Image by Chell Hill, sourced from Wikimedia Commons
How strange, wrong even to have perfectly sculpted, near-naked women on display at a zoo. Like wild animals presented to the public, these women bare their bodies for the entertainment of the men and women who pass by its enclosures.
While not an actual zoo, Zoo Weekly Magazine may as well be one. You can't buy a ticket into it, but you must pay a fee to view its exhibits; its enclosures are not three-dimensional cages, but are two-dimensional glossy frames; you can’t touch the displays, but you can touch yourself.
Image by earl53, sourced from Morguefile.jpg
We use images to ‘understand, describe, and define the world [around us]’ (Sturken and Cartwright, 2009: 13). Instead of reflecting the world as it is, images re-present to us the values and attitudes of their creators and those for whom they are intended. In this way, images actively help to shape our perceptions of others, of ourselves and of the world in which we live just as any other medium of communication does.
Newbold et al. affirm the vital role played by the media in the construction of reality through representation (cited in Macnamara 2006: 11). Bryson does the same: ‘the social formation is inherently and immanently present in the image’ (cited in Rose 2001: 72).
Image sourced from http://blog.fightthenewdrug.org/
Supposing it is wrong to display scantily clad women at an actual zoo, we can safely assume it is wrong to display scantily clad women in a magazine called Zoo.
Zoo Weekly Magazine is “not a sex magazine”, according to one Australia Post Office employee. Technically, it is not a “sex magazine” in the sense that it does not display people engaging in sexual intercourse. But, plastered across its pages and its website are images of women often touching themselves and exhibiting everything but their nipples and labia. You can visit their website for ‘ZOO’s guide to becoming an Online Sex God’, or read their current issue (Issue number 351) for ‘Sex Tips from Hot Singers’.
Based on this criteria, Zoo Weekly Magazine certainly qualifies as some sort of “sex magazine”. And like all sex magazines, Zoo contributes to the process of representation which shapes the way we – men, women and children - understand femininity, masculinity and sexuality. It is true, this is a consequence of other media forms, but I focus specifically on Zoo Weekly because of what its name suggests and promotes.
The creators of the magazine unashamedly exhibit willing women in their very own ‘Zoo’ and so liken their subjects to wild animals. Swathed in rhetoric of empowerment and liberation, publications such as Zoo Weekly essentially promote ‘the old-fashioned notion’ of women as ‘sex object[s]’ (Walter 2010: 6) – except Zoo goes one step further: no longer are women simply “sex objects”, they are animals as well.
Image by Gabriel S. Delgado C., sourced from Wikimedia Commons
Whilst we, as individual agents, are entitled to resistant interpretations of these images, it’s important to understand that viewers very often hold little power in relation to the creators and distributors of these images. It’s equally as important to understand that all images are constructed with the intention of creating ‘preferred meanings’, promoting preferred values and shaping preferred attitudes (Hall cited in Rose 2001: 92). This means that whilst it is up to us, as viewers, to co-produce or reject the meanings conveyed by an image, there are restrictions on the kinds of meanings we can co-create. So, while we can choose to challenge or reject the meanings and ideologies conveyed by Zoo and similar publications, the prominence of these ideologies in the public domain cannot be done away with by simply looking the other way – we must act.
Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons
I personally enjoyed a small victory in this regard. After months of seething at the view of Zoo magazines prominently placed at a news agency – and literally next to publications targeted at young children – I plucked up the courage to share my concerns with an employee. I was particularly concerned about the magazines’ placement next to the children’s material, and said so. “It’s not a sex magazine,” the employee responded. I wasn't going to back down because of a technicality and patiently pressed on. Thankfully, the boss was present and overheard my concerns. His immediate response was to have the magazines moved to the back of the shop with the other “sex magazines”. I thanked him for taking my concerns seriously, and walked out feeling pretty darn good about his response. I don’t know if the magazines will remain at the back of the shop, but it’s a start.
There are things we can do to challenge Zoo and the culture is promotes to safeguard the sanctity of the human body and human sexuality. A good start is to check out websites that advocate against the sort of degradation that “sex magazines” promote:
Morality in Media is a very active organisation aimed at “opposing pornography and indecency through public education and application of the law”.
Covenant Eyes is an organisation that is also active in challenging the ideologies promoted by hypersexual culture. It primarily distributes an Internet filter, but it also provides accurate information about the nature and effects of raunch culture and pornography.
Image accessed form http://blog.fightthenewdrug.org/