Vanity Fair: The Beauty of Low Expectations

The current “Vanity Fair is racist!” brouhaha involving the shades-of-alabaster cover of their Young Hollywood has been covered quite well by a variety of other blogs and websites:

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From Jezebel: “What does “Young Hollywood” look like? According to Vanity Fair, it’s pretty, thin, female and white.”

From USA Today: “Where are any women of color? Gabourey Sidibe, for example, who just got an Oscar nomination for Precious? Or Freida Pinto from Slumdog Millionaire?

From Dr. Boyce Watkins at News One: “The recent Vanity Fair cover reminds us that the minds of Hollywood haven’t changed all that much. There is still an image of the hero and superstar, a person with virtues that are pure, honest and brave. That person is usually white.”

My take: what did we expect from Vanity Fair and Graydon Carter? (On a purely superficial note, I must admit an ongoing amusement/fascination with the name Graydon. Graydon could either be an elderly taxi driver from Tobago, or be Mr. Burns’ secret middle name. I digress).

My memory is young, so please correct me if I’m wrong…but isn’t Vanity Fair kind of known for being out of touch, and frequently exclusionist? Didn’t they just post that telling cover photo of Tiger Woods? Does this magazine not thrive on bouts of controversial, usually photography-inspired chatter? Isn’t this kind of thing to be expected?

Nothing about this Vanity Fair hubbub is surprising, or new to me. And I do believe, by being mad, we’re giving Graydon and company exactly what they want — controversy, which they hope will manifest itself as newsstand sales.

And sadly, I wasn’t surprised by the reaction I’ve been noticing around the web. When author Joanna Douglas covered the Vanity Fair topic on Yahoo blog Shine, she got more than 18,000 comments. Sprinkled among those were death threats. And many, MANY of those comments expressed outrage that anyone would question the lack of diversity of VF’s photo shoot. The typical commenter seemed to be angry that magazines like Ebony and Essence, and channels like BET can feature all-black celebrities with no protest, but Vanity Fair can’t. Many commenters also seemed to think the Fair of Vanity Fair meant they were a magazine meant for Caucasian readers. And people are on there saying things like “seriously, this diversity crap is getting really annoying!”

Almost all of the commenters never considered why a magazine like Ebony or Essence may have come to be — to highlight and feature beautiful, talented women of color. The kind of women who have so often been excluded from magazines…like Vanity Fair.

These are the kind of people that come out of the woodwork on Black Voices and Black Atlas and leave thousands of hideous comments. They Google articles and websites that are dedicated to black readers, and they make them the target of online ire. They are incensed with rage that there are websites and magazines and television channels for black people, that exclude white people. And when the pot gets stirred, they will leave the nastiest, most incendiary comments you can imagine.

Kate Harding did a marvelous post on this at Salon where she underlined the obvious. “Not thinking about realistic representation is incredibly easy for white people to do — and I absolutely include myself in that — but you know what helps? People pointing it out. People saying, hey, in America in 2010, putting nine white people on a cover meant to represent the future of our film industry is backward and unreasonable. You don’t even need to go as far as “offensive,” a word that sends some people into such a “Gah, the p.c. police are after me!” tailspin, it’s hardly worth saying even when it’s true. In this case, we can just go with “illogical” or “nonsensical” or “utterly divorced from reality.” Like, what planet are you living on, where white people are the only ones worth mentioning?”

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Well, we’re unfortunately sharing the same planet that those Yahoo commenters live on. These are the same people who perpetuate lies about the President — the same people Keith Olbermann spoke about in his amazing President’s Day special comment. These folks are quick to speak out about black progress, and how angry it makes them. They feel the earth shifting under their feet and it frightens them. And right now Vanity Fair is their pick for print publication of the year — despite the fact that Vanity Fair doesn’t speak to their demographic either.

I have yet to read a response from Vanity Fair itself, but finally folks in the media have started asking the girls who have been suggested for the cover, how they feel about being excluded.

