Category: OpEd

With Great (Photoshop) Skills Come Great Responsibility

By Daniele Amandolini

I joined SMCC less than a year ago, specifically the Communications and New Media program, with the intent of learning everything about graphic and visual design. Just like many others, I hope to leave this school with an expertise in how to use Photoshop and similar software, and the technical ability to convey emotions by manipulating and combining visual elements.

As a media scholar, though, I learned that this field offers much bigger challenges than mastering an image editing software: what we can do with a computer these days is almost limitless, and this ability comes with the need of keeping a moral compass open at all times.

Ajda-Pekkan_mayo-Twist_plaj_moda_yaz_2012- (1)
Ajda Pekkan (72) is a Turkish popstar known for her heavily
photoshopped images.

One key example of Photoshop misuse is the retouching of women’s bodies in magazine covers and photoshoots. Pushing impossible standards of beauty is nothing new, and a habit much older than digital photography. However, because we tend to trust images as a higher form of proof than written words, this practice has had subtle but devastating consequences. These span from eating disorders to bullying and marginalizing of women (and especially young girls) with different body types. Again, the visual medium carries so much power that the effects of its careless use can be unpredictable and spin out of control, fast.

This is often the price of the fast advancement of technology: the excitement of progress often comes with unforeseen consequences. As computers are taking over our lives, though, there are no excuses for such behavior. France has taken an important step in preventing Photoshop abuse.

close the use of photoshop or other editing software. Moreover, models may only be employed after a doctor has attested their health and well-being, which obviously include a BMI (body mass index) measurement.

Outside of France, Getty is the first big company to assume a similar stance. Since October 1st, 2017, the popular stock photo website doesn’t accept submissions depicting models whose body has been digitally edited to appear smaller or bigger.

Magazines are a primarily visual medium, one that holds a critical role in shaping women’s fashion and beauty standards. While these laws and rules represent a step in the right direction, it’s important to nurture photoshop ethics not just by enforcing punishments, but by educating responsible designers that focus on their honesty as much as on their technical ability.

The morality of altering photos goes beyond women’s image. Photography is an art form, but this definition doesn’t quite translate in the context of photojournalism. Photographs have a dramatic impact when it comes to reporting news, especially in creating empathy in a reader about events happening thousands of miles away. These photographs are not always simple snapshots taken on the fly, but rather require effort and preparation. In some cases, though, to achieve the desired psychological effect, photographers have slightly altered their photos.

This is often limited to removing a distracting trashcan in the background, but when it comes to journalism the morality of such practices gets murky very fast. It is generally more accepted that a writer describes a scene with the words he considers the most effective, but such leverage is not granted to photographers. Esteemed photographer Steve McCurry, whose “Afghan girl” portrait graced one of the most iconic National Geographic covers ever, had recently undergone intense scrutiny for editing many of his travel photos. While those edits aren’t dramatic, and mostly limited to background details, many have accused McCurry of some form of lying, so much so that he addressed the issue by calling himself a visual storyteller rather than a photographer.

Regardless of where one personally stands on specific issues, my point is that schools should be where these questions are raised, and these problems addressed early on with deep discussions. It is vital that the new generations of “visual storytellers” will understand the profound consequences of their conduct, and a program like Communications and New Media should absolutely provide this type of education. My experience at SMCC has been positive so far on this front, and “hot topics” like copyright and plagiarism were tackled within the first few weeks of my first semester. I hope that this continues to be the case and that designers and visual artists of the future will understand their role in shaping general discourse and their impact on society.

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Imagine Your Teacher Naked for a Moment

By Gio DiFazio

Saul Levine, a film instructor at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, was terminated after showing a film to his senior thesis class that included intimate shots of him with his partner. A professor that has been with the school for 25 years, Levine is well known within the realm of experimental cinema.

Fostering creativity and unique expression is something that American Universities will always strive for. I’ve never been to art school, but I imagine it feels slightly different than the rigid curriculum of say, my major. This creativity and inventive atmosphere is unique to art students.

Making your students watch you have sex, is at the least, creepy.
So, how does a 74-year-old dude come to the conclusion that it’s a great idea to show a film of his creation that just happens to include brief moments of sweet, sweet art instructor love-making?

“I thought I would show two of my own films that also deal a lot with editing structures and some of the issues I saw coming up in their films,” said Levine, who did not say whether he’d warned students of the film’s graphic contents. “It’s a complicated film that uses footage drawn from the life around me.”
A complicated film that uses the life around you?
How can he imagine a scenario, where in a room of college students, not one takes offense to watching you have sex. Regardless of your perspective, showing yourself having sex to people 50 years younger than you, no matter in what context, probably isn’t best choice of action. Using your sexual exploits as a method of education, also, in 2018 is a very brazen move.

