The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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A valiant effort for a much needed resolution

With the Olympics being held in Beijing and the focus of the world on the People’s Republic of China (PRC), that nation’s humanitarian issues are once again coming to the forefront of the global consciousness. Not least among these issues is the PRC’s occupation of Tibet.

In the August issue of Colors magazine, owned by the Italian company Benetton Group, which is known for its controversial advertising campaigns, tackled the more than half a century struggle between China and Tibet.

Currently in the PRC the Tibetan flag or mention of that region’s independence is punishable with imprisonment, according to the Tibetan government in Exile’s webpage.

Before the start of the Olympics a number of Tibetan monks staged protests, along with others from around the world usually following the tour of the Olympic torch, against the Chinese occupation, demonstrating how sensitive the topic of Tibetan independence can be for those on both sides of the conflict. And Benetton has a history of confronting sensitive issues such as this one head on.

The Benetton ad has appeared in Italian newspapers, the French newspaper Le Monde and Colors magazine, all timed to coincide with the start of the Beijing Olympics.

The image features two men, one dressed in the maroon robe of a Tibetan monk and the other in the military fatigues of a Chinese soldier. The fatigues display the PRC flag on the soldier’s arm and collar.

The two men stand facing each other in a respectful bow with their heads lowered and their hands held together in front of their face.

Across the top of the photograph the word ‘victims’ is written in all capital letters in a smokey and exploded black font, evoking the destruction of war. The background of the image is pure white.

This image stands in tame contrast to some of Benetton’s earlier campaigns in which the company confronted issues such as AIDS, race relations and war. The past ads included images of AIDS activist David Kirby on his deathbed, a black stallion mating with a white mare and the bloodied uniform of a Bosnian soldier.

Some contend that these advertisements and controversial issues are merely publicity stunts by Benetton, with the shocking images used as a tool to sell clothing exploiting both the victims and the causes the company claims to champion.

While there is probably an advertising component to these campaigns, they are a for-profit company after all and their brand and logo still appear on most of the images. The clothing and products are nowhere to be seen. The ads, if they can be called that, deal directly and completely with the issue at hand.

The advertisements then become less about the brand or specific garment being sold but about drawing attention to a specific issue affecting the global community.

Some may contend that the images Benetton uses for their ads are too graphic and deal with their subject matter in an insensitive or disturbing manner.

True, some of the pictures are blunt and contain imagery that can be disturbing, such as the image of David Kirby, but so are the issues the company is attempting to draw attention to.

AIDS and war are troubling, disturbing and often depressing issues and chances are that any mention of them will be discomforting, but no one can deny that Benetton’s campaigns generate discussion of these topics. If it takes displeasing imagery to help solve a global problem then such pictures are justified.

The current image however, of the Tibetan monk and Chinese soldier, is not nearly as controversial as Benetton’s previous campaigns.

Benetton isn’t shown taking one side over the other. Both the monk and the soldier are placed on the same plane within the picture; neither individual is larger or above the other, each is showing their respect to the other.

The title of ‘victims’ can easily be seen to apply to both men as they are each placed in similar relation to the word.

Neither the Chinese nor the Tibetans are depicted as morally superior. They are positioned as equals. The two men are simply bowing respectfully to each other.

Mutual respect is the position being advanced by Benetton. The image acknowledges that there are victims on both sides of the conflict and champions mutual respect as an essential starting point in this conflict’s resolution.

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