Jan 092014

WHOA! Without my knowledge, I have become the face of a restaurant advertisement in West Africa?!

Late last night I received a shocking message from my friend Alicia, who had been traveling in Africa. “Lillie!” the message read, Flying down the street in the car on my way to Bojo Beach in Ghana, we passed this sign. I screamed out loud, ‘I KNOW THAT GIRL!’ Are you aware that you are the face of the Synagogue Restaurant in Accra, Ghana?!”

I gasped and clicked open the photo. Sure enough, there I was:

Yup, that's me on a restaurant advertisement in Ghana.

Yup, that’s me on a restaurant advertisement in Ghana.

Ahhh! Whoever was behind this restaurant (maybe someone who knows my coworkers during the months I taught in Ghana, or maybe someone who randomly Googled something like “Jewish girl in Ghana”) got their mitts on the lead photo from this article that I wrote in 2010 about how much I adore Ghanaian food, modified it, and put me as the unknowing model on a highway billboard. Zowie!

So what to do? How to react? My emotions have swirled from aghast, to flattered, to weirded out, to giggly. I mean, who opens a restaurant called “Synagogue” in Ghana?? There are more icicles in Ghana than there are Jews! Now, however, I’ve come to the following conclusions:

1. Yes, I will investigate. I have some theories about how this came to be, and have deployed my chums in West Africa to investigate. I shall keep you posted on what I find! That said…

2. Face it: Things like this happen in 2014. This is a wake-up call– isn’t it?– to all folks who use the internet: Try as you might, your images are not always under your control. Hence my constant warning to my students to never post anything inappropriate. Unauthorized use of images is far more rampant than we think, given how widely people (not just bloggers) share photos, and how powerful internet image searches and photo manipulation tools are. Sure, one can try to guard photos through watermarking, but it would hardly have helped in this instance due to cropping. Yet, at the end of the day…

3. Don’t kill the beauty of the internet and our connected world due to paranoia. I COULD react to this episode by shutting down my whole website and vast social media empire, erasing any image of myself I could find online, and running screaming into my son’s whale-shaped bathtub to never come out again, but… no thanks. I will continue to use my best judgment about what and how I post photos and facts online, and I will continue to do my best to stop anyone pirating or plagiarizing my work, but I refuse to be squashed by paranoia. In this case, the offender appears to be a small Mom-and-Pop restaurant in West Africa that is likely not making big bucks off my lovely grin. Moreover…

4. Let’s not be hypocrites. The issue is not just that a photo that is my property was used without permission, but that my FACE has been gazed at in a commercial context, without my knowledge, by many folks across the ocean. However, let’s put this into perspective. Look at the website of any travel blogger or social media user (myself included) and you’ll find images of local people who have no idea they’re being seen by thousands around the world. These female manual laborers in India haven’t a clue that my article about them has been seen by over 3,000 readers, globally. Even the fanciest newspapers practice this voyeurism. We humans are fascinated by people who don’t look like us, and we love using the images of others (the “Other,” as defined by Edward Said, for you fellow literary theory geeks out there) to produce an exotic international effect. Synagogue Restaurant in Ghana simply wanted to show that exotic foreigners delight in their food. And given my obsession with fufu, I likely would!

5. Celebrity solidarity. Suddenly I get a tiny slice of how actual celebrities must feel to see their image splashed hither and thither, completely unauthorized. How many instances of it can they actually fight? What is the emotional impact on one’s face essentially becoming public property, as has happened with so many celebs? Heck– when I wrote this article while in Ghana in 2010 about how fun it was to see Obama‘s picture on school notebooks and cafe signs, I didn’t think twice about the legal or personal repercussions!

6. If you’re doing something naughty, you will likely be caught. I always tell my students that plagiarizers always get caught eventually. It may not be until they’ve been up to their evil tricks for decades, but the truth always seems to come out. Thus I am both flabbergasted by and embracing of the ridiculous coincidence that a friend I met in Philadelphia happened to stumble across a violation of my website’s copyright rules from the window of a speeding car over 5,000 miles away in West Africa!

Bottom line: This is one of the most bizarre instances to happen as a result of my blog, ever, and it raises some intense questions… but it’s also kind of funny. What’s YOUR take on this whole issue?

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  76 Responses to “My Face Is on a Restaurant Advertisement in Africa?!”

  1. lol….I guess you are entitled to a benefit, that’s quite normal in though.

  2. Nice one….! Great advice.

  3. That’s unbelievable! What a funny story

  4. I’m really glad that you acknowledged the voyeuristic aspect of this! As an elementary school teacher in NZ, I know that in order to put photos of any of my students online, the formal protocol is to send home a permission release letting parents know my intentions (usually a class blog, not even my own personal travel blog)… but yet at the same time, I see so many people who teach english as second language, using pictures of their students on their personal blogs, and I wonder to myself, did those kids/their parents consent to that? It’s quite an issue in our global culture.

    Good luck figuring this out!

  5. Does this mean free food for life at this restaurant for you? :p

  6. I would love it if this happened to me! I think it’s hilarious, but can understand how it would freak some people out. You should go to the restaurant one day and take a picture of you eating in front of the picture of you eating :P

  7. That’s very surreal, but I think it’s less weird than if you really had no connection at all with Ghana!

  8. Great story! They sure have to give you a free lifetime delivery in return… ;)

  9. You really put this situation into perspective and embraced it! I love how you turned it into a lesson to teach your students. I’m sure it was extremely weird seeing your face on a billboard, but you dealt with it beautifully! Good for you! Thanks for sharing this great post!

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