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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The LeBron James Vogue Cover Controversy

posted by on March 26 at 16:19 PM

There’s been a lot of talk on the blogs the past few days about whether this Vogue cover photo of Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James and model Gisele Bundchen is racist.

gisele_lebron.jpg

Some are saying it looks a little too much like this:

kingkong_1933_01.jpg

Personally, my first thought when I saw the cover was “Wow, Gisele looks really healthy and happy - what a great departure from the corpselike makeup and rail-thin models you usually see in Vogue.” But an awful lot of people seem to think otherwise.

So, Slog readers, what do you think? Is this photo of LeBron James and Gisele racist or not? (LeBron, for the record, likes the cover.)


RSS icon Comments

1

What's going on, ECB? Tell us. We're here to help.

Posted by Mr. Poe | March 26, 2008 4:21 PM
2

Anyone who finds THAT racist needs to look in the fucking mirror.

Posted by DOUG. | March 26, 2008 4:21 PM
3

I think the people who see that picture and immediately think "King Kong!" are the ones who are racist, personally. Yuck to those people.

Posted by Jane | March 26, 2008 4:21 PM
4

I've never looked at LeBron James and thought "He looks like a gorilla." He just makes me say, "Wow, he's almost as good a basketball player as I am!"

Posted by Jason Josephes | March 26, 2008 4:24 PM
5

Racist? No.
Sexist? No.
Lame? YES!

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 26, 2008 4:26 PM
6

Really.

Grow the fuck up, get a little bit thicker skin. What an idiotic claim.

Posted by Wolf | March 26, 2008 4:29 PM
7

woah -- i don't know. when i first saw it i couldn't figure out what the controversy was. but then, yeah, he's kind of hunched over, with a big open-mouth yell going on.

i don't know much about the genesis of this pose... was it supposed to look like king kong? if not, and if james is cool with it, i'd say you'd have to read something into to it be racist.

if james and the stylist/photog were both going for a king kong thing, i'd find it a little questionable.

if the idea was there, but they didn't tell james about it, fail.

Posted by infrequent | March 26, 2008 4:30 PM
8

@5, why do you find the cover lame?

Posted by arduous | March 26, 2008 4:32 PM
9

In my early 20's (which was when the Sonics were good) I made a living as a chalkboard artist. One of The Keg restaurants commissioned me to do a giant chalk mural of Shawn Kemp in their bar/lounge. They supplied me with a photo of Kemp in mid-air, just prior to dunking. His mouth was open in a scream, his face was screwed up in a seriously intense fashion (much like LeBron in the Vogue cover photo). I completed the mural of Kemp, got paid, and went home. A week later, the manager called me up and told me that he'd erased the mural because several of his customers (read: white mid-to-upper-class douche bags) had complained that Kemp looked like a monkey. He wanted me to do another mural, free of charge. I of course declined his offer, but told him I'd be happy to do another if he paid me, which he eventually agreed to do.

Posted by jameyb | March 26, 2008 4:32 PM
10

thats it im moving to rio.

Posted by SeMe | March 26, 2008 4:34 PM
11

Fay Wray. Hot
Gisele. Oh well.

Posted by Josh Feit | March 26, 2008 4:36 PM
12

honkies always be finding the monkey in the black man, even if it don't exist.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | March 26, 2008 4:36 PM
13

The question is why is he yelling? It's an odd photo to be sure and I immediately thought of Kong. Maybe I'm racist, but you're illiterate if you didn't see the allusion. I just don't understand the unbridled display of rage/power from LeBron next to a smiling BŁndchen.

Maybe it's just sexist. There's certainly a degree of possession present in the composition.

Posted by Jason Petersen | March 26, 2008 4:36 PM
14

If Giselle had a scared look on her face and LeBron had a vice grip around her, then maybe.

But she looks like she's about to frolic in a meadow somewhere and his grimace is the same thing that all basketball players get.

I call definite shenanigans on the racism claims.

