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“Sweating Fashion” by Mia Rodriguez

[certain words in the article contain links to a glossary of definitions]

Walking into clothing retailers and finding out that most of what is there is produced in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia and other so-called “developing regions” has been the norm for the past few decades. What a lot of consumers don’t realize is that the low prices offered to customers at fast fashion retailers like H&M, Zara, Forever21, Macy’s etc. are only possible if money is being saved on labor wages and production aka paying workers a couple of cents per hour and having 10-12 hour work days without overtime. I’m talking, of course, about the sweatshop industry and practices that make fast, cheap fashion and clothing available to the global market and the way brown, indigenous and black hands are often bearing the burden and cost of this business model. 

It’s difficult to write about the political and ideological systems that promote and depend on unjust wage and labor regulations to stay alive in the (fast) fashion business; as consumers, we are implicated and ultimately catered to by these retailers that engage in these activities in order to satisfy our demands. Furthermore, we have to consider the way this particular industry panders to a (mostly) female-based sector, promoting the idea of “empowering” women through fashion while at the same time keeping an 80-90% female workforce in squalor through the use of subcontracted factories. But, widening the scope, beyond the (mostly nonexistent) dialogue between businesses and consumers, we must also realize that these systems are based and fostered by entire governments and countries that don’t have goals beyond making a profit off our business and our slave labor. Is our exploitation then self-exploitation? Ultimately, who is to blame and what are the driving forces behind this cycle of violations?

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4 reasons why shock journalism isn’t ethical or effective

1. Lack of consent; It is impossible to acquire permission of victims who have passed away, and whose photographs were taken at the time of their death. To use these images without consent reduces the victims to their injuries and their deceased state. It impinges on their privacy during such an extreme situation and reduces their victimization to the graphicness of their casualties. 

2. Exploitation of children: during the chemical attacks in Syria, hundreds of photographs emerged of groups of deceased children in rows with headlines claiming the cause of their death and the situation in Ghouta. Not only were these photographs taken without consent, images of these children were used as campaign images, advertisements, and editorials, images of children who had survived the attack were exploited worldwide. The emotional toll circulated images like these can have on parents and guardians is enough of a reason to discontinue shock journalism. 

3. Invalid reporting: what happens often is that popular images on social media of victims of devastating circumstances enter circulation under the guise of false or factually incorrect background stories. The false images of children suffering, of people being persecuted and killed, can serve as effective propaganda for a variety of groups that benefit from the same devastation that is being broadcast. Not only does this detract attention from worthy causes, it disrespects the members of persecuted communities that are invalidated by false propaganda. 

4. Desensitization: possibly one of the most pressing reasons against shock journalism is the subsequent desensitization. After being shown repetitive, similar photographs of a specific type of devastation affecting a specific race or ethnic group in a particular place, a mental tolerance to images of such devastation can be established. After repeated exposure to shock journalism, the intensity of such images begins to fade and we become conditioned to such violence. Instead of inspiring change, the suffering of brown children in the “middle east” becomes commonplace, the suffering of a certain demographic from a certain place becomes expected, and therefore inevitable. An expectation of such suffering becomes ingrained, and the homogenization of such devastation becomes established. Shock journalism dehumanizes victims, and desensitizes the observing population. 


Prior to understanding what I understand now, I firmly believed that if only people could see the fatally injured, beleaguered and diseased that they could feel the need to create a lasting, meaningful change in places where deadly situations were taking place. For this reason, when provided an opportunity to circulate images of said devastation, of hurting, persecuted and fatally injured individuals from conflict zones, I was eager to take part as I believed that being faced with the devastation visually could inspire such a change. What I came to realize later after seeing a continuous stream of pictures for said conflict zones, was that this kind of journalism, the kind where pictures of severely injured people told most of the story, was actually having the opposite effect on me. I was building a tolerance to such photos. Having seen such visuals in person, and then being faced with them on the internet, I had learned to associate specific events with specific demographics, mentally erasing the possibility of those events occurring within other situation. There is a reason why seeing a white bomb blast victim has more of an impact on the population than seeing a brown bomb blast victim–and shock journalism plays a huge part in this. After the repeated exposure, we are no longer effected by the images with the same intensity as we once were. More damaging still, we begin to associate those people with their ultimate fate. Not only does shock journalism create barriers to empathizing with victims of such violence, it creates expectations for certain people to experience certain events. it becomes expected for Iraqis to suffer in a specific way, it becomes expected that Kurdish people would suffer in a specific way. These expectations lessen the drive for changing the circumstances of the victims of persecution as their persecutions become expected.