Sexism Sells: Leibovitz, Vanity Fair and the Sopranos

0 Posted by - March 8, 2007 - Blog

Celebrated US photographer of the American elite Annie Leibovitz is no stranger to glamorizing the rich and powerful, and despite a long-term relationship with Susan Sontag – one of the best theorists and intellectual minds on political art, photography, and representations of violence and suffering, Leibovitz seems bent on shirking off the criticisms of her companion even after her death.

This month's Vanity Fair cover is no exception, and in fact is one of Leibovitz's most irresponsible and polluting pieces of art to date (even worse than the profit-driven series she did for mega-corp American Express back in the 80s, when celebrity photography only dominated 60 percent of magazine shelf space as opposed to today's 90 percent). Leibovitz's cover photo (pictured at right) of some of the cast of commercial television's ultra-violent and culturally obtuse Sopranos is a brash ode to sexism, violence against women, and of course white male machoism. The cover is so staggeringly in your face that I watched passerby after passerby at a local drugstore for several minutes as they entered through the doors and each one practically slide to a stop as they glanced over at the magazine rack, shocked into investigating what they saw further.

The image isn't just striking because a woman appears at first take to be completely naked, with her back to the male gaze allowing no revealing features like a face or god forbid a personality to emerge, but because she is embracing the lead from the Sopranos, who stares back at the male gaze with the look of someone who is about to do violence to another. As he sits and asserts white male power articulated by stance and especially by relation to the disempowered woman, he also has one hand around her, disturbingly clutching her flesh so vigorously it could only be described as violent.

That the woman is sexualized and even portrayed as enraptured or at the very least subordinated by his presence would be enough for Leibovitz's dearly departed author and activist Susan Sontag to fill a book of criticism, but the sheer display of celebrated violence embodied in the white male and exacted on a sexualized female is probably enough to make Sontag turn in her grave.

Vanity Fair has stooped to an all-time low, and supplying the celebrity culture mag with regressive and devastating fodder is noneother than the great Annie Liebovitz. Next month: Ku Klux Klan members dine with Victoria Secret models!

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