Posted by Robin Sparkles | March 26, 2008 4:37 PM
15

he's kind of hunched over, with a big open-mouth yell going on.

If this was Larry Bird in the same pose, would this even occur to you?

Didn't think so.

Posted by Wolf | March 26, 2008 4:40 PM
16

I didn't notice it until Mrs. Switzer pointed out that it looked like KK holding FW. It is an unfortunate similarity in poses - and from subsequent interviews of LeBron about the photo, it sounds like it was just an unfortunate coincidence that doesn't bother him. To me, it's unfortunate but I don't think racism drove the decisions behind the taking or usage of the photo.

Posted by switzerblog | March 26, 2008 4:42 PM
17

Who's Larry Bird?

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 26, 2008 4:45 PM
18

I think it's a pretty dull and inelegant photograph -- but I never would have thought King King! That is a pretty crazy response. I only think it is supposed to contrast a huge and fearsome NBA player with a lithe, smiling model, but they both are examples of great physiques.

Posted by twee | March 26, 2008 4:46 PM
19

Who likes to press buttons?

Posted by umvue | March 26, 2008 4:48 PM
20

Can you provide an option for "Don't give a fuck"?

Posted by bookworm | March 26, 2008 4:50 PM
21

@17:

Larry Bird is a white guy, formerly of the Boston Celts, who now coaches the Indiana Pacers. Pretty much a b-ball legend.

Posted by Wolf | March 26, 2008 4:54 PM
22

It is an unfortunate similarity in poses

I don't see it at all, unless she's passed out. And she's not. She's obviously as much in to the celebration of--well, whatever they're celebrating--as he is.

Reading more into it IS racist. The photo itself isn't.

Posted by Wolf | March 26, 2008 4:58 PM
23

@15. uh, what's your point?

didn't i start by saying i didn't see it at first? but i'm not the party being discriminated against here. so it is up to me to keep an open mind about it. just because i don't see it initially, doesn't mean it is not there. someone can explain to me what they see, or how it might be interpreted. should i then discount it, and their experience, because i don't see it?

Posted by infrequent | March 26, 2008 5:02 PM
24

eh...

come on erica. its a fucking retarded mag to be reading anyway. there's plenty more than that one cover inside VOGUE that could qualify as sexist, maybe even racist, perhaps a bit of hedonist even. my god ... actually, that black guy on the cover is portrayed with different teeth than the white girl!! call a lawyer quick, VOGUE magazine is DENTIST!!!! ever hear about the boy who cried wolf?

Posted by justino | March 26, 2008 5:08 PM
25

It looks to me like she's a substitute for a basketball.

Posted by keshmeshi | March 26, 2008 5:09 PM
26

We'd rather not moderate your comments, but off-topic, gratuitously inflammatory, threatening, or otherwise inappropriate remarks may be removed, and repeat offenders may be banned from commenting. We never censor comments based on ideology. Thanks to all who add to the conversation on Slog.

Posted by ecce homo | March 26, 2008 5:10 PM
27

Maybe it's a little like King Kong because big ugly basketball players should not be on the cover of Vogue.

Poor girl, having to share her Vogue cover with him.

Posted by Miles | March 26, 2008 5:17 PM
28

If anything it would be racist against White-Americans. Can't you all see that!

Posted by Sargon Bighorn | March 26, 2008 5:19 PM
29

Can some Slog Admin PLEASE delete 26?

Posted by arduous | March 26, 2008 5:21 PM
30

White men are physically more similar to great apes than black men. I think he's posing like that because it's his JOB to pose like that.

Posted by Fnarf | March 26, 2008 5:21 PM
31

Reminder:

WHITEY'S ON THE MOON!

Posted by NapoleonXIV | March 26, 2008 5:23 PM
32

The only people who read Vogue are those starving themselves and those who see conspiracy theories in every corner. And Fnarf.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 26, 2008 5:24 PM
33

And @24, if you actually READ what erica wrote, you'll see that she personally didn't find the cover racist, but that other bloggers did. I am so freaking tired of knee-jerk Erica bashing.

