one’s yearbook portrait without one’s involvement or consent, can lead to significant changes in the system as it evolves.
The name comes from, as scientists attempted to design computer models to address weather forecasting issues, the discovery, as they deconstructed a hurricane back to its origins, that the storm was actually triggered by a miniscule motion in air currents, not unlike that caused by the flapping of a butterfly’s wings.
Admittedly, it’s a stretch, of course, to assume that one or more of these Wasatch students would react to what they might consider a violation of their "right to bare arms" (sorry!) by immersing themselves in environmentalist literature.
But who knows? Who says one or more won’t head on down to the library and check out Rachel Carson ("Silent Spring"), Aldo Leopold ("A Sand County Almanac"), Edward Abbey ("Desert Solitaire," "The Monkey Wrench Gang"), Annie Dillard ("Pilgrim at Tinker Creek"), or Henry David Thoreau ("Walden"), and that that seemingly innocuous decision wouldn’t lead to environmental action on their part.
As part and parcel to coming to the understanding that their male elders do not always possess the moral high ground, these young female students first have to come to grips with the fact that their coefficient of modesty, whether in clothing or otherwise, is more than likely higher on the ethics curve than the bottom-line motivated actions of those who profess to "guide" them.
Maintain your anger, girls. Just redirect it toward healing your planet. The clock’s ticking! Become an activist! Go green! Don war paint! Hit the front lines! Educate your elders! Go sleeveless! Evolve!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.