Levine said he did not know how many students had complained. He said the school had previously defended him against claims he taught “gay pornography,” but administrators berated him during the February meeting “about the safety of students, and why I was harming them

Weird is funny (to me anyway). And I like funny, like most people. So if a teacher decided to show me a similar film, without warning I think that my reaction would different from most. I would find it very funny. And I probably wouldn’t see to have the instructor in trouble. It’s hard for me to think about this situation from the perspective of a parent since I’m not one. If my son or daughter was exposed to this, I would offer that they do what they feel is best, and it is nothing more than a perfect example of just how creepy some people are.

From the Beacon Adviser’s Keyboard: Tell us your stories

As the 2018 spring semester heads into its final month, this adviser thought it a wonderful idea to reach out to the SMCC student population on both campuses and share a few thoughts on the current state of the Beacon and its future.

Please allow me to frame the final points within the broader arena of opportunity, potential and follow-through.

Twelve days ago, on March 30, Scott Foster, a 36-year-old accountant who lives outside of Chicago in Oak Park, had the opportunity of a lifetime to play goalie for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Foster is one of many recreational goalies that attend National Hockey League games in the event that either team needs a replacement goaltender to finish out the games.

The long and short of the story is that Foster, who was given an opportunity to participate on a highly competitive and professional level, focused on the task at hand and proved himself worthy of the chants “Foster, Foster” that rained down on him as he turned away seven shots from the Winnipeg Jets in the last 14 minutes of the contest.

Winnipeg entered the contest looking to clinch home-ice advantage for the opening round of the playoffs, and Foster was a major part in denying Winnipeg that luxury.

Aside from “A great moment for him,” as stated by Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice, Foster also was praised by Blackhawk defenseman Brent Seabrook when he said, “He was great, I think the boys were doing whatever they could to help him out. He made some big saves. Fun night.”

Back to the points of opportunity, potential and follow-through. There is so much potential here in the SMCC student population that, simply put, deserves to be developed and tapped into. The opportunities are plenty for this to happen on both campuses. With that thought in mind, The Beacon is and has been poised to be the vehicle to showcase your talents, interests and endeavors.

Which brings us to the last point: follow-through. Yes, it is understood that everyone pretty much has a full plate and it’s easy to say to yourself, “too much to do and The Beacon will cover it.” The truth of the matter is, The Beacon needs your help. We are more than willing to get the word out about what your clubs, your organizations, or what you and your friends are doing.

All you have to do is reach out to us and we’ll help you get the word out.

Maybe you’ll ask why? In that case, let Scott Foster have the last word: “This is something that no one can ever take away from me. It’s something that I can go home and tell my kids and they can tell their friends. … Just a ton of fun.”

Chuck Ott

Facebook’s Thin Line: Is This the New Normal?

By Troy Hudson

When Facebook announced last month that personal data from approximately 50 million users had been scraped by data firm Cambridge Analytica, that number was so staggeringly large that it would have been easy to assume it almost didn’t matter. Like the amount of consumer plastic that ends up in the ocean each year (8 million metric tons), the number of people displaced due to climate change since 2008 (21.5 million), or the distance to our closest neighboring galaxy (2.5 million light years), a figure like 50 million people is so large as to seem almost inconsequential.

Only it does matter — not just because it may or may not have helped Cambridge Analytica unduly influence the 2016 presidential election in favor of Donald Trump, but because of what it implies about a company that touches the lives of almost everyone on the planet, yet has remained frustratingly opaque regarding the privacy concerns of its users.

As of April 5, Facebook now estimates closer to 87 million users were affected by the privacy loophole exploited by entities like Cambridge Analytica and others. Effectively, said Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg, “I would assume if you had that setting turned on, that someone at some point has accessed your public information in this way.” In other words, given Facebook’s ever-changing privacy controls, odds are very good that your information has been compromised at some point.

As troubling as the breach itself and its potential implications are, Facebook’s handling of it raises still more concerns. They knew about the issue as early as 2011, but since technically every user had at some point agreed (or didn’t explicitly refuse) to let their public profiles be searchable in this way, Facebook did nothing to stop it. It was only when former Cambridge Analytica data scientist Christopher Wylie came forward as a whistleblower that Facebook started to take the problem seriously.

In the wake of the scandal, many are questioning Zuckerberg’s leadership (he has insisted he’s not stepping down). Facebook has always existed on the bleeding edge of culture and technology, a step or two ahead of government regulation. And since its inception, Zuckerberg has been the company’s autonomous leader. He is Facebook’s CEO, chairman of the board and majority shareholder, meaning he is technically answerable to no one. Is this an appropriate corporate structure for a company that handles the valuable personal information of almost 2 billion users?

We trust Facebook with enormously important personal data, but most of us seldom realize this or take steps to limit access to our public profiles. Facebook’s public stance is that the more data we give the site access to, the better tailored our experience with it will be. This is undoubtedly correct, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that the privacy we surrender for this functionality is worth the risk. Facebook has certainly not proven to be a trustworthy steward of our data, so why do we keep placing our trust in them?