Zoe Saldana, who was featured on the inside cover of
VF’s 2008 Hollywood issue spoke eloquently to NBC on the subject.

Just last night on Access Hollywood, Shaun Robinson interviewed Gabby Sidibe about all of this. And she was awesomely flip about it.

“At first I thought…hmmm, shouldn’t I be there? And then I very quickly got over it. I think if I were a part of that I would have felt a little left out anyway. Whether I should have been there or not doesn’t matter because I wasn’t on it. And I’m excited to be mentioned anywhere, and it doesn’t matter to me where I’m not mentioned.”

Shaun continued: “Do you realize that you’re such a role model for young girls who don’t see themselves on the cover of the magazines?”

“And I’ve been there, I’ve been in class with the other girls, and the teacher would say oh – to another little girl — oh, you can be a model, and you can be an actress… and Gabby, thank God you’re so smart. And it’s like, really?? It’s hard to grow up and not see images that remind you of yourself.”

Meanwhile, Gabby Sidibe is nominated for an Oscar. Zoe Saldana starred in one of the biggest Hollywood releases in history. And Vanity Fair is gonna keep on being Vanity Fair until the wheels fall off. I won’t be buying it, and I know many other who feel the same way. I’m pretty sure most of those 18,000 commenters on Yahoo won’t be subscribing to VF, either. Will any of these articles and blog posts and angry comments change anything? Probably not. And that’s unfortunate.

This is the kind of post that doesn’t have a conclusion, per se. So I ask — what are your thoughts, bellas?

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Comments

  1. At this point, why be mad. The supremacist thinking is not going to go away.

    Fighting the power of certain establishments is old & only leaves you tired.

    However, I think a well publicized boycott would be something to consider.

    Ive never read a Vanity Fair. It just seemed to not cater to things of particular interest to most Blacks. I know that’s a broad generalization but I stand by it.

  2. Vanity Fair huh. These so called elitist fashion magazines do not even represent the common woman or man their fashion trends have no baring where real women’s fashion is concerned.

    I loved Gabby’s approach. She is going to go far

  3. Dear Bella:

    LOVE your blog – this is where I turn for represenation and inspiration. Frankly I quit reading VF, and Vogue, along with other pubs years ago. To me, the deeper question is not who is on a cover, but who (or where) are the decision-makers of color who help to determine what goes on a cover?

  4. that was incredibly eloquent…it’s so sad that the argument always turns into “shut up you blacks, you have BET!! that’s not fair!” seriously, critical thinking has died when the REASON that niche mags exist isn’t questioned. And even still, what about the actors from Slumdog? They don’t deserve to be broadcast on Vanity Fair? So much for this country being post-racial! I crack the eff up then cry everytime I hear that tripe

  5. CoilsnKinks says:

    I personally have never read a Vanity Fair and to be honest I don’t see that ever changing. I laugh at the ugly ppl that leave such hideous comments on articles and blogs when the question of institutions being racist or biased are brought to light. Many ppl just do not like to be called on their BS. I find them small minded and despite what they think, their opinions/rants don’t get anything from me but a silent prayer for their souls and a chuckle while I shake my head. Is it sad that Vanity Fair is such a misrepresentation of everything? Yes. Is it sad that other ppl to do not recognize that we have to have Ebony, JET, and Essence to see black ppl being portrayed? Yes. But those ppl need something to latch on because things are still going to change and while they rant or rave about black ppl they still have to get up everyday and see our faces next to them at work, at a resturant, at a salon and everywhere else. Their small minds have to kept us from breaking down so many walls and I do not see it keeping us from continuing to do so.

  6. CoilsnKinks says:

    ***Their small minds have not kept us from breaking down so many walls and I do not see it keeping us from continuing to do so.***

  7. “despite the fact that Vanity Fair doesn’t speak to their demographic either.”

