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Time: Critiquing their most controversial covers

Illustration by Darian Mathews | The Signal
Illustration by Darian Mathews | The Signal
Illustration by Darian Mathews | The Signal

Time is one of the most recognizable names in magazines, partially because of its covers’ minimalistic design, as well as its high standard of quality.  Part of the magazine’s fame may also be due to its willingness to court controversy with its cover designs.

Georgia State’s Modern Media Conference is approaching on the 25th and 26th of this month.  The person-of-note at said event is a man named D.W. Pine who’s been the design director of Time magazine since 1997. Also worth noting is that Pine was once an editor-in-chief at your favorite student newspaper, The Signal.

The First Cover (2012)

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While working at Time, Pine helped design a particularly controversial cover reading “Are You Mom Enough?” which was intended to depict a child-rearing technique called “attachment parenting.”

The cover was considered controversial because the 3-year-old child’s mouth was literally attached to his mother’s breast, and this was somehow seen as indecent.

My opinion, since this is an opinion column, is that if Men’s Health can regularly depict shirtless men, there is absolutely no reason women can’t be shirtless on magazine covers, too, apart from our vague and officious obscenity laws.  The tenets of “attachment parenting,” however, are another controversy entirely.

This image is featured as number one on a 2012 article by Business Insider called “Here Are 9 Of Time Magazine’s Most Controversial Covers,” a list I’ll be drawing on for this article.  Not all on the list were designed by Pine, and not all on that list will appear on this list.

The Second Cover (2010)

Number two is a cover depicting an 18-year-old girl who has had her ears and nose cut off by the Taliban, positioned next to the issue’s headline: “What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan.”

While there’s nothing wrong with putting a beautiful girl on the cover of a magazine as long as she agreed to be there and make her pain public, it seems shrewd to use her personal story as an emotional pivot towards pre-existing narratives regarding United States foreign policy.

The Third Cover (1966)

The third cover is completely black except for Time’s signature red border and the lowering three-word sentence “Is God Dead?”

Such simplicity must have been intended to evoke feelings of salience, especially with the big bad G word is in there, but the question has lost weight every year since the 1882 publication of Nietzsche’s book The Gay Science.

But behind the hollowly provocative cover was a well-informed and balanced cultural study of the role of God in various theologies as well as the perceived secularization of society around the time the article was published in 1966.

The Fourth Cover (1994)

Fourth is a cover depicting O.J. Simpson and the heavy-handed words “An American Tragedy.”  This cover seems to me to imply that every other non-celebrity murder suspect is less American, the events leading up to their trials are less tragic, and that simply because Simpson was a football-playing celebrity, his trial deserves front page status.

But according to Business Insider, this isn’t the main cause of controversy.  They say the controversy came in reaction to an artificial darkening of the photo.  Why?  Because it made him look like a villain, I suppose.

The Fifth Cover (2015)

A good article with which to follow O.J. is the recent Donald Trump one.  Because our culture loves to idolize its attention-hungry and stupid, one man fitting such a description has managed to jab his hideous face into our collective consciousness and tell us to “Deal With It.”

No, Donald.  I won’t deal with it and I don’t have to.  No one does.  It is only by Americans’ generous attention that you exist in the public sphere at all, and you should learn to deal with that, because attention will turn away from you very, very soon.

The Sixth Cover(s)

Returning to our list from Business Insider, we find a cover depicting Billy Graham, which is less a controversial cover on its own and more of a category of controversial covers.

Many covers over the years, among them photographs of Barack Obama, both Clintons, Pope Francis, Vladimir Putin, and Jay Leno, have caused controversy because the large M in Time is arranged in such a way that its peaks look like devil horns atop the cover’s subject’s head.

I have two words regarding this: Who cares?  If it’s a coincidence, then it’s a lot of hoopla about nothing.  If it’s deliberate, what effect does it have on the public image of those it targets?  Mild satire?  Hardly anything about which to get a controversy brewing.

The Seventh Cover (1997)

Speaking of harmless covers, it was apparently controversial in 1997 for Ellen DeGeneres to pose for Time magazine along with the words “Yep, I’m gay.”  That controversy is not so controversial anymore, is it?

And yet, it shows how quickly public perception can change.  Less than ten years ago, it was newsworthy when a celebrity came out as homosexual.  Now, it’s mostly humdrum.

The Eighth Cover (1939)

However, one controversy that has lasted nearly 100 years is the one Time created by naming Adolf Hitler “Man of the Year” in 1938.  This is probably due to the celebratory sound of the phrase “man of the year,” which is not the meaning Time ever intended it to have.

Their qualification for the title reads that “Man of the Year” (or, more recently and appropriately “Person of the Year”) could be anyone who “influenced the world, for better or worse,” “worse” being the operant word in Adolf’s case.  And it hasn’t only been Adolf.  Time has had other dictators and demagogues as “Person[s] of the Year” as well.

A few have not been particular people at all, such as the 2006 “Person of the Year”: “You,” and the 2011 one: “The Protester,” among others.

But it’s the response that such articles get that allow Time to reach a wider audience.  To end with an outmoded platitude, “All press is good press.”

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