By Lauren Nahas
From just a brief perusal of the PSA’s about child sexual abuse on Youtube, it is clear that the vast majority consist of a montage of images of children looking sad or abused backed by music and at times narration. The photographs provide the foundation for their emotional appeal. Their purpose is to elicit empathy for these children from an adult audience in order to promote awareness of the issue and possibly action. For example, here is one such PSA that uses the typical image-montage strategy:
“Sexual Childhood Abuse PSA” by dylanxmarie (3.12.09)
The effect of the photo-montage technique is that the viewer feels pity, outrage, or possibly a desire to protect these children. Although I assume that Martinez hoped to create similar responses in her audience, she also achieved something more by moving away from the standard photo-montage strategy and employing a drawing/painting-unfolding-across-a-narrative approach that utilizes child-like drawings, audio effects, and places the viewer in the position of the child.
Martinez’s video elicits a slightly more complex response. The child-like drawing and painting and the fairy-tale genre invite the viewer not to simply empathize with abused children, but to actually imagine their child-selves in the abused position. Martinez builds to this ultimate goal by beginning the video with a scenario that most viewers can relate to: the childhood experience of creating fantasies and stories through drawing. These simple line drawings of a princess and her kingdom are supplemented by the narrator’s story, which begins “Once upon a time…” The genre brings to mind the experience of being read to as a child. The child’s laughter heard in the background throughout the early portion of Martinez’s piece reinforces the carefree attitude with which most children approach the world. All of these childhood references work to create an immersive experience where the viewers are invited to put themselves in the victim’s position.
Even as the video begins to take an ominous turn, Martinez continues to use these techniques to keep the viewer immersed in the child’s perspective. The narrator’s voice turns dark and speaks more rapidly as a parent’s voice reading to a child would during the scary parts of a story. Hiding under covers with a flashlight scared of some imaginary monster is another common childhood experience that Martinez uses. At this point, the sound of footsteps representing a sexual abuser is a place where the viewer’s identification with this scenario may break off. But because Martinez has created an image of sexual abuse which contains experiences that even people with the happiest of childhoods can relate to, she is successful in getting non-victims to place themselves in the victim’s position. It is quite an achievement that Martinez is able to extend this identification almost throughout the entire video.
The photographed images used in most PSA’s are effective in that they depict real children, putting a face on this important issue. But Martinez’s technique may be more effective in certain respects in that it elicits the concept of the innocence of childhood, not through images of actual children, but through the experiences of childhood: drawings, paintings, fairy-tales, and carefree laughter. The overall effect is that the viewer is reminded of their own childhood and these tactics force the viewer to consider not only the horror of this happening to any child (this seems to be the objective of most other PSA’s), but also to consider what the experience might have been like had it happened to them.