    (snort)-yeah, Vanity Fair does not advertise on stormfront so you are right about that, Bella!

    The cover should not have surprised anyone as you stated, but I am glad mainstream media are now noticing what the rest of us have for years. This cover has already been spoofed, and i saw a “quote the caption” post about this it on a few sites and some of the replies were hilarious. I guess ‘ol Graydon said VF might be outta biz this year anyway, might as well go out with a bang.

    I def think it was deliberate to use this type of imagery, down to the bright natural light to make them look more pale, light colored clothes & not even including White male actors. Maybe next month VF will try their hand at diversity by showing up and coming Black actors and having them look all thugged out in an alley, or roaring like that Vogue Lebron cover.

  8. BlackBetty says:

    I saw the VF cover and had to laugh. Like oh here we go again. And I can admit that I haven’t a clue who any one on that cover is. Not a clue. I’d need a legend to figure it out.
    They probably thought they were being diverse by sprinkling in a few brunettes.
    It’s not offensive, it’s just tired and trite.

  9. EXCELLLLLLLENT!!!! But I did just say that on twitter. haha. I almost don’t know what to say anymore on this topic from a personal standpoint. Seriously. All I feel is that America will somehow become increasingly dangerous, but can only pray for the best.

  10. great post ::: love how you brought the opinions from other sources ::: love your site! thanks for sharing your mind with the world. ?

  11. Perspectives says:

    This from VF is not suprising, but it is horrible from a PR standpoint. Minorities are quickly becoming the majority in this country. Why would you have a young hollywood issue that does not feature one actress of color on the cover? who is the ed-in-chief that let this happen? The fact that it’s racist isn’t even my real issue. My issue is how embarrasingly out of touch they are. I just don’t understand how this goes to press and no one sees a problem with this lily white puritan view of the America going into this new decade of extreme change.

  12. I vote with my dollar. I know that I will probably never buy – not that I could afford (or fit into!)them anyway- the things advertised in magazines like VF, Vogue, etc. The images, the business of pushing the excessive need for “stuff” and the articles on vapid people and their lives don’t speak to me and have nothing to do with the way I live my life.

    I have friends who love tabloid mags and high fashion magazines, but I don’t so I don’t “vote” for it. I guess there’s something for everyone.

    I don’t think the posts and comments will change anything. People are going to make comments and have their opinions no matter what.

    I like that Gabby said “…it doesn’t matter to me where I’m not mentioned.” Why would you want to be somewhere you aren’t welcome and appreciated?

  13. The cover of Vanity Fair is also a reason why so many young ladies are anorexic because they think this image is beautiful. They believe that you have to be a size 0 or 2 to be beautiful! VF is not only saying that black is not beautiful, they are saying that 0-2 is the norm!

  14. I have purchased Vanity Fair’s Hollywood issue since 1995,but I will not be purchasing this one.

    Great post :)

  15. I must add. The vanity fair cover reminds me of the film Notting Hill that you could say photoshopped out all non whites/europeans. The famous Notting Hill that hosts the biggest Caribbean Carnival in Europe whose history is steeped in west indian windrush settlers from the 50s and 60s.

    VF like Notting Hill does emitting the real truth about what they speak only short changes themselves because it does not remove the fact that everyone in Hollywood or Notting Hill are lily white.

    It does their chosen people a disservice. Are we to believe they are this one big in bred group that has no interaction with the real world. what else are we to believe

  16. *typo* should read ….it does not remove the fact that everyone in Hollywood or Notting Hill are NOT lily white.

  17. While I completely feel Zoe Saldona and darling, dear Gabby Sidibe to be two of the best to come to the forefront of Hollywood this year (not to mention Monique), I kind of think that society needs to move on from calling Vanity Fair racist for its cover choices. I mean, like the old saying says, “Boys will be boys”. D-bags will be d-bags.

