Airbrushed image

中国日报网 2012-11-06 10:00



Airbrushed image

Reader question:

Please explain “an airbrushed image” in “a Conservative Party poster showing an air-brushed image of David Cameron”.

My comments:

Here, the airbrushed image of Cameron is an altered picture of the Conservative Party leader.

Altered, that is, to make him look better than he really is, you know, possibly with his facial freckles (if he has any) concealed and wrinkles smoothened out.

You can do these things these days by computer – using software such as, for example, Adobe Photoshop.

Anyways, an airbrushed image is an improved image, one that is retouched, edited or doctored, in this case to better suit propaganda purposes.

By definition, an airbrushed image is one that looks as if it were re-painted with an air-brusher – a spray device which uses compressed air to spray a liquid, such as paint, on a surface of a car, for instance.

Figuratively speaking, if you airbrush a picture or the public image of a person or government you are trying to improve its image by artificial means. In other words, you are whitewashing it, and strictly speaking, it’s cheating.

And, the worst part of that may be, it’s really difficult to live up to the airbrushed image – it’s like asking a woman to wear heavy makeup for always, day and night.

That is, in addition to being called out and exposed for what it is.

No further ado, though. Media examples:

1. David Cameron’s “airbrushed” poster campaign, which has inspired a string of internet spoofs, has been given a real-life retouch to make the Conservative leader look like Elvis.

A giant advertisement in Hereford featuring Mr Cameron’s digitally-enhanced face has been daubed with black paint to make his hairstyle resemble the King's.

The “We can’t go on like this …” slogan has also been given the new ending “with suspicious minds”, in a nod to the 1969 Presley song.

The act of vandalism is likely to have been inspired by a string of online parodies first devised by illustrator Beau Bo D’or earlier this month, in particular his Madame Tussauds version.

The £400,000 campaign, created by ad agency Euro RSCG London, has been seized upon by Labour, which accused Cameron of presenting an airbrushed image of himself.

The Conservatives have since admitted the image of their leader, who is not wearing a tie, was “retouched” but denied significant alterations were made.

- ‘Airbrushed’ David Cameron made to look like Elvis on billboard,, January 21, 2010.

2. Cosmetic adverts featuring airbrushed images of actress Julia Roberts and model Christy Turlington have been banned by the advertising watchdog.

Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson complained that the L'Oreal adverts were “not representative of the results the products could achieve”.

The Advertising Standards Authority agreed that the images were exaggerated and breached its code of conduct.

L’Oreal admitted retouching but denied that the two adverts were misleading.

Ms Swinson said that while some retouching may be acceptable, the adverts were “particularly bad examples of misleading advertising” and could contribute to body image problems.

“We should have some honesty in advertising and that's exactly what the ASA is there to do. I'm delighted they’ve upheld these complaints,” she said.

“There’s a big picture here which is half of young women between 16 and 21 say they would consider cosmetic surgery and we’ve seen eating disorders more than double in the last 15 years.

“There’s a problem out there with body image and confidence. The way excessive retouching has become pervasive in our society is contributing to that problem.”

Guy Parker, chief executive of the Advertising Standards Authority, told the BBC that airbrushing was a “question of degree” and that advertisements could only be banned if they were misleading, harmful or offensive.

“If advertisers go too far in using airbrushing and other post-production techniques to alter the appearance of models and it’s likely to mislead people, then that’s wrong and we’ll stop the ads,” he said.

- Airbrushed make-up ads banned for ‘misleading’,, July 27, 2011.

3. The latest Republican spin seems to be that when Richard Mourdock, the senatorial candidate for Indiana, said that if a child is conceived by an act of rape, “it is something that God intended to happen,” he was bumbling his way toward a less controversial proposition—that “life is precious, regardless of the circumstances,” as Rob Jesmer, the executive director of the Republican National Senatorial Committee, told the New York Times. Jesmer added that Mourdock “didn’t say it in a particularly articulate way.” Mourdock may be both idiotic and vile, but I don’t think he was especially inarticulate, and I don’t think he was merely alleging that life is cherishable, whatever the conditions of its conception. He was more pointed: he said that life is a “gift from God,” and that even “if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” Obviously, it all depends on the meaning of “it.” For an air-brusher like Rob Jesmer, “it” means life, and not rape. But the force of Mourdock’s claim, the shock of its haplessly radical transparency, lies in the fact that by “it” he clearly meant both the rape and the life that might come from it. Since God intends life to happen, God also intends all the various ways, good and horrible, in which life comes about. That is the commonsensical reading of Mourdock’s words.

This may be unpalatable, and for many non-believers it is a profound reason not to believe in the traditional God of monotheism, but there is nothing theologically peculiar about Mourdock’s position. (He is an evangelical Christian.) First of all, he was doing nothing more than offering the familiar weak defense of God in relation to evil and pain, the silver-lining defense: out of the unavoidable abundance of great suffering and hardship that exists in the world, God produces redemptive teaching. New life is born, or we learn something important about ourselves, or we come anew to God or Christ, etc., etc. As Bart Ehrman pointed out in his book “God’s Problem,” the Bible is full of such stories. When Joseph confronts his murderous brothers in Egypt, he lectures them about how (in Ehrman’s words) “even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.” The Job story ends in the suffering faithful man restored to happiness and prosperity, as reward for his hardship. And, of course, the story of Jesus’s sacrifice and resurrection is the ultimate version of the redemption idea: God suffers with us on the cross, dies, and is born to new life in heaven, a place where God wipes away all tears from our faces, and where there is no more death or sorrow. In her essay on affliction, the philosopher Simone Weil essentially argued that suffering is good for us; that we are like apprentices who must learn on the job, by making painful mistakes.

A second, stronger claim was lying within Mourdock’s first claim: not just that good may emerge from bad things, but that since God intends the good to emerge, he must also intend the bad things. This is a hard idea, and people naturally flee from it, but its logic is implicit in the Biblical stories that Ehrman mentions. God knew in advance everything that was going to happen to Job—indeed, it was a little game he hatched with Satan. If the great good of the resurrection was a result of the crucifixion, then it makes no sense to separate the one from the other: both events were divinely intended, divinely anticipated. I give the reprehensible Mourdock some credit, at least, for spelling out the implacable and pitiless logic of divine foreknowledge. Most believers refuse to face the implications of their own beliefs in this regard, except when it suits them: that is, when they think they have been “saved” by God from some terrible calamity. Climbing out of the wreckage of the bus accident or the gas explosion or the terrorist bomb, the relieved survivor easily praises God for “the miracle” of his survival, and sometimes even adds that “God must be looking out for me,” apparently unaware that the same God must therefore have approved the demise of the person who didn’t make it out. If God is the author of “miracles,” he is also the author of death. (And it might be added that Mitt Romney, and all those who argue that life begins at conception but who allow an abortion exception in the case of rape and incest, are also refusing to face the implications of their hesitations: for if abortion is murder but abortion is permissible in certain circumstances, then either it must follow that murderous abortion is permissible when an adult life is more important than a fetus’; or it must follow that a fetus conceived by rape or incest is simply not a human life. Again, Mourdock is coherent where Romney and others are incoherent.)

- Mourdock’s Dilemma,, October 26, 2012.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


Education as a crutch

Winner-take-all politics?

Man of the world

Romney sticking to his guns

Cut from the same cloth?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)

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