“Asma al-Assad is glamorous, young, and very chic—the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies.” – Joan Juliet Buck, Vogue March 2011
What is being dubbed as one of the most embarrassing articles Vogue has ever published, has recently been all but deleted off the internet. If you still have your copy of the March 2011 issue of Vogue (US), I highly encourage you to read the poorly titled Desert Rose. If you haven’t been reading up, Asma al-Assad is the first lady of Syria. She is the wife of Bashar al-Assad. You only need to google his name to find the atrocities his regime is currently committing. I don’t have the heart to watch, but most recently, a video leaked onto the internet, of his security men burying a rebel alive. It truly breaks your heart and shakes you into reality to hear such things occurring. Suffice it to say, the article paints a very glossy, very glamorous image of the couple, when the truth about the ruler and his wife is horrifying, and quite the opposite.
Back to the Vogue article: the magazine has deleted all traces of the article from every site they control. Joan Juliet Buck also gave a rather awkward interview here in the aftermath. She tiptoes around the subject quite a bit and really gives insight into how Vogue chooses its subjects:
“Vogue is always on the lookout for good-looking first ladies because they’re a combination of power and beauty and elegance. That’s what Vogue is about. And here was this woman who had never given an interview, who was extremely thin and very well-dressed and therefore, qualified to be in Vogue.”
Joan Juliet Buck, NPR Interview, April 20, 2012
Photography by James Nachtwey for Vogue US March 2011
So the issue I want to discuss is, should fashion and politics mix? It’s undeniable that fashion is very political. How one, especially a world leader, chooses to dress, the image they create, has a huge effect on how the public views them, reacts to them, etc. Let’s just take a look at how (positively) fashion has influenced the Obamas! It can work both ways. But it seems for some magazines, Vogue especially here, in choosing an interview subject, their weight (pardon the pun) holds more ‘weight’ than their politics. I’m quite saddened for several reasons. Mostly, that such a horrific person would receive a glowing review and profile. That they’ve really gone ahead and given fashion a slap in the face, (adding to the stereotype that ‘fashion fans’ are really more concerned with the outer –“Who cares if she seems to be supporting mass murder, she’s thin and wears Louboutins!”). That there isn’t more outrage on this subject.
I’ve always known (as has everyone else) that in order to get into Vogue, the subject must be thin and well dressed (remember how much they airbrushed Adele?). That’s fine, they’re a fashion magazine, to each their own, we’re not going to discuss diversity today. But at the cost of ethics? At the cost of supporting a murderous regime? Had no one done any research on the couple? Or was it just enough that she was pretty, thin and well dressed. It seems so archaic. It’s 2012, and we’re electing a new form of celebrity royalty. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating our world leaders, there’s nothing wrong with celebrating them in a fashionable light either. But when due diligence isn’t performed, when ethics are tossed to the side, it stops being journalism and becomes fluffy PR. I’ve always thought and strongly believe that when you interview, review, profile anyone, you can’t have a relationship with them. Meaning, you can’t be afraid of them, in love with them, hate them, angry with them, want something from them, etc. All those things constitute an emotional involvement and prevent you from writing as ‘honestly’ as possible: it becomes (good or bad) PR at that point. And that’s not journalism. At the cost of continuing this rant, what do you guys think? How do you feel about ‘fashion journalism’ mixing with politics? Is it all PR? Do you still read fashion articles and reviews?
I know one thing for certain, I’m much less inclined to continue supporting Vogue. Oddly enough, I watched “Bill Cunningham NY” the other night, and he said something terrifically profound. To paraphrase, he talked about money and getting paid in his field. He feels that as soon as you take payment, they own you. You start working for ‘them’ and not for the ‘greater truth’. And sure, everyone needs to eat, and pay the rent, but it seems the bigger the magazine, the higher the budget, the more is at stake and the less honestly you can write. Everything is handled by PR firms, editor after editor and at the end, you have a watered down profile that ‘everyone’ is happy with, meaning, maybe a slither of ‘truth’ got through. For me, its time to put down the big budget rags, and pick up the smaller ones. At least they might still be worth a read.