Oh man, I don’t know:
LeBron James, the David Beckham of US basketball, has become the first black man to appear on the cover of American Vogue. Which may seem like something to celebrate, though not everyone is popping champagne corks. The trouble is, King James, as he is known to his legion of fans, appears on the magazine cover striking a pose reminiscent of King Kong.
American commentators have been quick to point out that the Annie Leibovitz picture of the Cleveland Cavaliers superstar holding on to the Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen bears an uncanny resemblance to Emmanuel Fremiet’s 1887 statue Gorilla Carrying off a Woman. And to the legendary movie still of the Hollywood ape clambering up the Empire State Building clutching a tiny Fay Wray in his left paw.
James is 6ft 9in and muscular, Bundchen 5ft 11in and slender. He is aggressive, growling almost, hunched over, snarling. She is demure and blonde, and her body language, despite a smile, suggests she would rather be somewhere else.
I can’t say I see it but then I’m not black – Hell, I’m not even American – and I’ve only seen fragments of the original King Kong movie. So, I’m hardly an expert on this (or most other matters, to be honest.) I don’t like the photo – but then I dislike most fashion photography – especially the sort of pictures you see on the covers of magazines like Vogue. They are all stereotypical and most are demeaning to their ‘subjects.’ Of course, most of the time these are ‘just’ white, malnourished women.
All in all, has the first black man on a Vogue cover been treated worse than almost all of the women that have appeared there before him over all these decades? Probably not. The whole affair does raise at least one interesting point though. These photos are, of course, on many levels, about sex – and about exploitation. So, isn’t it rather telling that we’ve become so used to the (sexual) exploitation of women in our societies and on these Vogue covers that we hardly recognize these images for what they really are – so that we need the shock (therapy) value of a photograph of a black man being exploited in a similar manner to get people up in arms?
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