Posted by arduous | March 26, 2008 5:25 PM
34

@22: Perhaps you're not familiar with how similarities work. See, a thing doesn't have to be a carbon copy to be similar. It just has to be...how you say, similar. For instance, they are also not towering over the New York City skyline...yet, it is still similar. He is neither an ape, nor 50 feet tall. Yet, it is still similar. Keep assuring yourself that I'm a racist and you're a saintly colorblind commenter, but the photos remain similar.

Posted by switzerblog | March 26, 2008 5:25 PM
35

@29 - sorry, we're busy putting up lame polls.

Posted by Slog Admin | March 26, 2008 5:26 PM
36

Come on Justino, Erica's not the one that has a problem with it.

Posted by PdxRitchie | March 26, 2008 5:27 PM
37

I think he's hunched over because he's 6'9".

Posted by DOUG. | March 26, 2008 5:27 PM
38

Interesting, because Vogue apparently made it a big deal that they were featuring a black guy for the first time ever on their cover and this is what they came up with.

Is it racist if LeBron James and Giselle understood and agreed to the King Kong pastiche they were posing for (I'm not clear reading about the cover whether they did or not)? Because that's fairly obviously the subtext of the cover.

Posted by Peter F | March 26, 2008 5:27 PM
39

Don't see any racism, personally. But I'm a northern white boy, and sometimes the subtleties of racism go right over my head. I can be oblivious to it unless someone points it out.

I've also sat in on enough photo shoots where the photographer is all "give me some emotion. Move. Move." to know this was merely an attempt to get a lively photo, rather than a dull photo of the two of them just standing there. Dribbling the ball and shouting probably just came naturally to him when the photographer wanted action. *shrug*

Oh, and ecce, you're being a gross pig, even for you.

Posted by Reverse Polarity | March 26, 2008 5:36 PM
40

Man, it's the 21st Century, and they're only NOW putting a black guy on the cover, @38.

Now THAT is lame.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 26, 2008 5:36 PM
41

The LeBron/Giselle photo is not racist. Not sure why anyone would bring this up.

Posted by Tony | March 26, 2008 5:41 PM
42

24, I love your implication about a bit of hedonism in a glossy magazine...

Posted by the lady | March 26, 2008 5:52 PM
43

I don't really think it's racist, it's an homage. But if I got as worked up about every coded racial symbol and the between-the-lines racial subtext of everything as you get about coded b-t-l sexism, I would find it so racist my head would explode. It's much less racist than a lot of things the Clinton campaign has done recently, at least.

Posted by Mr Me | March 26, 2008 6:02 PM
44

Perhaps someone should define what an offtopic or otherwise offending comment consists of.

At what point does one become off topic?

Posted by ecce homo | March 26, 2008 6:08 PM
45

Am I the only one that thinks this picture is fucking hot? Is that racist? Too bad she doesn't look a bit more helpless and scared!

Posted by not uptight | March 26, 2008 6:15 PM
46

This is such a non-issue. The number of people who will be offended by the King Kong reference is DWARFED by the number of people who are incensed at the thought of a large black man fucking a hot blonde. And *that's* the tragedy of the American racial character.

Posted by Big Sven | March 26, 2008 6:18 PM
47

she's NOT rail-thin?

I dunno...

Posted by Becky | March 26, 2008 6:19 PM
48

Apparantly 90% of slog readers, who are already on average a rather racially sensitive bunch, don't think this is racist. So the fact that "a awful lot" of the people ECB communicates with think this is racist shows how incredibly hyper-politically-correct the crowd she hangs with must be.

Posted by David Wright | March 26, 2008 6:59 PM
49

Racist? Nigga pleeze!

Posted by Mike in MO | March 26, 2008 7:26 PM
50

It's certainly provocative and definitely has a King Kong vibe to it, but I don't think that makes it racist.