    I don’t think the execs at Vanity Fair sat down and said, “Lets make this years cover shoot all white girls. And at that, extremely white, white girls.” At least I hope not. I would like to think a successful Conde Nast publication is way beyond this.

    I am a white girl, one of those very normal, average, nothing special white girls who is overly pale, (I burn in the sun unless I really prepare…). To me, I was suprised they actually used pale, daywalker looking, pale white ladies that weren’t the usual starlet VF cover…the average bronze, dewey broads that usually adorn the cover airbrushed, wearing Dior.

    This Hollywood cover was full of pale girls with sparkley makeup, airbrushed wearing Dior, which at first glance made me think it was a Twilight shoot with all the glitter…

    I think Vanity Fair was trying to make one point and clearly made another. Although that point may be undoubtedly peppered in bias, it is still there point to make. Is it right? No. Is it fair to Zoe or Gabby? That is a matter of opinion. Is it just a publication expressing the right to publish what it wants? Yes.

    Seriously, Vanity Fair is an old joke. They wrote an article about the cut backs Valentino had to start making to be PC during the current economic times. (He stopped stuffing meat with other meat and throwing such lavish parties — dinner parties are much cooler now that watching your money is cool). They write crap that only a woman who has outgrown her subscription to Town and Country could truly fathom.

    Vanity Fair is a mess no matter who is on the cover…like it or not. Vanity Fair has also been around long enough to know that shooting a cover like this will generate enough buzz to give a magazine that revolves around money, some media-time during a tough economic time…just saying.

    Bella, The Beauty of Low Expectations is a fantastic title.

  18. bella,
    I LOVE your blog! And, this was an AMAZING post. As a writer myself, I understand the difficulty of writing well. And you have done extremely well here. (Please excuse my multiple adjectives, but there is no other way to explain my happiness every morning while reading your blog, even before I read the NY Times.) Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention.

  19. The Vanity Fair cover doesn’t surprise or shock me. It’s not a magazine catered to or written for people of color so why should they celebrate us? I’ve never bought an issue and never plan to because that magazine does not speak to or for me in any way.

  20. Vanity Fair’s target market is not black women so they aren’t obligated to place a black actress on the cover. And people shouldn’t
    t be surprised considering that 99.8 % of the time the person on the cover is white.

  21. I have NEVER brought Vanity Fair nor will I EVER! These girls do not represent me nor hundreds of thousands of girls in this country. Half of the faces, I don’t even recognize their talent, much less who they are. As long as we have natural belle’s who love and appreciate their dark and brown complexion, can look at these magazines and laugh, appreciate every curb on their body and not be phased by these racist publications, then we’ve already won!

  22. designdiva says:

    I co-sign with Coilsnkinks and Amanda!

    I could care less about what Vanity Fair is up to. I’m more interested in the Ebony issue with Gabby on the cover. Ebony had an issue about black designers (sometime last year or so??) Now that is something us sistahs need to pay more attention to!

  23. designdiva says:

    Not criticizing you bella about the topic, it’s an interesting post. I’m just saying that (like sweet young Gabby) why are we paying attention to something that’s not paying attention to us?

  24. “Pretty, thin, female, and white?” So, Black women aren’t pretty? Anyway, I’ve never bought Vanity Fair, will never buy it, and I don’t agree that every woman on that cover is pretty, nor do I believe that thin is more beautiful than anything else. VF is doing exactly what I expect it to do, and nothing else. Makes no difference to me, at all.

  25. I don’t think we should be mad at this. It’s not worth vexing ourselves about such issues. Let’s face it race is and always will be an issue period. I think the black community needs to stop wasting our time lobbying and petitioning people for acceptance and “equality”. What we do need to do is pour money into our own communities by establishing businesses and then supporting them. We need to learn from every other “ethnic minority” community. It appears that they have all caught on to something the black community hasn’t….keep money in your own community, support and promote one another and you will pretty much not have time to be upset about being excluded from a world view that will always rate you as second class.

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