The actual photo was taken in a shoot for Runner's World
with Palin's full participation. As an art critic, I find it appalling
for reasons quite aside from the fact that Palin's femoral epidermis is
showing. The pageanty, semi-contrapposto
pose actually makes it look like she's hiding one of her legs, the
lighting's way too harsh, her elbow resting awkwardly on the flag seems
flippant from a patriotism standpoint (using Old Glory as an elbow
rest?) as well as physically irrational (she isn't really leaning any
weight on it). Also irritating me is that I can't tell what kind of
room she's in. is that her office? Why is that flag-draped chair so
high? Is it a baby chair? ...Barstool?
Is that Russia through the window?
But let's move on.
Millican also rightly, to my sensibilities, objects to this image inside the news magazine's pages:
Yes, it looks like those boys are looking up her skirt. Yes, that's annoying.
And about the following image
Millican says, "Then, for
no apparent reason, illustrating Christopher Hitchens'
piece on "Palin's base appeal," Newsweek ran a picture of this
disgusting Sarah Palin-as-a-slutty-schoolgirl doll."
Well, it's not for no reason. For one thing, it adorns an essay by Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair's louche, intermittently relevant bad boy who also infamously opined last year that women aren't funny.
HItchens is nothing if not skilled at generating gender controversy
with schoolboyish glee; why not illustrate his point with graphic
representation of the childish and puerile?
It's almost funny. Almost.
The whole Newsweek shebang (har) was brought to my attention by my friend Michelle Garcia, journalist and documentary filmmaker.
"What do you make of this?" she Skyped.
My first reaction (keeping in mind that the Current
editorial staff had a lunch meeting with some of our company suits
about driving traffic to the website, so eyeball currency was very much
on my mind), was "it's great for Newsweek."
My guess is this issue will sell well, and the website's sucking in eyeballs.
And Sarah Palin pointing out the sexism is a double edged sword--it's certainly disingenuous of Newsweek to take the cover out of context.
And Newsweek editor John Meacham's defense doesn't help. He claims:
"We chose the
most interesting image available to us to illustrate the theme of the
cover, which is what we always try to do. We apply the same test to
photographs of any public figure, male or female: does the image convey what we are saying? That is a gender-neutral standard."
OK, I call semi-bullshit on that. Newsweek
likely would not have run a running-outfit picture of Michelle
Obama...but then again, would Michelle Obama ever have posed in a
skimpy running outfit? Highly unlikely.
Which brings us to the circularity conundrum.
BAGnews contributing photographer Nina Berman had this to say about Newsweek's tactics:
The Newsweek cover is a shrewd strategic maneuver to demean Palin
without having to take responsibility for it. I think it's brilliant.
They take an inelegantly, even laughably propped photo where Palin is
an obvious participant as opposed to being a manipulated subject, and
recontextualize it to show how far out she is willing to travel on the
road of self promotion. They beat her at her own game and in the
process shield themselves from what would have been the inevitable
criticism if they had dolled her up themselves and posed her the same
Julie Millican (with whom, again, I largely agree in her Media Matters for America essay), argues that "Newsweek
is supposed to be a serious newsmagazine, and the magazine is certainly not
reporting on Palin's exercise habits."
isn't reporting on her exercise habits. But Palin did. Palin herself
participated in that photo shoot, engaged as a subject of both word and
photo-journalism in short-shorts and what appear to be nylon pantyhose
in "dark nude."
Yes, the Newsweek coverage
is mired in the same explosively gendered minefield of over-sexualized
Palinography that the rest of the male-dominated press are, as
MIllican points out. I mean, Jesus, if you're gonna make fun of the woman—which is totally kosher in my view, by the way — make fun of her goddamn book.
And as Berman argues, Newsweek seemingly outfoxed her, "beat her at her own game." Her Runner's World cover is Sarah Palin's Playboy
shoot, her sex tape. The implication always with those sex tapes is
that "she knew the cameras were on, right? The consequences are her
lookout, not that of a free press with the rights to the images."
This was no cooked up Photoshoppery, after all, like this image:
must have been e-mailed to me about fifty times during election season
last year, several times by male journalists and male media folk of the
Here's another photographic artifact of male
leftiness, one I turned up quite by accident while doing a Google image
search just now to find the Newsweek cover. It pretty much sums up the sexist-yet-leftist dilemma (maybe they should've used this at Newsweek to illustrate the Christopher Hitchens essay?):
yeah, it's annoying as hell. Palin reduced to an obscenity for vagina
sucks. This modeled T-shirt appeared as a for-sale item on an
indie-alternative website in Philadelphia. And actually, for all I
know, a woman could've designed it.
What's doubly annoying is that this bullshit helps Palin, whose policy stances are so frighteningly and ironically anti-woman. Newsweek hasn't beaten her at her own game, as Berman states: it's handed her the ball.
here we are, at the heart of the Palin conundrum. She's both
mediagenic, and media-hating. She's certainly media-manipulative: she
can legitimately object to over-sexualized images of her— including
those okayed by her— and this legitimate objection allows Palin, in the
eyes of her base, to discredit the editorial content. "It doesn't
matter what words they print about me," she's saying. "They showed my
It's a win-win really, or lose-lose. Zero-sum? Palin
gets to look good as a(n admittedly corny) pin-up, while crying foul
about looking bad
as a political hopeful, which only spurs her popularity as a political
hopeful with those who hate Newsweek and the rest of the "liberal media" already! The people who love Palin as well as those who don't can each use the Runner's World/Newsweek
cover as ammo. On the left, they can lob this image against Palin for
her perhaps-crass use of her own good looks. On the right, they can
demonize the left's crass use of Palin's use of her good looks.
swear, there's a word problem in here somewhere. Some algebraic
shenanigans, or logical theory disproved, or reproved, or something.
Schroedinger's cat? That's a thing, right?
Unfortunately, the only thing Sarah Palin and Newsweek have in common is that they both benefit by showing a woman's legs, rather than her ideas.