So much of our economy relies on trust — from credit-card companies, to car manufacturers like Tesla, to lodging services like Airbnb and VRBO — and trust in these institutions has been eroding rapidly following one scandal after another in 2018. Have we put too much trust in corporations? And if so, can we right the ship before another major catastrophe is upon us? Or are we content to maintain the current course and call this the new normal?

Ranked-Choice Voting

By Gio DiFazio

Across Casco Bay, in Maine’s largest city, lies a voting system in which elected officials are not chosen using an antiquated and overly simplistic method of election. Portland has been electing their mayor with a ranked-choice system since 2011 and uses the ranked-choice voting system to elect members of its City Council.

In 2010, Paul Lepage won the gubernatorial election with less than 38 percent of the vote (37.6). The Democratic candidate Libby Mitchell  only received 19 percent of the vote, while Eliot Cutler, the Independent challenger, finished with 36 percent and Paul LePage won.

Maine has a track record of supporting third-party candidates, which has made gubernatorial elections unpredictable, and unique to the state of Maine. In 2010, Eliot Cutler outmuscled Libby, The Independent candidate, Cutler though fell short to the man we have called our governor of eight years. A man that should have bought it, when he saw it, at Mardens. (Yes, it’s been eight years.)

So in reality, the Democratic challenger stole votes from the independent candidate (Cutler), who had a very good chance of winning if the ranked-choice system were used in 2010.

Again, in 2014, Lepage won the election again, with less than a 50 percent majority.

In 2016, Maine voters elected to use a ranked-choice voting system starting in 2018 for the governorship, senate seats, and other races of office in the State of Maine.

Concerns of the constitutional status of ranked choice voting were brought before Kennebec County Superior Court Judge Michaela Murphy who affirmed a decision made by the people in the 201 She ruled that Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap can proceed with the ranked-choice voting method to be used in the June 12 primaries. At the same time, The Maine Senate, which has a Republican majority, has requested that the method not be used, even though it was approved by voters in a statewide referendum in 2016. These are the people that “support” our interest.

Obviously, the issue is split down the middle with each party taking a hard stance against the other. Democrats are for ranked choice voting, while conservatives are not.

Republican candidate for governor, Mary Mayhew stated that, “This ranked-choice voting thing is a scam and should be repealed immediately,” Because, who actually thinks a system that can rely on parties stealing votes from each other to secure victory is the best way to choose our leaders. Well, Maine Republicans do.

The Portland Press Herald describes the ranked choice voting process in a way more fluent way than I could ever, “Under the ranked-choice system, voters select candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated. Voters who preferred the eliminated candidate would then have their ballots added to the totals of their second-ranked candidates, and the ballots would be retabulated. The process continues until one candidate has a clear majority and is declared the winner.” -Portland Press Herald

Maine will be the first state to use the ranked choice voting method in a statewide primary. A system that has been put on trail at the municipal level, in cities like Portland, ranked choice voting is the most fair, and sensible system to use in an antiquated process of election.

Letter to the Editor

Dear Managing Editor of The Beacon,

As a fond reader of newspapers, I wish to write to you in appreciation of your hard work delivering the news to our great campus. In this new era of “fake news,” journalists are under severe scrutiny, and unbiased pieces are hard to come by. After reading your most recent edition, I was not only impressed with the amount of variety in content in the paper, but in the writing itself. In particular, your front-page story entitled “Gun Violence Sparks Debate and Activism in Southern Maine.” This article was not only informative and well-crafted, but it was refreshingly neutral. While I’d say a majority of people in our college community identify with the liberal values of the left-wing, myself included, you did not preach nor evoke your own personal opinion, which is often what can derail such important discussions in the classroom setting.

We are in a time where ideologies are fueled by emotions, passion is plentiful, and we judge our peers not by their moral character, but rather by what news network they prefer. We have polarized ourselves into anarchy. But I think you made a welcomed observation: “The willingness to engage in debate over issues like gun violence is a hallmark of democracy … Through discussion and mutual understanding, we are getting closer to a solution that will prevent more tragic losses from occurring in the future while honoring the rights of our citizens to safety and security.”

Words like “willingness” and “mutual understanding” are hard to find in today’s politics. It can be exceedingly frustrating to know that college-aged students understand this and our leaders do not. Forums, such as the one held at SMCC by the SPLC Student Group, are one of the many ways to begin the engagements of such debates. It is certainly a stepping stone for those wishing to get involved, while knowing they are in a safe place to express their opinion and can then perhaps see the other side (if only Washington could embrace such civility). Moments like these are important; they remind us that although we may not agree with someone’s view, we can respect that they are entitled to have it. These debates may also ignite one’s activism that could lead to real change. Either way, the impact is there.

