Tuesday, July 05, 2011
Tabloid World
We live in a tabloid world. A celebrity world. A world of fashion. A world where nearly anything goes. We live in a digital world of instant communication. A world that blurs the lines constantly in search of fame and fortune, truth and beauty, art and trash, news and entertainment.

There seems to be no end to the list of things that one may find offensive. Community standards seem to be impossible to nail down and define. Everything is relative. It all depends. The recent Newsweek cover is a case in point.


Critics are condemning it as incredibly tacky and in poor taste. The cover shows Kate Middleton standing next to a digitally altered image of Princess Di. Tacky? Perhaps it is. If I were a family member, I might indeed object to my dead sisters’ image being tampered with in this way, simply to sell magazines.


On the other hand, there is a symbiotic relationship of co-dependency between celebrities, their agents and the mass media. Lady Gaga’s people work hard to keep her in the lime-light of tabloid tv shows and to ensure her image appears favourably, and often, on the covers of fashion magazines. There are plenty of sellers and plenty of buyers, whether they are selling music, the monarchy, movies, or magazines.

I have heard arguments that covers that feature murderers like Paul Bernardo or Colonel Russell Williams glorify violence, desensitize us, and exploit human pain and suffering, just to sell magazines.


I have heard arguments that magazines like Cannibas Culture glorify illegal drug use, which contributes to a host of social costs. Is this cover contributing to the problem of drive-by shootings of drug dealers and innocents caught in the crossfire?


I have heard arguments that the lyrics of certain gangster rap artists glorify the killing of cops and the raping of women, again desensitizing us, just to sell some music.


I have heard arguments about freedom of expression, whether it is defending an artist who received a public grant to create an image of Jesus Christ covered in feces, or on the other hand condemning the publishing of cartoons considered disrespectful to the prophet Mohammad. Such publishing decisions, it is argued, can offend millions and promote bigotry and intolerance, creating conditions that may lead to riots, violence and death.

I have heard arguments that certain covers of fashion magazines glorify ridiculously thin models, which create body-image problems that can lead to serious and life-threatening cases of anorexia.


There are those who argue that tattoo magazines glorify the desecration and mutilation of the human body. Others see it as body art and beautiful self expression.

Compared to some of these concerns, the Newsweek example looks positively harmless.

When Angelina Chapin contacted me and alerted me to this interesting cover controversy, I honestly didn’t see much to get alarmed about. I am assuming that Newsweek hired Tina Brown to sell magazines. Her intent is clear. Royalty covers seem to be selling a lot of copies. These are some excellent royalty covers from Hello Canada.


I’m not seeing the intent to cruelty here.  I see the intent to sell some copies.

After all, the recent Royal Wedding fever is being credited with giving the magazine supply channel a huge shot in the arm, according to a recent MAGNET press release. That’s certainly welcome news.

The Newsweek cover reminds me in some ways of an advertorial…it’s pretty clearly labelled “If She Were Here Now”, which is to say that obviously she is not here now, and that therefore this is not a real image, it’s been Photoshopped.  Clearly, there is no intent to deceive readers.

I’m not a beauty contest judge, but both ladies look quite elegant, sophisticated and fetching to me. Unlike the infamous nude Rob Ford cover on NOW magazine, the Newsweek cover is clearly not mean-spirited or cruel or dehumanizing. I will have to go buy a copy to see if the article is cruel or if it is simply good old fashioned celebrity fluff. Chalk up another sale for Tina Brown.

Some of my favourite covers are illustrations. These covers often distort reality, exaggerate flaws, inflate and conflate, in order to provide an altered view or caricature of the subject, often for the purpose of humour. They can arguably be considered both mean and funny. But clearly they are designed to help sell the product. Political cartoonists are particularly adept at this time-honored skill.


The Society of Professional Journalists in the United States has a code of conduct. http://spj.org/ethicscode.asp

Here in Canada we don’t. I therefore suspect that in Canada, we may have a somewhat more tolerant view of the Newsweek cover than some American critics.  Let’s find out.

Do you think this cover is offensive?
    •    Horribly
    •    Somewhat
    •    Not Really
    •    Heck No, I love it!

Vote now at http://www.coverssell.com/

- Scott Bullock
About Me
Scott Bullock

Scott Bullock is the the creator of Coverssell.com. Bullock has worked as circulation director for both consumer and B2B magazines including Toronto Life and FASHION. If you have a great cover to share, please send all submissions to 

Note to readers: some of Bullock's posts may refer to his clients.
Most Recent Blog Comment
Kelly says:
Any news on how it performed on newsstands?...
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