Are people upset because it borders on an homage to a film classic, or because it's a black man exuding testosterone in close proximity to a white woman?

Posted by Trouble | March 26, 2008 7:34 PM
51

Can someone please delete 49?

It is offensive in it's use of racist terms.

Posted by ecce homo | March 26, 2008 7:35 PM
52

Absurd!

Posted by duh | March 26, 2008 7:46 PM
53

It's not just Erica or the bloggers -- they talked about this on the View this morning.

No, I can't give any logical, non-embarrassing explanation for why i was watching the View.

Posted by Jo | March 26, 2008 7:50 PM
54

Not racist.

Lebron is pretty hot. She looks to be caught up in his agressive athletic physical power. These attributes are not confined to black men or even men.

The big quetion is how do I get Mr. James hold me that way?

Posted by toasterhedgehog | March 26, 2008 8:23 PM
55

Can someone please delete 51?

It is offensive in its use of apostrophes.

Posted by sleestak | March 26, 2008 8:25 PM
56

arduous and ECB:
damn. mah bad. i did read it. but hastily, and i jumped to a conclusion. embarrassed and sorry. i promise to be more accurate in the future.

Posted by justino | March 26, 2008 8:31 PM
57

I'm pretty sure that the art directors didn't intend to plant a "King Kong wanna know where the white women at" message for us to find. I hope not, anyway.

But for some viewers that was the end product because there's a century or more of depictions of black men that in their sum are overwhelmingly racist. This photo evokes that tradition in a few unfortunate ways: black man striking aggressive pose, baring his teeth at the camera, sexualized white woman striking submissive pose, drawing most limbs inward, straining against and away from him.

Media stereotypes, at least those pertaining to race and gender, aren't really part of some coordinated conspiracy. The way you (both Slog and Feministe) have framed this question ('is the picture taken by itself racist') is sterile. All we've gotten for your trouble is yet another round of "people who see racism everywhere must be racist."

(For my part, I didn't originally find the cover racist. It is of course pretty sexist, but it's a fashion mag so that kind of goes without saying.)

Posted by j_ | March 26, 2008 8:36 PM
58

Big Sven nails it @46. And those references are partly why this photo so good, and why it was chosen for the cover: it's an attention-getter.

But I would add that nothing is meant to be taken seriously here, it's all just energy, movement, and fun. Because, come on, for all that these two people embody certain sexy/offensive stereotypes, they have ridden them straight to the top. Both of them have a ton of wealth and status. They can afford to play their roles to the hilt and not give a damn what any of it means.

See, it really makes no sense to argue about the morals in Vogue, because there are none. OF COURSE it trades in racism, in sexism, in class stereotypes. None of that matters! Wealth trumps all.

Posted by Irena | March 26, 2008 8:47 PM
59

I never would have thought it looked like King Kong, but once it was pointed out, I guess there's a resemblance. That being said, I don't see it as racist. I just don't really get what they were trying to do with the cover. Why did they style the cover that way?

Posted by Julie | March 26, 2008 8:57 PM
60

@59 -- I looked it up and the cover photo is part of a series taken by Annie Leibovitz on the theme "Dream Team" -- supermodels posing with superatheletes. You can see the rest of the pictures here (note the alternate pic with LeBron & Giselle sitting on his shoulder):

http://www.style.com/vogue/feature/032508

As for why Leibovitz styled the cover picture this way, Lebron James' nickname is "King James"...

http://imagecache2.allposters.com/images/pic/IMC/A9739~King-Kong-Posters.jpg

Posted by Peter F | March 26, 2008 9:45 PM
61

We must remember that Vogue is a cancer on our society. It is very easy to pick on just about anything they do.

More than the whole monkey thing, I wondered why they didn't put female athletes with male models. And also, just because, what's with the tatts? I mean, really .... Looking at LeBron James and Giselle Bunghole, I don't even think "Beauty and the Beast". It's more like "Thug and Ho-Bag".

Either of them is probably a lousy fó....

