This post will share what brought me to the idea of exploring the history of muckraking and its current status. You will probably be surprised to learn that it was a picture of a mural by British artist Jules Muck.
She describes herself as a Mural and Graffiti Painter, whose current work was inspired by meeting a mural artist whom Muck refers to as the "legendary" Lady Pink. Their meeting resulted in an apprenticeship with Pink in New York, and Muck was inspired to paint on street walls.
|Jule Muck's Larry Bird mural after tattoos removed|
I learned about Jule Muck when I happened to see a mural she painted of former NBA player Larry Bird. She had worked from a photograph taken when Bird was a young college player for Indiana, using it to paint an accurate portrait--EXCEPT, she had covered his exposed skin with tattoos. Bird had no tattoos when he played college ball nor has he had any tattoos since. When he saw her depiction of him, he asked her to remove the tattoos.
As an attorney, I was interested in the legality of a famous person's right to his own image. Muck's comments about his request seemed to indicate that she didn't believe he could demand changes to her art, although she did remove all of the tattoos except the "Indiana" on Bird's arm. Among the other tattoos that were removed were a large black spider's web on Bird's right shoulder and a pair of mating rabbits on his left arm.
Larry Bird was clear to state that he had nothing against tattoos. Many of his friends have tattoos, as anyone who watches pro-basketball already knows, and that is fine with him. However, he felt a depiction of him should not make it appear that he has tattoos that he has never had.
Their dispute caused me to wonder about her unusual last name. Is it her actual surname or is it a name she chose to use as an artist? Her website doesn't say. The dictionary defines "muck" as "soft moist farmyard manure; slimy dirt or filth; and defamatory remarks or writings." Looking at examples of her murals at her website, I noticed that her name is often a prominent part of her work.
Investigative reporters often disliked being described as muckrakers, and I could not help but wonder whether Jules Muck chose her professional name or simply accepted the surname with which she was born.
But, back to Larry Bird and his request that she remove the offending tattoos...
We are living in a world where the saying, "a picture is worth a thousand words" doesn't always apply. Recently a video appeared on the internet which had been altered to make it seem that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was slurring her words drunkenly. In fact, an authentic video had been altered to make a false impression. In that case, no fancy technology was involved. The culprit had simply reduced the speed of the video and tweaked the pitch of her voice in the slowed version. People continued to post and watch it even after it had been debunked.
Perhaps even worse are examples of realistic face-swaps. The technology works by using a computer program to find common points on two different faces, and if enough common points are used, the face of the victim can be "stitched" over the source to create a faked image capable of fooling viewers. This has already been done to embarrass celebrities by face-swapping them into pornography. Imagine the harm that could be done to politicians by their political enemies through face-swapping them to appear to be saying things or being places that were false.
Perhaps you have seen examples of using facial recognition for security purposes, in which a person's face is used to gain entry rather than using a key or a card that might be lost or stolen for someone else to enter secured areas. This facial recognition works by mapping faces for 'landmark' points, like the corners of eyes and mouth, nostrils, and jaw line contour.
|President Theodore Roosevelt|
These technologies are rushing forward, spurred by positive uses but surely likely to be abused for reasons less acceptable. How could most of us even begin to recognize such abuses? If a mural could make us believe that a basketball player known for his positive character had tattoos of spiders and mating rabbits that he didn't have, what sort of muck is ahead to mislead us?
This technology, it seems to me, calls for a new generation of muckrakers to be our watchdogs against a world increasingly unable to recognize the truth amidst the fakery. As President Roosevelt said, "There are, in the body politic, economic and social, many and grave evils, and there is urgent necessity for the sternest war upon them. There should be relentless exposure of and attacks upon every evil man whether politician or business man, every evil practice, whether in politics, in business, or in social life. I hail as a benefactor every writer or speaker, every man who, on the platform, or in book, magazine or newspaper, with merciless severity makes such attack, provided always that he in his turn remembers that the attack is of use only if it is absolutely truthful."