Media Matters is right that Newsweek’s Sarah Palin cover is sexist (via Megan McArdle). As MM says, the “photo of Palin in short running shorts and a fitted top…may have been completely appropriate for the cover of the magazine for which the picture was apparently intended, Runners World. But Newsweek is supposed to be a serious newsmagazine, and the magazine is certainly not reporting on Palin’s exercise habits.” It’s a cheap and easy détournement that doesn’t say anything of value.
But I find myself conflicted about MM’s next example of Newsweek’s sexist image choice, basically because the photo is so damn good:
This is just a great shot. And in the context of the conservative press reacting to Palin’s convention speech with talk of “starbursts” and so forth, the “Graduate”-esque framing really does speak to an issue that is, in the hoary old phrase, “out there”. I don’t think the image of Palin’s calves is exactly salacious; it denotes woman, attractive, professional, and, let’s face it, those qualities were a large part of why she was selected. In any case, the shot here isn’t really about her. It’s about the reaction of the men in the front row to her. And what it’s showing in that reaction is real and accurate.
I think a large part of what photojournalists do is try to get shots that tap into the collective cultural id. Sometimes what they show is stuff that’s so revealing, it’s embarrassing. But I don’t think we should decide not to run those shots because they make us feel uncomfortable. I’m aware there’s another way you could argue this particular photo: the telephoto effect of placing her legs gigantic in the foreground makes the young men appear to be staring up in a more sexually suggestive fashion than they would have been in the actual situation. But that’s the kind of aesthetic choice that’s routinely made with almost every news photo, and I still come down on the side of using a really strong shot like this.
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