Posted by bd | March 26, 2008 10:54 PM
62

If Erica says its raining and it is actually raining, i'm still gonna say its not raining.

Posted by rainman | March 26, 2008 11:09 PM
63

This is a good start. We are talking about the issue. It is fine if we do not agree on whether or not the pict is racist or merely insensitive. I believe that our healthy discussion starts to get off track when people start to judge others on their views. When people say that African-Americans are just complaining to complain and that their view is groundless, then we veer into personal attracts. When people say that white people are racists and will never ďget itĒ, then we see resentment start to grow. We all would do well to just stop for a moment and attempt to put ourselves in the position of the other argument. Just try to let go of our view and try to see it another way. I bet if we did we would have a little more clarity and gain the space to actually talk to each other and learn from one another. Maybe we will learn where the questions come from.

Posted by Anthony | March 27, 2008 1:29 AM
64

And if it is supposed to be an homage to King Kong, is it only racist because he's black? What if the roles or colors were reversed?

Posted by PdxRitchie | March 27, 2008 3:20 AM
65

He's doing his job (basketball) and she's doing her job (looking pretty).
No racism as far as I can see, but maybe that's because I am color blind.

Posted by Gindy | March 27, 2008 4:17 AM
66

If this was Larry Bird in the same pose, would this even occur to you?

That is why this is racist. They wouldn't have put Larry Bird like that.

Also, I missed ecce's comment. So sad that I can't read it because it was too naughty...

Posted by Mike in MO | March 27, 2008 6:03 AM
67

If you think this is racist I think you're a retard. Where is the controversy? Is their a noose or a watermellon I'm just not seeing? Anybody who looks at Lebron in this and sees a monkey is a racist. The rest of us will contiune to not buy Vogue as usual and get on with our lives.

Posted by Nick | March 27, 2008 7:36 AM
68

He looks like a basketball player, she looks like a model... what's racist about that?

Posted by SDizzle | March 27, 2008 7:49 AM
69

I don't think this was part of an evil plan. But it does go to prove that we are a product of the racist undertones that we don't often speak about in our country--those stereotypes that have been lurking for hundreds of years.

It's easy to brush this off and say, "it's not racist." But to think about it is what's tough. It's not hard for me to sit down and ask myself if this is racist. I'm Mexican, and like many other groups that are used as pawns for labor and entertainment in this country, I immediately recognize this as racist.

For many of you the images of "Black Face" and "Slaves for Sale" signs aren't registered in your brain--haunting you every time that a cover like this comes up in modern day. But when I see this, I instantly think of the images that sold slaves as gorillas, AND the images that accused Black men of chasing white women.

These things can be ignored. This ad was done irresponsibly. Let's raise the bar folks! I expect more from the 30 to 40 year olds that run this magazine. They're not kids. If you can sit down and take a shit or surf the net for celebrity gossip, you should also have the time to read up and educate yourself.

There are no excuses to write one line on this issue and immediately take a side and say "NO! This isn't racist!" Some folks have the kind of privilege (Whites, Males) to be able to move on happily after something like this.

I ask you, if you really want to understand this instead of seeking the easy way out...just give up a little bit of your privilege and question yourself, question your history, and question this ad.

Much love. Peace.

Posted by Miguel Jimenez | March 27, 2008 7:59 AM
70

To me, there's no denying that James is posing as King Kong in this picture and that the subtext was intentional. My question is that assuming both subjects of the photo were posing with that on purpose (maybe not, if Giselle wasn't swooning)is it still racism? Does intent make, say, Leibovitz, the racist and absolve the photo subjects?

I'm guessing if she's pressed, Leibovitz will eventually explain that she meant only to playfully provoke a discussion of race by tweaking stereotypes with the consent of her subjects or something like that. In the meantime, the provocative cover has given the magazine (which is still in print -- who knew?) publicity.

Posted by Peter F | March 27, 2008 8:15 AM
71

Great Cover, I like it and dont see anything racist in it.

