Friday, November 07, 2008

Thinking about connotations

I've run into a situation I didn't think I'd ever have worry about with my new job. As I've mentioned in the past, I've developed an iPhone app for playing streaming audio over the iPhone. Now, a company is paying me to create an iPhone app for them for a rock-and-roll radio station.

Today I received the artwork for the app and found myself taken by surprise. For the background image used to represent the app in iTunes and on the iPhone, the station chose a photograph of a woman in a bikini. It's typical rock-and-roll imagery - woman in low-cut bikini laying on the ground (and wearing high heel shoes). Yeah, I know, it's no big deal - go to any beach, watch some TV, or stand in line at the supermarket, and you'll see similar images. (Ok, maybe at the beach you won't see the high heels part... I'd think the heels would sink into the sand making it difficult to walk.) But, it's not the photograph itself that I'm concerned with writing about here - it's my reaction to the artwork that what got me to writing this post.

For some reason, my initial gut reaction was, "I can't submit this to iTunes and have this image associated with my new company." Yet, the more I think about it, I'm not sure why that was my gut reaction. I was originally thinking the picture was "low class" but now I'm trying to figure out if there's more to it. Is it instead the case of me being a typical male and I'm reading more into the picture than there really is?

Why should I have an immediate negative connotation to a picture of a woman in a skimpy bikini? Can I blame my parents for my strict religious upbringing? Am I being sexist? Does this reaction say something deeper about my opinion of women in general if I think there's something negative about such a picture? And why am I writing all this personal stuff in my blog for everyone else to read?

Ok, at least I can answer that last question. I found it interesting that the idea of trying to analyze why I found something negative got me to finally consider maybe the problem was actually with my own perception of things. The whole direction the thought process took was unexpected. And I thought others might also find it thought provoking.

I still need to think a bit more about whether I really have a problem with the photo, but I definitely have some new sides to the issue to think about that I didn't initially consider.


Anonymous said...

Based on my current job as a professor and previous business experience dealing with clients, I offer the following comments.

The professor part of me says, I'd guess it bothers you b/c making money by peddling the promise of a hot woman is the very definition of exploitative.

A woman on the beach in a bikini isn't selling anything, and no one is making money by looking at her or by her being there (usually). In this case, the radio station (and now you) stand to make money from it. I think that's the difference.

The business part of me says, while all the above is true, the point of the itunes app is for people to listen to the radio station (and the radio station thinks this will be more likely to happen if people to associate this woman with them). The side benefit to you is that in addition to cash, you get recognized for creating it and possibly get more business. In that sense I don't think you need to worry that she'll be associated with your company.

Regardless, I don't think the real issue is the woman. It's about how much control you have over all the parts of the process. You have this ideal about working for yourself and creative control. But once you have real paying clients, they will have differing ideas of what they want (or need) than you do. And they'll expect you to do what they want since they are paying you. The real question is what do you do when you don't like their decisions.

Sorry for the longest comment ever. But, I thought it was interesting too.

Linda said...

I agree with Berna. Proffering up an image of a hot woman to sell music can come off as exploitative. As a freelancer you get to choose work that's congruent with your values. For example, I wouldn't write for a magazine that runs content that goes against what I believe in.

If you're worried that the image will make your business look bad, don't. It actually sounds pretty tame by today's standards. At least she's wearing a bikini! Also, people understand that you, as a programmer, don't choose the images that go on your clients' projects.

I personally don't have a problem working with companies that use images of beautiful women to sell -- hence my writing for women's, health, and men's magazines, including Men's Fitness and Details. But you have to do what's right for you. And as a freelancer, you get to!

Anonymous said...

Well I downloaded the app. In part, in support of your new business and in part, because of the woman in the bikini. The good news is, I actually like the music played by the radio station.

Can't be certain, but somehow, it seems everyone wins...