Is Vogue's "LeBron Kong" Cover Offensive?

Illustration for article titled Is iVogue/is LeBron Kong Cover Offensive?

Have you heard? There's a black man on the cover of the April 2008 Vogue. (Richard Gere and George Clooney are the only other men ever to be on the cover, reports Time magazine.) Vogue does not have a history of embracing African-Americans on its covers. Back in November, Portfolio's Jeff Bercovici pointed out that while 4 out of 12 covers of Men's Vogue had black men; when Jennifer Hudson hit the cover of Vogue last March, she was only the third African-American celebrity to do so, though the magazine was founded in 1914. But on the cover of new issue, Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James seems to be embodying ugly stereotypes about black men: The wild, savage, white-woman-obsessed beast.

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Over on the blog Feministe, Jill Filipovic writes, "I see a scary animalistic black man, a primal scream, and a beautiful white woman. Google image King Kong for a comparison." What's interesting is that the editors had another, more "civilized" photograph of LeBron and Gisele they could have chosen.

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Illustration for article titled Is iVogue/is LeBron Kong Cover Offensive?

Upon seeing this more "civilized" image, blogger Angel from Concrete Loop asks, "Why wasn't this the cover instead of that other HORRID one?" Commenters on that site agree: "Lebron is straight up perpetuating a stereotype (that of the brutal, wild savage) that helped enslave, lynch, and murder hundreds of THOUSANDS of our black men for centuries... and I'm just supposed to be content because he made it onto "massa's" magazine?! Take that weak shit somewhere else," "MJ" writes. Adds "cococola72284": "This 'King Kong capturing the damsel in distress'... is offensive. Not only does this man look like an ape, but he's got this good ole prize, a white woman on his arm. There are a number of black high fashion models they could've paired him with and other shots they could've used of him. At least put him in a suit. He carries a suit VERY well." On this site, a shot of the cover prompted similar comments.

Why didn't the editors chose the more "civilized" image for the cover? Were they looking for something more dynamic and animated? Did they want something with action, with impact? Why not put LeBron James in a suit? (FYI, other athletes in the issue — skater Apolo Anton Ohno, snowboarder Shaun White and swimmer Michael Phelps — also appear in sport "uniforms" while the models wear high fashion.) Was it easy — maybe even on a subconscious level — to choose a photo that casts the black man as "big and scary" and therefore comfortable and familiar?

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"Nobody says more about fashion size and shape than Gisele and LeBron," Vogue spokesman Patrick O'Connell tells Time. Really? Nobody??

LeBron James To Grace Vogue's Cover [Time]

I Know Vogue Isn't Exactly Racially Conscious, But... [Feministe]

Comment Spotlight: LeBron & The Vogue Cover [Concrete Loop]

Preview of US Vogue April 2008: The Shape Issue [ONTD]

Earlier: Holy Itshay, What Is That Big Black Man Doing On The Cover Of Vogue?!

Men's Vogue: Not Afraid Of Black People

What's The Message Behind A Black Man In Heels On The Cover Of Vogue?

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DISCUSSION

theroo
Rooo sez BISH PLZ

@girlscoutcookie: *deep breath*

OK. One more time (and perhaps I didn't mention this part; newdeley mentions something that perhaps might help put it in perspective).

(Also this analysis is going to be a little simplistic because I'm pressed for time today.)

Here's the thing. Racist representation, visually likening people to animals, is precisely the type of imagery that, consistently repeated over time, subconsciously enables people to think thoughts that create the very situations you observed.

(You're NOT supposed to notice it. Ask your friends that work in advertising or media criticism how subliminal imagery works.)

It is much easier to rationalize harassing the man who is having a difficult time trying to find a place to sleep outside if you don't even perceive him as human.

What I do find interesting about the situations you speak of that you say disturb you is that you speak of seeing only the black people (actually, only black men, but that's a different post) that are homeless and sleeping outside. You speak of only seeing black people that are having trouble finding something decent to eat.

The more you learn about media literacy, the more you'll realize that it's not an accident that you framed it that way.

These assumptions — in your own language and observations — are enabled and triggered, in the larger society by the unending repetition, from history to now, of the very images you deem inconsequential.

Here's the last parallel I can think of. You go abroad. You go out to get a drink. Some man at the bar grabs at your breasts and tries to paw you. You push him off and yell, "What do you think you're doing? Where did you get the idea you could treat me like that?"

He says, "Aren't all American girls sluts that want it all the time? I watch Spring Break on MTV; it airs on repeat over here. I thought you were all like that."

Bad images breed bad ideas breed treating people with less than full human dignity.

Do you see the problem now?