When a dress is more than just a dress...

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A British actress said recently that she dislikes watching drama on television because just as you’re getting engrossed in the characters and the plot, a commercial break happens, breaking the flow of the storyline and disrupting the viewing of a good programme.

She has a point to be sure. Some adverts disrupt for more than just that moment and stay with us, like those images of starving children in Africa or the DOE ads about speeding, sometimes so graphic they have to be shown after the 9pm watershed.

Although there’s an argument that while people of my generation are genuinely shocked by the vivid nature of road safety ads, they have less effect on the young people they’re aimed at, who are somewhat desensitised to images of vehicle carnage because they’re so used to playing games like Grand Theft Auto on X Box or Playstation.

But I wonder if the poster ad that’s been doing the rounds and making news this week in the media has stayed with you? It’s a simple but brilliant message about domestic violence – and it’s been produced by the Salvation Army of all people. It’s based on “the dress” – a photograph of a two tone dress that went viral prompting intense debate about its colour. Some people saw it as white and gold, others said it was blue and black.

Both sides were right, according to visual experts who came out with various theories about the way the human eye interprets different colours. But the Salvation Army cleverly took the image to a different level of thought, showing a picture of a bruised and cut woman wearing ‘the dress’ and the caption: “Why is it so difficult to see black and blue?” The poster ad, challenging views about domestic abuse, was released in South Africa, but caught the attention of a worldwide audience thanks to social media. Over the past few weeks I’ve been working through a unit with my journalist trainees about Social Action and Community Media, looking at the history of campaigning and confronting our stereotypical views or pre-conceived ideas about issues around us every day. We looked at the compassion of the great Victorian Barnardo whose name and work is carried on to this day, and at modern campaigns like Live Aid or Comic Relief which we’ll be glued to on our TV screens tonight. And the Salvation Army’s poster has certainly made an impact. As an organisation their military style uniforms and tambourine shaking image belies the truth of their history of fearlessly stepping forward to help the marginalised and oppressed in our communities - and challenging us to a response as individuals and collectively as a society.

And their actions break the stereotype view held by many of the Christian church, sometimes criticised for burying its head in the sand, doing little to tackle those ‘awkward’ subjects like sexuality, homelessness, poverty, prostitution, injustice, abuse, human trafficking – things that are all around yet hidden to many. The reality is there are lots of examples of ‘church in action’ – people doing what little they can to help, running food banks, breakfast clubs, providing mentoring, employment or training opportunities for ex-prisoners or a safe place to sleep for people who are homeless. So fair play to the Sally Ann – setting the agenda for social action, and setting the example for us all.