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Are these Amnesty International Ads Torture?

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When one thinks about Amnesty International, as an organization or as a brand, the word "humor" does not spring to mind. That element of surprise – or, perhaps, shock – is part of what makes the new anti-torture campaign from the human rights organization so breakthrough. The message is so powerful that, despite the fact that the ads are in French and only published in the small country of Belgium, people all over the world are talking about the campaign.

The premise of the ads is simple and hard-hitting: after enough torture, people will say anything. Even if those people are global icons and what they're being forced to say is silly and completely contrary to their celebrated reputations. To illustrate the point, Amnesty International forgoes political prisoners and instead features music's Iggy Pop, fashion's Karl Lagerfeld, and Tibetan Buddhism's Dalai Lama. Each of the unlikely trio are shown individually, with their faces beaten and bruised. The headlines (originally in French, translated for this article) are shown as quotes from each famous face – quotes that are the antithesis of what each stands for. That's exactly the point: after enough torture, anyone will say anything, no matter how unbelievable it sounds...and therefore, we shouldn't necessarily believe what we hear political prisoners say.

Here are the brilliant, unbelievable, translated "headlines" from each of Amnesty International's new ads:

  • Karl Lagerfeld: "The height of elegance is a Hawaiian shirt with flip-flops."
  • Dalai Lama: "A man who does not have a Rolex watch at 50 years old has failed in his life."
  • Iggy Pop: "The future of Rock-n-Roll is Justin Bieber."

Who would ever believe that any of these men would say the quotes plastered beneath their pictures? Yet people are expected to believe confessions from lesser-known, not-as-beloved individuals that are completely contrary to what they stand for – confessions that come on the heels of extensive torture.

This "Torture a Man and He'll Tell You Anything" campaign was launched via leaflet distribution in various cities of Belgium, sparking local awareness. The power of the internet was then harnessed when Amnesty International posted the images online for all to see. It does appear that all are seeing this advertising turned public relations campaign that pulls no punches about the effects of torture.

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