{ Kodak Goes Goth for the Girls }
Beth Sullivan
photo courtesy Kodak

A teenaged girl dressed in black with black hair, a pale face, and dark lipstick takes photographs of a sewer hole, twisted tree branches, and the off-kilter world of an amusement park. She presents a collage of the photos to her class. Her slumping peers sit up, furrowing their brows, aghast at these strange photographs. Only one classmate responds favorably: a similarly attired boy wearing eyeliner, who catches her eye and gives her a small grin. She smiles back at him knowingly. "The world is full of beautiful things/ beautiful people too/ beautiful people—like you," Bobby Darinís smooth voice continues, after the scene fades.
goth girl   Tightly edited and graceful, the thirty second spot called "Goth" for Kodakís 1X-USE camera is pure cinema that depicts all the joy a throwaway camera can deliver—the enriching experience of exploring unusual aspects of familiar surroundings; the effective tactic of employing photographs in school presentations; the delightful ability of harmless images to shock others; the satisfaction of artistic self-expression; the pleasure of being understood (and, perhaps, misunderstood) by peers.
   With its sugary background song and arty angles to complement arty photo-taking, Kodak lets the viewer know itís on the goth girlís side from the start. Itís all about the way she sees her world, about how being different is okay, even beautiful. Itís heartwarming. Still, given most of the studentsí reactions, I can only imagine the conversations her classmates had about her after that class: "Dude, that chick is fucked up."
   "Yeah, but Iíd do Ďer."
   Fortunately, Kodak has found a nice girl named Suzi whoís made it her mission to eradicate such conversations. Suzi thinks everyone at school should be friends, even if they donít dress alike or share interests. In a commercial entitled "Tribes", the average-looking Suzi photographs her schoolmates in the cafeteria, snapping shots of punks, cheerleaders, football players, nerds, and goth kids. At home, she cuts up the photos, pairs up images of people not likely to be friends with each other, and glues them onto a poster board.
   The next day at school, everyone looks at the poster; a pigtailed cheerleader and a Cure fan (heís wearing chain mail, for chrissakes) stand next to each other and stare at the board—on it, they are a pair. He turns to look at her and smiles, and she smiles back and turns her head down shyly. On the soundtrack, a female singer, who has been sort of scatting throughout most of the ad, finally breaks into "Why Canít We Be Friends". Perhaps they can be friends, even though the cheerleader has probably never heard of the Cure, and the Cure fan has never considered talking to, let alone sleeping with, a cheerleader.
   The ads prompt a certain progression of response, as follows:

  1. Thatís sort of nice and different.
  2. You donít really see goth kids on TV much, do you?
  3. Isnít being goth kind of í90s?
  4. Maybe they were trying to recall My So-Called Life, which did not have many goth kids, but was also about high schoolers and female self-expression and was made in the í90s.
  5. [In the case of "Goth"] So wait, what did she take pictures of again? The subway and the amusement park? That freaked out her classmates? What was this project about, anyway? Arenít teens supposed to be jaded? Should they really be surprised that the goth girl would take gothy pictures?
  6. [In the case of "Tribes"] If I had done this in high school, and put a picture of Julie Lewis (who got a nose job after people likened her to the star of a cheesy sitcom) next to a close-up of Johnny Corrigan (who liked the Dead Kennedys and took Ritalin), people really would have been freaked out. I would have been interrogated, brought into the counselorís office and made to explain myself. "Is this a joke? Are you implying sexual relationships between these people?" And, well, it probably would have been some kind of joke.
Indeed, Kodakís teens, even if they donít quite look the part, are idyllic; theyíre innocent, unsuspecting, sweet. They probably donít take Ritalin unless they really need to. They donít bring knives to school. They donít call the goth girl a freak. Theyíre diverse, and though they like people who look just like them the best, they might be friends with people who look different, if it occurs to them. Most notably, their strong reactions to their peersí hokey art projects suggest these teens exist in a world in which images do not confront them at every turn.
   The teenaged characters of the ads donít only use disposable cameras—they create Web sites (whose addresses can be spied in the commercials) as well. They have a voice, and they canít contend themselves with the one-off aspect of school presentations. The goth girlís name is "Melanie," and her site can be found at www.seemyview.com. "Suziís" Web site is located at www.foundmyvoice.org.
   On the Web sites, the girls—portrayed as self-assured, smart, and creative in the television ads—come off as stereotypical, whiny, less intelligent, and less complex than they should be. Suzi writes: "I cant [sic] stand that some people think there [sic] better then [sic] every one else. I'm so tired of Ďcool peopleí.[sic] it's [sic] so old." Melanieís site features her collage and a poem about finding light in the darkness. Whoever constructed these offshoots probably enjoyed infusing them with all the cheesy, poorly-produced features associated with teen Web pages—animated gifs, terrible backgrounds, randomly placed images, misspelled words and bad punctuation. As a result, the characters and Kodak lose some credibility.
   Of course, both charactersí sites have links to Kodakís Web site. After all, the whole point is to sell a disposable camera to teen girls. To that end, Kodak succeeds in getting itself noticed. Search Google for "kodak goth girl commercial" and youíll find at least a few legitimate teensí Web logs speaking favorably of the spots.
   Itís admirable that Kodak has chosen to celebrate the individuality and creativity of young (female) teens, and they even do it in an elegant, fairly subtle way. Still, the ads—like most attempts at portraying the lives of teens realistically—fall victim to an exaggerated, glossy, tidy version of high school. Combined with Kodakís Web campaign, the scenes and characters prove no more real than Julie Lewisís new nose.

View the ads at http://www.kodak.com/inside/insidestory.html.

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