30 Aug

Are some magazines going too far with ‘shock’ covers like the one below?
By Tan Kee Yun
August 30, 2010

THEY are covers that leap out at you.

We’re talking about the recent issues of Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair, that have sold out – or selling out fast – at bookstores and key news-stands.

In Rolling Stone’s September issue, the three leading stars – Alexander Skarsgard, Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer – of hit vampire TV series True Blood are stark naked and streaked with blood, their bodies pressed closed to one another.

Look a little closer and you’ll notice that brooding Moyer has his right palm over actress (and wife) Paquin’s left breast.Scan your eyes over to Vanity Fair, and the monthly US magazine, had Lady Gaga as its August cover girl.

To be sure, these are not the first nude covers, with pictures in the same vein inside, that the magazines have done.

But have they outdone themselves this time?

Reactions among parents, magazine readers and those in the publishing business were varied.

Secondary school teacher Yong Mee Ying, 45, said she would shun such titles.

‘The people behind these publications should have considered the fact that when they are placed on news-stands, kids are able to gain access to them,’ said the mother of two girls aged 13 and 11.

‘More bold pictures on the Internet’

‘Call me conservative, but I wouldn’t like my kids to be flipping them,’ she added.

Ms Margaret Song, a secretary in her mid-40s, disagreed.

‘I actually find the Rolling Stone cover tastefully done,’ said Ms Song.

And she wouldn’t mind it if her 21-year-old daughter and a 20-year-old son bought these ‘sexy cover’ issues either.

She said: ‘I believe in letting my children be exposed to different things in life.’

Indeed, the Internet renders the nude covers a non-issue, said Miss Tina Tan, deputy editor of local weekly entertainment magazine U-Weekly.

‘Youngsters have seen many more bold pictures on the Internet,’ said Miss Tan.

‘To a certain extent, magazine editors are putting out a lot more daring covers to attract readers, partly because of this immunisation to sensational pictures.’

Matter of taste

Besides, said other supporters of such covers, the point is not the nudity in itself but its treatment.

Shots of undressed superstars can be tastefully done, argued Miss Kerri Teo, 19, a first-year student at the Singapore Management University.

‘Some people might even go so far as to call those pictures a work of art. I believe it takes a lot of creative direction for the photoshoot,’ she said.

Local magazine editors had their own take on the latest covers.

The three we spoke to, including U-Weekly, said that covers are the first thing that grabs a reader’s attention.

Make it snazzy enough and you could convert the browser into a buyer.

Said Ms Elisabeth Gwee, editor of Her World, Singapore’s leading women’s fashion and lifestyle magazine, said that studies have shown that ’80 per cent of consumer magazines’ news-stand sales are determined by what is shown on the cover’.

Ms Gwee added: ‘The average reader spends only three to five seconds scanning a magazine cover before deciding whether to buy it.’

Mr Richard Augustin, managing editor of New Man, a men’s magazine distributed here and in Malaysia, agreed.

‘Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and even Playboy boast great writing and content…they don’t have to ‘resort’ to such (scintillating) covers.

‘But it is a fact that it is becoming increasingly difficult to survive in the highly competitive magazine market,’ explained Mr Augustin.

So, will we ever see a jaw-dropping cover in local magazines?

Not likely, it seems.

‘The most recent ‘daring’ cover we did was Zoe Tay in a Chanel bikini and bomber jacket back in July last year,’ said Ms Gwee, adding that the issue received ‘great reviews’.

Likewise, Miss Tan said that sexy images in U-Weekly are often mild, as the magazine ‘positions itself as a family entertainment publication’.

New Man’s Mr Augustin said that given the opportunity, he would love to ‘push the envelope’.

But he felt there was ‘no chance…of seeing anything (as) remotely’ brazen as the Rolling Stone’s True Blood issue, citing strict laws.

In an earlier report, the Media Development Authority (MDA) had said that close to two million publications are imported into Singapore every year.

To facilitate the clearance of publications, the MDA has a Registered Importers Scheme where publication importers are expected to self-regulate based on a set of content guidelines provided by MDA.

Laws aside, Mr Augustin added: ‘Our regional celebrities are also less liberal and more traditional compared to international stars.’

In the end, the shocking covers may be just a matter of creating that momentary buzz.

Loyal Rolling Stone reader, Mr Sazali Aziz, 23, an administrator, said: ‘Based on its brand name and content alone, the magazine doesn’t have to resort to ‘shock tactics’ – like plonking pictures of scantily-clad celebrities on covers.

‘But the publishers do so, perhaps, to get people talking.’

Rolling Stone & Vanity Fair had nude celebs on cover before

THE True Blood issue of Rolling Stone was not the first nude cover it rolled out and got tongues wagging.

In 1981, the magazine put portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz’s picture of a naked John Lennon on its cover, as a tribute to the deceased musician.

Lennon is seen curled up and kissing his wife Yoko Ono.

Over the last two decades, other naked celebrities featured on Rolling Stone include funk rock outfit Red Hot Chili Peppers, singers Janet Jackson, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears.

Like Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair is no stranger to celebrity nudity.

On its August 1991 cover was actress Demi Moore, seven months pregnant with her second child – in the buff.

Another of Vanity Fair’s memorable skin-baring covers was its March 2007 issue. It showed actresses Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightley – both without a stitch on – posing with fashion designer Tom Ford.

In 2002, Rolling Stone had caused a furore with the apparent ‘new direction’ it was taking.

According to British daily The Guardian, Rolling Stone, the magazine that single-handedly invented rock journalism, was slammed by critics for being a ‘sellout’ with ‘inclusion of airbrushed cleavages and lacy lingerie’.

What particulary raised the ire of fans was the publishers’ decision to put pop princesses Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera on its covers – in different stages of nudity.

Pop critic Robert Hilburn, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, said that Rolling Stone’s’own editorial decisions in recent years have done more to harm its credibility…than any threat from its direct rivals’.


The NewPaper

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