Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Playin' to the Hype

I don't usually (ie- never) comment on fashion photography, but must admit to quite the double take when I first saw the cover above on the newsstand. Perhaps it's not a big thing to most twenty somethings- and that's maybe (as Martha would say) "a good thing," the kind of thing that might help get an African-American elected President. But as a person of color born waaay back in the fifties, and well attuned to the intricacies and nuances of racism in these United States, it set off a myriad of conflicting responses.

Recently, a French magazine depicted life after Bush in America with the photo of a male black child as stand in for Obama (couldn't link to posts at Lens Culture and Politics, Theory and Photography). Some suggested it was purposely demeaning, referencing the old stigma of black men being addressed as "boy." Even my jaded self couldn't go there- the photograph just seemed too sincere in inspiring hope for a generation well beyond that particular legacy. But this Liebowitz Vogue cover with Lebron James and Gisele Bundchen is clearly playing up the racial card for every bit of controversy and sales it can muster. Here we have the first Black man ever on the cover of Vogue (as they themselves are keen to remind us) and he's posed like King Kong stomping onto the set of The Birth of a Nation. Yeah, I'm sure it's Lebron's way of saying- fuck all, I don't give a flyin' about any damn conventions. And normally, I'd be all for that, if it didn't play into the hands of every black racial stereotype in the history of this country- and Brazil's. Not every black athlete (or human) is blessed with the political savvy and personal sacrifice of an Ali, a Tommie Smith or John Carlos- Lebron is strictly about the dollar signs.

Like it or not, he got played by a bunch of bright lights and the white folk who hide behind them, played for the vilest of reasons and the vilest of legacies. It'll stir up old emotions and fears in some, set tongues to wagging on others, and boost sales all around- just as Hillary's not so subtle racial hints and images awaken similar negative connotations in her widening desperation.

1 comment:

Stan B. said...

This cover has nothing to do with the legacy of race in these United States, and the (white) decision makers at Vogue did not consider the controversy (and sales) that would ensue as a result of this pose.

To think that the long, bloody and hysterical legacy of interracial relations between the sexes in this country is at all at play here is totally beyond reason.

I don't see race... I don't see poverty... I don't see homelessness... I don't see a needless, futile war costing the lives of hundreds of thousands, many of them women and children...

(Sorry, couldn't help it)- ed.