So, I've been looking at the ads to try to figure out how it determines what to show me, and today I saw this:
After poking around on the internet, I found out the photo came from this collection by Terry Green. The little boy in the advertisement is Laren Galloway. His parents are from New Orleans and had to flee the city during Hurricane Katrina.
Apparently, Laren Galloway became quite an internet sensation after this photo shoot. There are YouTube videos of these pictures, a blog from the photographer called Little Blue Eyed Brother, and follow up posts showing Laren as he aged. There's even a Twitter account with one of the baby pictures. The description of the account says "Laren Galloway is one of the most striking examples of a black person with blue eyes." The account links to yet another blog featuring "updates" about the boy and tweets Bible verses.
In the short amount of time I spent looking at this, I saw posts discussing how the pictures must be fake, references to this being the most beautiful baby in the world, and discussions about genetic "mixing" that must have occurred to allow the child to have blue eyes.
I also found this blog post that suggests negative reactions to Galloway's picture have demonstrated racial bias in both black and white commenters.
I was initially looking into this because I was confused by the lead-in for the advertisement. What does half of a baby's face have to do with looking for financial aid to go to college (which is what the advertisement was trying to convince me to do)? Shouldn't there be a picture of a collegiate building? Some smiling co-eds? A graduation cap? A stack of books? Even a stack of money? What does a close-up of a black baby's blue eye have to do with going to college and getting financial aid?
But once I started looking into the origins of the picture, it became clear that the advertisers were using the picture because so many people were drawn to it. The plethora of comments and attention these pictures have drawn make the picture a lead-in whether it is relevant or not.
And that disturbs me.
It made me think of those interchangeable billboard signs (like at gas stations or fast food places). One of the tactics to get people to look at them is to intentionally reverse one of the letters or numbers. People notice the "flaw" and their eyes are drawn to it.
Is that what they're doing with this child? Capitalizing on his physical appearance? Making a commodity out of an oddity?
I agree that the child is beautiful, but I don't think that's why there are dozens of websites devoted to his face. There are lots of beautiful children. Placing this child's picture in advertisements for products that have no contextual connection to a baby's face suggests an exploitation.
The comments on the YouTube video (which I do NOT suggest you read, as they are--well--comments on a YouTube video), fall into two basic camps:
- "Oh my God. He's so beautiful."
- "What an abomination to race purity."
But what about the people who are going out of their way to point out how beautiful this child is? Isn't that still objectifying him based on purely physical attributes? Isn't that still a race-based judgment (as it is the contrast of blue eyes with dark skin that draws their attention and the factor that is used to promote this child on the blogs and in search engines)?
And I can't help but wonder who's profiting off of these images by selling them to advertisers. Is it the boy's family? The photographer? Someone else?
And what does this obsession say about us as a society? How far away is a fascination with a black child's blue eyes from the disturbing racial histories of the tragic mulatto myth or the Hottentot Venus--other examples of focusing on a race-based portion of someone's identity at the expense of recognizing full humanity?
Can a comment that someone is "beautiful" really just be a veiled way to point out difference?