Vanity UnFair: Going Beyond the Pale

I don’t know why people are so surprised that Vanity Fair‘s “New Hollywood” cover and feature story is composed solely of thin, fair-skinned women who are dressed and made-up to look as waifish and generic as possible. Forget the publication’s name referencing Thackeray’s novel, I think “Vanity” and “Fair” kinda says it all.

Yes, these women are talented and beautiful. I’m not dismissing their right to be lauded. But for Vanity Fair to line them all up like a collection of paper dolls, clad in pale colors and looking dewy and virginal, and then dub them Hollywood’s future is seriously creepy and out-of-touch. Annie Leibovitz managed to strip these women of any kind of personality or individuality. It’s like they wanted an idealized picture, a pastoral scene without vibrancy or passion…and without accuracy.

Other people have already rattled off these names, but they bear repeating: Gabourey Sidibe, Freida Pinto, Zoe Saldana. And what about the guys? Where are Dev Patel and Anthony Mackie? Sure, this issue was put to bed before Sidibe scored her Oscar nomination, but she’s been an integral part of this entire awards season. How do you not acknowledge her as a part of 2010’s influential crop of young Hollywood stars? Were they so desperate to keep to the Stepford Wife motif, the bland color palette, that they had to dub Evan Rachel Wood a new phenomenon? She’s been pretty high profile in the industry for seven years and was a pretty busy child actress on TV before that. And Emma Stone and Rebecca Hall are…who, exactly? Again, not to diminish their body of work and the films they are making, but it really just smacks of, “We need some more white actresses to round out this spread. Quick, hit IMDB!” And speaking of IMDB, popping over there reveals that many of these actresses don’t have much of anything coming out this year! Contrast that with Saldana, who is still riding high on the success of Avatar and has Takers, The Losers, and Death at a Funeral all coming out soon.

Yes, I’ve heard that old chestnut about people of color not selling well on a magazine cover, but a movie about bright blue cat-like aliens just became the biggest grossing movie of all time. It’s time to retire the bullshit rhetoric. And white people don’t necessarily sell a cover either, okay? Especially if half of them are people readers have never heard of. I challenge you to take five people at the news stand and ask them to identify Abbie Cornish and Mia Wasikowska without help. They probably couldn’t pick them out of a line-up! And picking them out of the generic, unimaginative Vanity Fair photo spread is even more of a challenge.

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5 thoughts on “Vanity UnFair: Going Beyond the Pale

  1. Zoe Saldana has actually been on the cover of the Vanity Fair Hollywood issue, although I’m not sure why they didn’t include her again since Evan Rachel Wood is a repeat offender. What annoys me is when they do put women of color in this issue, it’s always on the inside flap so that you can’t see them until you open it up.

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    • Yeah. I knew that Zoe had been on the cover before, but like you’re pointing out, if Wood can be a repeat offender why can’t she? Especially since her career is FAR more active right now.

      And, yeah, the inside flap thing is just despicable. I hate that SO many magazines still operate under the assumption that nobody will pick up a cover with people of color as the primary image. Why can’t we escape that fallacy? Especially when print magazines are in the toilet in general and no amount of white faces have managed to change that.

      Part of me also wonders if there’s a subtle backlash in media against the diversification of America.

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  2. I’ve heard of Abbie Cornish but couldn’t pick her out of a lineup, and I have no idea who Mia Wasikowska is (and I consider myself fairly pop-culture savvy). The cover is absolute crap, irritating both for its lack of diversity and for the fact that they apparently think women should look like attendees at a 1950s boarding school.

    I’ve never really cared for any of the Vanity Fair ‘Hollywood’ covers–too often it seems to go the anorexia-as-art route. Seriously, Annie Leibovitz is supposed to be this great photographer, but this series of covers just reflects a one-trick pony of airbrushed pretension.

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    • Either in the Jezebel link or somewhere else, people linked to Leibovitz’s other VF spreads and it’s seriously SUCH a one-trick pony…more like a bland department store catalog than anything particularly ground-breaking.

      I honestly have no idea who most of the women on the cover are. Their names may ring a bell, but Amanda and KStew are the only ones I’d recognize instantly.

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  3. I think you hit the nail on the head several times and make really good points. Especially the bit about TPTB worrying about what will sell magazines. This whole controversy makes think about how Soap Opera Weekly and (especially!) Soap Opera Digest continue to use the same handful of Young and Restless actors (Eric Braden, Josh Morrow, etc.) over and over and over and over and over againon their covers. There has been a lot of discussion about that over the years and I believe that they either DO sell more magazines, or someone BELIEVES that they do.

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