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Michael Shaw

Michael Shaw

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Reading the Pictures: Pro-Life Billboard

Posted: 02/25/11 01:32 AM ET

2011-02-25-antiabortionbillboard.jpg

I'd say the Gothamist article accompany this photo let the billboard off too easy.

The key to the advertisement is to get beyond the the language of cautious concern. And once you do, the otherwise arbitrary allusion to black women and pregnancy by an obviously well-funded anti-abortion group comes off as much like a racial ploy as anything else. Beyond the use of the word "dangerous" and "African American" in such close proximity, it's hard to understand the combo of cultural concern and pro-life authorship without considering how the billboard -- this one installed a half-mile from Planned Parenthood on Bleeker Street in Manhattan -- activates the stereotype of the young black women as mindless baby-making machine.

It's not just the text to watch out for here, though. This girl's body language -- with the direct gaze, the tight mouth and cheeks blown up just so, and the hands behind her back -- makes her look, simultaneously, slightly-victimized, slightly-guilty and slightly-busted. Clever work! The haters have found a photo that elicits empathy at the same time it makes this black child look complicit, perhaps with the outside hint that, having escaped the abortionist, thank God, this lovely dear, in not too many years from now, will be ready to drop a few herself.

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