Posted by sergio | March 27, 2008 8:34 AM
72

ESPN wrote about this earlier this month.

The reason there hasn't been a black man on the cover of Vogue sooner is because only three men have ever appeared on the cover.

From the article:

Vogue is featuring athletes and models in an annual issue devoted to size and shape. The 6-foot-9 James and 5-foot-11 Bundchen, who dates Patriots star quarterback Brady, were a natural pairing.

The reason this is getting coverage is because people are tired of talking about the war, depressed by talking about the economy, and want to feel like there's an "injustice" that can be fixed, instead of these huge problems that just make us feel powerless.

Posted by Dawgson | March 27, 2008 8:56 AM
73

Anthony @ 63: Do you write the weekly's "Uptight Seattlite" column, or is that just a really good parody?

Posted by David Wright | March 27, 2008 8:57 AM
74

Can someone please delete all the comments who don't directly address the topic at hand, insult ECB, or make racist statements?

It really is hard to read the stuff I like with all the junk in the middle.

Posted by ecce homo | March 27, 2008 9:23 AM
75

PLEASE DELETE 49!!

It goes against the published commenting policy of SLOG!!!

Please follow your own rules!

Posted by ecce homo | March 27, 2008 9:26 AM
76

I dont know who those 2 are, but the black dude looks like hes taking a dump. And the fact that 2 people of opposite color seem to be enjoying themselves in harmony kinda takes away the whole racist slant in the first place.

Posted by duplicitous | March 27, 2008 9:38 AM
77

75 comments, nearly all of them braying about how much they did not find this racist.

It's not a racist photo at all... but this is an awfully sensitive bunch on Slog, to go out of their way en masse to assert the non-racism of this picture.

Look at the poll, guys. There's a clear consensus that whoever cried racism is reading too much into a harmless cover photo. You can calm down.

Posted by Gomez | March 27, 2008 9:54 AM
78

Major knickers-in-knot fodder. I think I'll knock over a cyclist with my Humvee.

Posted by Spoogie | March 27, 2008 10:05 AM
79

For chissake, get a grip people.

Posted by Jonesy | March 27, 2008 10:21 AM
80

Please delete #78

It is off topic.

Posted by ecce homo | March 27, 2008 11:40 AM
81

Not racist.

But we're very, very good at imagining contexts in which it could be racist.

Posted by NapoleonXIV | March 27, 2008 11:47 AM
82

how could vogue do a cover like this? how could lebron agree to do after seeing what it looked like? i don't find the picutre flattering for either of them. he DOES look like king kong everyone can see that. we just dont want to.

Posted by momo | March 27, 2008 5:54 PM
83

Reading some of the feedback itís obvious itís from mainly white people who havenít experienced racism, and couldnít see why the picture perpetuates racism even if I hit them over the head with the magazine. As a person of color when I saw the cover I didnít have to read or hear whatís been said about it to realize it smacks of stereotype and racism.

Posted by sam | March 28, 2008 2:07 PM
84

Totally racist.

Posted by Candy | March 29, 2008 5:39 AM
85

Totally racist.

Posted by Candy | March 29, 2008 5:40 AM
86

Totally racist.

Posted by Candy | March 29, 2008 5:40 AM
87

It is an insensitive photograph, not a racist one. Obviously, Vogue isn't filled with a bunch of foul-mouthed black hating miscreants. It is just that they do not feel bound to be reasonable. A reasonable person would say, "Gee, there is so much negative portrayal of black men in the media, perhaps to counter that, we should do our very first photo shoot of a black man in a positive light, displaying happy and healthy emotions." But no. Those who edit Vogue chose to do the whole "we can release something with vaguely racist overtones in order to be edgy, and still get away with it because everyone knows we are really not racist." They are still not racist, even though what they have done here is called "race-baiting for profit." To get looks. To sell copy. And it worked. It is not racism we see here, it is greed that is on display. Sad, really.

Posted by John | March 29, 2008 8:20 AM

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