What’s Wrong with this Picture?

Vanity Fair "New Hollywood 2010" cover

Vanity Fair wants us to know that young Hollywood is white and skinny, cisgendered, and hyper feminine. I’m certain they didn’t think about it in those terms when they put the cover together and that most of those things don’t even come to mind when most people look at it. In fact, when the sheer whiteness of the cover is pointed out, a lot of white people seem to lose their shit, totally missing the point by bemoaning the lack of white people in Ebony magazine and the like. One reason media, groups, and organizations exist specifically for people of color (and other oppressed minorities) is because they are so underrepresented in the “mainstream.” Another is to have space where the day-to-day weight of oppression and isms can be lifted, if only a little and only for a while.

I’m glad to see there’s a lot of chatter around the sheer whiteness of this Vanity Fair cover, even if it does bring out the bizarre notion that, somehow, post-racial America means “they have their magazines and we have ours” (and I wonder what Vanity Fair would think about being perceived as a “white” magazine). But the whiteness is just the tip of the iceberg.

There’s some chatter, too, about the size of the women on the cover. Whether through the magic of airbrushing, diet and exercise, or nature, the women all seem very, very thin. It’s too easy to be snarky and lob thinly veiled accusations about eating disorders and the like. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes. The disturbing there here, again, is that only one type is represented and it is the type upheld as the ideal. Exclusion is part of oppression, and not seeing it is part of privilege.

What I haven’t heard or seen anyone discuss is the unabashed heteronormativity. They all seem hyperfeminine. From the way they’re dressed to the way they’re holding their bodies, there is no question that each and every one of them is a woman. With the exception of one, or maybe two, can you imagine a man sitting like that? Each one of these people probably presents as female in their daily lives – in fact, counts on their femininity for their profession. Anything less would make us squirm and wrinkle our noses. KD Lang wore a suit and (apparently) no makeup when she sang Hallelujah at the opening ceremonies for the winter Olympics in Vancouver this past Friday night, and the Twitterverse was alight with people commenting on her lack of femininity and saying they didn’t know who she was at first because they thought the singer was a man. Short hair, slacks, square shoulders and an unadorned face on a woman skirts (as it were) the edge of transgender, but it’s enough to make us scratch our heads. Imagine if Bryan Adams came out in a dress, heels, and make up? We would question his sexuality and his sanity. And very few among us would see anything wrong with that.

So, what’s wrong with Vanity Fair’s picture of young Hollywood? It aggressively, unabashedly, (perhaps unconsciously) and without apology reinforces race, body, and gender norms, asserting and supporting oppression and privilege by means of total exclusion.

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3 Responses to “What’s Wrong with this Picture?”

  1. val Says:

    The cover cost millions of dollars to produce. It was planned months in advance, approved by a variety of people, hiring of participants, both in front and behind the camera was careful and once again approved. Of the many photos taken of this group for the cover, this one was selected, edited and approved. So, not unconsciously, but carefully, thoughtfully constructed to deliver the message that would speak to advertisers and sell magazines.

  2. Henry Says:

    Kinda bland looking group-attractive but no natural looking cuties. But then again I’m just a sexist, lookist white male.

  3. Instutions and Racism: What’s Wrong with this Picture, Part 2 « mazzie Says:

    […] As my friend UrbanBohemian pointed out, MSNBC may have even outdone Vanity Fair: […]

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