So, I wish to conclude my letter to you by saying thank you. Thank you for your hard work producing a quality paper, that not only informs readers about what’s happening on campus, but reminds us what good journalism is all about.

Sincerely yours,

Megan Webster


Dear Ms. Webster,

Thank you for your thoughtful response to the paper. We at The Beacon do work hard to be the best journalists we can be, and it is good to know that readers like yourself appreciate our efforts!

Troy Hudson

Managing Editor

Free Will

By Alicia Brosseau

In “Consider Ethics” (2011), Bruce Waller writes, “We are not entirely self-made and self-chosen — our desires, affections, and inclinations are the product of our genetic and conditioning histories — but in some of our critical choices we make special free creative choices.” I did not have to look far to find support for Waller’s statement. My entire adult life thus far has been comprised of a series of freely willed choices, made with the goal of raising myself out of the cycle of poverty in which I was mired as a child. In the following paragraphs I will give numerous examples of how free will enables us to either improve our lot in life, or to worsen our circumstances.

For the majority of my formative years, I was raised in Portland, Maine. My mother and I lived in a Section 8 housing community. No matter how much she worked, there never seemed to be enough money, especially as my absentee father contributed little to nothing toward my support. Being poor seemed normal to me, though, because I never knew any different. In the neighborhood we lived in, we were surrounded by poverty, and the only kids that I knew had similar stories to tell.

My father was an alcoholic who spent most of my early childhood in and out of the local jail for things like assault and driving under the influence. When he did decide to come around, he would always take me out to do enjoyable things that I never got to do with my mother. My dad seemed larger than life to me, and the combination of fun excursions and the complete lack of discipline led me to idolize this mysterious man. The only time my father would reprimand me was when I would cry. He would say things like, “Don’t you want to be tough like your dad? I never cry. If you’re tough you don’t cry. It’s a sign of weakness.” I wanted more than anything to grow up to be tough like my dad.

LoveHope

I started fighting in elementary school.  I thought it would be the perfect way to prove to my dad that I was tough, just like him. I dreamt of the day my father would come take me away from the poverty and abuse that I endured at my mother’s house. I’m sure she partially blamed me for our circumstances. If not for my existence, she wouldn’t have to work so much, or be so poor, and she’d have more freedom. She resented me because I reminded her of my dad, about whom she still has many unresolved feelings.

Shortly after I turned seven, my father was sentenced to seven years in prison for a terrorism charge, aggravated assault and domestic violence, thus bringing my hopes of rescue to an end. I spent the next six years constantly acting out. I was as bad as I possibly could be, both to impress my dad when he got out and to vent my hurt and anger. When I was 10 years old I started to smoke pot, drink alcohol and steal. My relationship with my mother continued to deteriorate. When I was 11 years old she decided that she didn’t want to deal with me anymore.

She began to go through the proceedings to put me in to foster care. My grandmother and my aunt on my father’s side came and took me to live with them in Windham before I ended up in the foster-care system. They didn’t want to risk the chance of losing touch with me when my dad was finally scheduled to get out of prison within the year. He got out a year and a half early on good time, and as soon as he had a place to live I finally got to live with him.

Living with my dad was not the happy adventure I had dreamed of.  He went right back to drinking all the time. He would have fits of rage that were not always directed at me, but whenever I spoke up or stood up for myself he would beat me. Sometimes he would take off on a drinking bender and leave me for a week at a time with only 20 dollars to feed myself. At this point I was 13 years old. I ended up spending the next three years bouncing between living with my abusive mother, living with my abusive father, and running away. When I was 16 years old I was living with my dad. I came home one night and he had given my bed away to one of his girlfriend’s friends. He told me that I would have to start sleeping on the floor.

In my first positive act of free will, I moved out and have supported myself ever since.

It would seem that all of the experiences in my life leading up to that moment could be construed as deterministic forces: the experience of poverty, the family history of alcoholism and abuse, bad decision making, and other negative cultural influences. In my experience, many people who have had similar childhoods end up in the same situations as adults. I have many friends who have had children at very young ages, and they are all living off the state just like they did growing up. Others are currently in jail, or have been in and out of jail their entire adult lives.

By using free will, I have avoided these pitfalls. I made the decision to quit smoking and drinking cold-turkey. I stopped stealing and fighting. I chose to stop hanging out with the friends that I had grown up with, because I knew that they were going to be a negative influence on the new life that I have been trying to create for myself. I made the choice to put myself through college to gain an education. Neither of my parents have any higher education, nor do the majority of the people that I was close to growing up. Making these choices has not been easy, but I have accomplished these things all on my own and by my own will. Instead of letting my upbringing and cultural experiences dictate my future, I have taken control of my life. I have, as Waller would say, “the power to act in accordance with my own will.”