The New New Thing, Again

The New New Thing, Again

MPG: unofficial thoughts, whimsical critiques, and occasional cultural commentary

Matthew Pratt Guterl, Professor of Africana studies and American studies
Brown University

Someone referred to mixed race children as particularly “beautiful” the other day, and it made me think of this:

In 1993, the cover of Time magazine featured a fresh-faced young woman, designated the “New Face of America.” For twenty years, this image has circulated as a referent for the new, new thing, for the mixed-race future gestating in a womb somewhere in the U.S.  Often, it is embraced enthusiastically, and “she” is offered up as an icon for a pretty and happy future.  Sometimes, the image is described as a way-too-seductive advertisement for race-suicide. (That last link is NSFW and, really, not safe for any decent human being).

“Take a good look at this woman,” the scrawl read, encouraging a close reading of her face.  “She was created by a computer.”  In truth, though, she wasn’t.  With brown eyes and light brown skin, she was imagined by renowned graphic artist Milton Glaser, conceived through software created by engineer Kim Wah Lam, a composite of hundreds of photographs taken by Ted Thai. A chorus line of willing employees in the Time Life building provided the visual DNA. The design team selected a handful of idealized “types,” borrowed features from them, and assembled the image by cutting the features out and stitching them together. The near future in digital flesh, “she” stood without clothes, with a slight smile and a direct gaze, and looked right into the eyes of the present tense.

Tellingly, every student sees “her” as “Mexican,” as if that national category were itself a precise synonym for mixture…

Read the entire article here.

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