I used to think I was special… due to the powers that Superman telepathically sent me when I was a child through the cover of the first Arabic edition of the comic book. The moment I traced the outline of the Man-of-Steel blasting into the atmosphere from Earth on that magazine cover, I knew the connection we made was distinctive and very personal.
Surely Superman had chosen only me to follow in his footsteps.
Alas, eventually I realized the power that magazine covers wield is very far-reaching and extends to humans around the globe, not just young boys growing up in Tripoli, Lebanon.
If covers can breed controversy and ignite the digital fires of social media better than the latest neighborhood gossip, then I believe it’s safe to say magazine covers command a power not unlike a knight brandishing the winning lance in a tournament: swift and to the point.
The debate about covers reminded me of what my brother Shukri, the philosopher and historian of the family, and his illustration about the two great Greek philosophers Parmenides and Heraclitus.
Parmenides is the pre-platonic Greek philosopher who theorized about permanence as reality; what is permanent, what lasts and what is stable. What you cannot get rid of, in other words, is really what is real and true.
Heraclitus, on the other hand, was the theorician of change. He’s the one famous for saying, “You cannot step in the same river twice,” basically because the water keeps on changing. Effectively, to him, change was the one reality. The only permanent thing in the universe according to Heraclitus is change.
But Parmenides insisted that only what lasts is real. What is in print lasts. What is in print is actually what remains in your face. You can dispose of it, you can tear it apart, but there will always be somebody who kept a copy in print. That’s actually the origin of documentation. Documentation is what you can keep.
While social media is more in liquid form and change form, like the water of Heraclitus, it keeps on changing and moving. It’s so mobile that, very often, by the time you realize whether it’s true or not, it has changed already.
And this is a significant part of the power a magazine cover has. The power to hit you with that first in-your-face impact and then, unlike the Facebook pages filled with posts that eventually scroll into the great digital abyss, the magazine cover remains there in all its firestorm of glory to forever remind you of the message it delivers.
The cover of Rolling Stone recently unleashed a maelstrom of controversy by putting Boston bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, on its August 2013 cover. Right, wrong or indifferent; Rolling Stone made an impact. They didn’t have to parry, they knocked the competition off their steeds in one fell swoop.
Even though some stores refused to stock the issue, single copy sales of this issue are already up. I believe you could describe that as a definitive impact.
So why critics focused on the photo itself – describing it rock-star-like, rather than as a murder suspect – and not the content of the article.
The fact is that study after study shows that the picture is the first thing that stops readers when looking at a magazine. So it is normal for the audience to look at the picture; the surprise is when media people stop at just the picture too. We are reaching such a state of non-journalism by allowing mass emotions and social media to dictate what is and is not journalism.
I am sure Rolling Stone did not mean to cause a stir with their provocative subject; not at all. It was an editorial decision based on an investigative piece of journalism; a rarity in today’s world. We need more magazines to follow in the footsteps of Rolling Stone, ignoring the mass emotional reaction of a knowledge-less mass basing their opinions on perception and not reality.
Magazine covers have been known to blow a few minds in their time and lately they seem more determined than ever to cause people the SMH syndrome…that most wonderful of social media verbal shortcuts defined as “shaking my head.”
Take The New Yorker’s Bert and Ernie’s “Moment of Joy,” created by artist Jack Hunter. As the two Sesame Street characters sit cuddling on the couch together, staring at a TV still of the Supreme Court Justices, after their ruling on same-sex marriages, the world looks on with two faces. The one side is ecstatic by the decision, the other appalled. But the magazine makes its point and the best knight wins: Sir Cover.
Bloomberg Businessweek made a rather “exaggerated” point with a cover about hedge funds and the supposed great return on investments a person can make, with the picture of a man, complete with jacket slung over his shoulder, glancing down at an overextended arrow pointing outward from the direction of his pants zipper. The caption above the arrow: perception. Then “reality” falls somewhere short of the fantasy and there’s a much smaller squiggly arrow lying on the floor at his feet, teasing the reader with the correlation between the mythical male body part and the truth. Controversial and comical, yes…but once again a magazine cover packs a punch.
ESPN the Magazine is not to be outdone by the implied parts of the male anatomy. Their annual edition called “The Body Issue” came out in July and has NHRA racer, Courtney Force, posing nude for the magazine. While the cover is strategically done so that nothing describable is actually shown, the picture lends more than an illusion of Ms. Force’s shapeliness. While covers such as this may have once been reserved for magazines like Playboy and Penthouse, ESPN the Magazine proves that it’s not just bunnies and pinups that emanate allure; even race car drivers can grace a cover with enticing comeliness. And if you think that last description was overflowing with adjectives; once again the power of a magazine cover ignites a passionate response.
The July 29 – August 5 issue of New York Magazine is a double issue featuring intertwined male and female legs hanging above, through and below the magazine’s name. What is the image’s significance, you might ask? Sex, what else. The cover story involves first times, sneaky cheating and trysts all over the place, and something thrown in there about fetishism.
It’s a melting pot of all things sexual and boiling over with a spicy brew that has spurred many a conversation. Nothing like a magazine cover to get things stirred up, right?
Anthony Weiner sexting, straddling the Empire State Building as though he were the human version of King Kong; this is the August 5 cover of The New Yorker, created by artist John Cuneo. The cover says it all in a funny and original way and proves that politicians who revel in their own deceptions sometimes can’t hide from the press even from the tallest building.
And then of course, the baby the world had been waiting on: the Royal tyke who would be King. The Times in London had the infant and its proud parents, Prince William and Kate, splashed across front and back, announcing the first “royal wave” from little hands reaching out from beneath the august blanket. It’s a cover that touched hearts and displays a legacy the child will never outrun (even if he wants to), the heritage of his birthright – the future King of England.
But People Magazine grabbed the first headline of “It’s A Prince” on their cover and called it a special collector’s issue, featuring a spectacular photo of the royal parents and their little bundle of joy. But it’s the cover that grabs the attention immediately and proves yet again that magazines and the wrappings they wear definitely make an impression.
In-your-face, controversial, heartrending, funny; magazine covers run the gamut of emotions and tirades. From quiet and serene conversations that last for months, to spitting quarrels and shouts of boycott all across the country; the cover of a magazine can spark a reaction better than any other type of media. Digital headlines are instantaneous and satisfy the moment very sufficiently, but they’re fleeting and can become a lost link in the blink of an eye. Not so with a magazine cover. Once it’s printed and becomes a reality, there is no disappearing. That cover will stare up at you from your coffee table until you’re old and gray if you don’t remove it. It’s solid, not liquid like digital. There is a difference in form and there is a difference in impact. And its impetus is in the never-ending moment and the platform.
And as the buying public, we get to be a part of that moment, sometimes a part of history-in-the-making. And it’s a delightful experience. Whether you agree or disagree with their statement, you must admit the power of the magazine cover gives new meaning to an old phrase paraphrased: a cover in print is worth thousands of tweets.