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#MeToo: A Visual Gut-Punch

As graphic designers, we know how potent a picture can be. We thrive (and survive) on it. Visuals have long since been powerful vessels of community sentiment, be it ‘designed’ imagery, or simply moments captured in time.

And for all that, there’s something about reading #metoo in the deadpan system fonts of Facebook and Twitter that stops me in my tracks. In the same text space where people share their bathroom musings and culinary exploits and gym updates, millions of people have written #metoo. No sombre black & white graphic, no zeitgeisty filter for profile pictures— nothing.

It strikes me how this matter-of-factness is actually the perfect visual representation of what is now clearly and heartbreakingly commonplace. It seems somehow right that the same input-field that has held gems like “What do historians do?”,  “a man needs his nuggs”, and “covfefe” should carry this chilling declaration. Because that is exactly how unremarkable, how ordinary, how (lord help us) normal this insidious societal disease is. This digital badge may have its origins in the upper echelons of Hollywood, but it is being worn defiantly by women (and men) in cities and towns across the world—including, unsurprisingly, my hometown of New Delhi, India.

Images draw a unique force from their context. A grim, humourless quip like ‘no one killed Jessica’ made the country sit up when splashed across a national daily. AAP’s otherwise-unwanted election symbol drew its significance from its corruption-tainted rivals. And Hillary Clinton’s ‘perfectly’ crafted campaign logo paled in comparison to a bird’s seal of approval, to be eventually bested by badly-designed baseball caps.

For people like me, the urge to design for the moment is strong. The hand itches to create something that crystallises collective sentiment into a single, universal symbol. But clever, conceptual visuals don’t hold a candle to images that simply belong to their message, belong to their audience. After all, the strongest protest marches are dotted with crude DIY signs, passion being the only common thread between them. Give people well-crafted, visually consistent placards instead, and they might indeed seem like planted petitioners.

I’ve come across a few instances where #metoo has been made into a picture (sometimes against Harvey Weinstein’s face; always set starkly in a bold sans serif, as is par for the course by now in 2017). And sure enough, once the hashtag loses its clickable channel to the worldwide pool of sister declarations, it loses its power.

For this grave acknowledgement doesn’t belong in precious imagery, or, for that matter, in private conversations or hesitant emails. It belongs on our daily social feeds alongside canine filters and feline GIFs. Sexual harassment is everywhere, it is all the time, and it happens to almost every woman. So it should, by all rights, interrupt our mindless scrolling—insistently, relentlessly. And I’m hard put to think of a more impactful way than this easy, pithy phrase that doesn’t ask for any details from its writers, beyond a show of hands for a global headcount. 

At its strongest, this could be the beginning of a revolution. Even at its least potent, it is a sickening census. No matter how it pans out, the sight of those two words next to the smiling photo of friend after friend after friend is indelible. As a piece of communication, in its genius simplicity, it gives us packagers and conveyers of messages something to think about.