When I bought this month's Vogue, the saleslady gushed over Michelle Obama on the cover. "I know," I said, "It's my job to make fun of these. What am I supposed to do?"
A look inside proved no help. In addition to a long profile of the un-mockable Michelle Obama, March Vogue details the humanitarian work of Melinda Gates, Queen Rania of Jordan, and Silda Spitzer. At first glance, these women are doing good in the world, and Vogue doesn't deserve our derision for profiling them. At second glance, all the things that make this Vogue less funny than usual also make it crappier.
Take Queen Rania's profile, by Vicki Woods. There's the obligatory mention of her style ("her curvy, oyster-colored, soft wool jacket with three-quarter sleeves, cinched with a black belt over a soft-pleated black skirt, is perfectly proper and regal") and her body ("Rania is beautiful, model-skinny, and so tall she can step into anything straight off the runway"). Then they talk politics. Woods says she pities women in headscarves, then records the Queen's response thus:
Rania juts her chin and spools out a seamless paragraph about tradition, culture, national differences, religious differences, political differences between "the woman in Afghanistan who is forced by the Taliban to wear the burka as a tool of oppression and the woman in Abu Dhabi who wears it as traditional dress," until she sees my stubborn, unaccepting face and smartly changes tack: "You know, if I were to sit in front of an audience of American or European women, some wearing trousers and some wearing skirts, and I was going to make assumptions — judgments! — about what they're thinking based on whether they're wearing skirts or trousers, can you imagine how misguided I'd be?" Triumphantly, she wins her point.
Uh, really? Isn't Vogue in the business of detailing exactly how your choice of skirts or trousers reflects the inner you, at the very least a quality of personal style that makes you worthy of praise or criticism? Hasn't Queen Rania been chosen for a profile in large part because of this style? Isn't her response, under the circumstances, actually pretty glib and worth arguing over? Sure, but this is Vogue, and Vogue is in the business of profiling remarkable women, always with the presupposition that they are remarkable and above any real criticism. Presumably anybody whose publicist (Silda Spitzer now has one, according to her profile) lets her talk to Vogue knows this, and it's one reason that while Vogue might be a little more cerebral than Cosmo (which reveals that Ali Larter cracks her knuckles and Marisa Miller curls her eyelashes), it's not all that much more substantive.
Which is why we say to Vogue, just do what you do best. Amuse us with your bizarre beauty treatments and your five-page spreads of Oscar de la Renta's bedroom. Let Plum Sykes romp through your pages in her bespoke riding gear. You may think that the recession is a time to be serious, but take it from us: you're just not that good at it. We appreciate the Michelle Obama cover, but for April, get your head back in the clouds where it belongs. We want to write some cover lies.