October 18, 2005

If They All Do It…


I feel I’ve got to play devil’s advocate here.

Dennis Dunleavy, a professor of communications at Southern Oregon University, picked up this story via Radar Magazine.  It concerns hip hop artist Beyonce Knowles, who fronts the latest issue of Vanity Fair.  In becoming the first black woman to appear on the cover in twelve years, it appears the magazine decided to present Ms. Knowles in a skin color a few shades lighter than actual.

But here’s where my problem comes in.  I’ve posted stories like this before, the last one involving the doctored Newsweek cover featuring Martha Stewart.  Often, a typical response I get is that "all the magazines do this now" or "what do you expect?"

It’s hard to argue with the "they all do it" critique.  In fact, while searching around, I found this Beyonce Rolling Stone cover from March 4, 2004, and it’s hard to tell what the shading difference is, if any, from the Vanity Fair shot.


(This is in comparison to the cover of the English magazine, Harpers & Queen, which appeared the same month, and reveals a darker shade.)


So, here are my questions for the readership:

How much is this about racism, sexism or commercialism?  And if it is racist, is it relevant to ask how racist is it?  (Do you imagine, for example, that Beyonce feels exploited over this, or would object?)

Also, considering the darkened O.J. Simpson cover
that caused such a stir is now eleven years old, my second question is,
how much is this a noteworthy story versus a foregone conclusion?
Considering the degree of "making over" and "re-visualizing" going on
these days (in real, as well as virtual situations), is there really an
issue here anymore?

Specifically returning to the racism question, shouldn’t the
BAG be saving the space for more urgent matters of race, especially for
cases in which the person in question could better use the exposure?

(image 1: The Big Picture; images 2 & 3: http://www2.tba.t-com.ne.jp/dangerousbeauty/news2004_2.htm)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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