Thursday, August 23, 2012

Newsweek covers

The power of the visual arts, specifically representational visual art, is a powerful known quantity.

For decades now, artists have been marrying shock with representational art to gather attention to their work, and thus it is no surprise that a floundering dead tree media publication like Newsweek, which has perfected the art of the magazine cover over the decades, is now pulling all stops when it comes to a scary blend of photography, nuanced text and composition - all married to shock-producing stories - to pump up sales. I don't know if Tina Brown's strategy will work, but it is a fascinating study nonetheless.

Witness the recent Newsweek covers, all dealing with controversial subjects. In the first one,  an attack piece on Republican Presidential candidate (and if he wins, the first "technically" Hispanic President), the font size of the word WIMP overwhelms the cover - and yet Romney is still presented in what I would describe as a positive image (dude's got some Osmond-sized chompers though...). The remaining text ("What triggers mass murderers" and "I was duped by...") also add a bit of subliminal vinegar to the cover.

Newsweek's portrait of Pres. Obama as "The First Gay President" is a brilliant graphic design coup. It is a modern icon with modernized ties to early Christian iconography. This is an interesting marriage (pun intended), as one could make the case that dogmatic Christians are essentially against gay marriage. Not to pick on Christians, most Muslim and orthodox Jews are also against gay marriage, perhaps reflecting the common root of all three major religions and a sad 6th century mentality when it comes to acceptance of the social realities of the 21st century. Thus, Newsweek has taken the battle to the heart of the iconography of the Christian religion and succeeded brilliantly. The surrounding text couldn't be any more vacuous ("Are you ready to eat jellyfish?") - all the focus is on the Christian icon.

Some have argued that the current issue of Newsweek is Tina Brown's response to all the criticism that Newsweek gathered from the vast right wing conspiracy from the Romney attack piece. What is the response? An equally caustic (and surprising) attack piece on the President. I say surprising because as it is clearly obvious to the most casual observer, Newsweek is easily generally described as a liberal magazine and part of the media arsenal of the even vaster leftwing nuthouse. But let's get back to the visual arts and away from politics before I start getting firebombed in the comments from both the nuts on the right and the nuts on the left.

The image of the President (just like in the Romney WIMP issue) is pleasant-enough (dude's got some big fucking ears!). He is walking away from the camera, which fits the theme of the attack article ("Hit the Road, Barack"). The positioning of the President's head (covering part of the Newsweek banner and leaving "Neek") has even resulted in charges of racism from people who read that as a codeword for the N-word (see what I mean by leftwing nuthouse?).

The text above the President's head shouts [for him] to "END THE SYRIA SLAUGHTER NOW!" clearly tying the image of the President to the USA's failure to intervene in Syria for the same reasons that we did in Libya (never mind that the vast right wing conspiracy howled over that). Even the yellow sticker text box by his watch has a subliminal message dealing with Wall Street... harsh.

Behold the power of the image married to text in three examples of a magazine desperately seeking readers. I betcha that this issue will set new sales records for Newsweek, and I am sure that by now the author of the piece (Niall Ferguson) is hiding securely in his panic room at Harvard University (where he teaches), that well-known bastion of right wing thought.

But before I let go of this visual art exploration of these covers, let me destroy the theory from the "throw the race card no matter what" idiots from the nuthouse by giving the compositional example from perhaps the most unflattering Newsweek portrait ever:

Maybe the "Queen of Rage" is also a "Neeek"? Makes my head hurt...

In other important news: the Mitt Romney Cockroach Beats Barack Obama Bug In Presidential Cockroach Derby! See the video here!

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