Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Sexist Depth of the Sarah Palin Cover

This week's edition of Newsweek arrived a day after the controversy over the magazine's Sarah Palin cover emerged.

Is the cover sexist? You betcha!

And it's worse than Palin or other media critics think.

The main criticism of the Newsweek cover is that it shows Palin in short runner's shorts and reveals a lot of leg. Her top is also zipped down in a mildly suggestive manner. What's sexist about this is that the political magazine is focusing on Palin's sexual attractiveness as a woman rather than her significance as a cultural and political figure. Media Matters for America is also right to call attention to the demeaning girlishness of the Sound of Music reference in the title "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sarah."

But it's worse.

The Palin picture was originally taken for a running magazine, but Newsweek editors must have known that whole thing has a luridly pornographic effect when put into the context of political news. Take Palin's legs for example. There's a sense in which her legs aren't really "showing" because she's pictured as being so tanned that it looks like she's wearing panty hose. The extremely minimal "concealment" effect of the tan actually enhances the erotic effect of showing her legs in a stripper/porn manner.

The same thing is true of the flag and the Blackberries. On the cover of Newsweek, they look more like stripper props than anything else. Palin is involved in a lot of business and likes to portray herself as a flag-waving patriot. But the Newsweek cover makes her look like someone who uses the American flag and business items to enhance her "sexy" mystique.

Ditto her trademark glasses and hair and the whole pornographic effect is enhanced by the bright and crowded redness of the Palin's top, the flag, and the Newsweek banner.

I imagine that Newsweek could defend itself by arguing that the cover was trying to say something about the luridness of Sarah Palin's appeal. But achingly conventional articles by Evan Thomas and the execrable Christopher Hitchens don't justify any defense of the sort.

Newsweek would have done better if they hadn't covered Palin at all.

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