The Ape Issue?

Many of you may have heard about the LeBron James Vogue‘s “Shape Issue” controversy. Those of you who haven’t need look no further than the above image.

Did the Vogue staffers really intend to present the NBA superstar as King Kong? That wasn’t our impression. While we did think it queer they didn’t doll him up in a suit, we just figured they wanted to make sure readers knew he’s a basketball player. Are we just naive? Maybe.

Our colleague, Cord Jefferson, who has 26-years of blackness under his belt, offered this take:

The Vogue cover is inexcusable for this reason: Even if the photo was not intentionally alluding to the ape imagery of yesteryear, Annie Leibovitz and Anna Wintour, “experts” on imagery that they are, should have been able to look at that photograph and realize what sorts of feelings it would evoke in the public. At worst, the picture’s racist, at best, it’s evidence of glaring ineptitude.

That straight boy sure does have him some sass.

So, readers, if you’re not too mad at us right now, what’s your take on this James outrage?

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  • faghag

    So, readers, if you’re not too mad at us right now, what’s your take on this James outrage?
    Fuck you wih something hard and sandpapery!

  • allen bardin

    I don’t hear any outrage that Gisele looks like a vapid blonde model! The “Ape” thing wouldn’t have occured to me…

  • John

    It baffles me, frankly. The ape imagery would not have occurred to me at all. He does look a little mean but there are a lot of mean basketball players out there…

  • Steven

    Why is a basketball player on the cover of Vogue?
    Why didn’t they pick a female athlete?
    What does Gisele have to do with exercise?

    It’s very surprising to me after having asked several people about the cover, that I am the only one who saw it and said King Kong instantly.

    What’s more surprising to me than Annie Leibovitz and Anna Wintour not catching this is André Leon Talley not saying something.

  • todd

    It looks like the model is a vapid idiotic moron being attacked by a big scary black man!

  • Andrew

    It wouldn’t be a big deal if this weren’t one of a proportionally tiny number of instances when a person of color is featured on a mainstream magazine cover (especially in the fashion world).

    The impression it gives is that people of color can only be represented in the popular media when they’re fulfilling stereotypes.

    Put people of color proportional representation, and then, maybe, you can flirt with stereotypes. Until then, don’t exacerbate the situation by using inflammatory representations when its convenient for you to have non-whites on your covers.

    Also, if you look at those two covers and don’t see the link, you’re an ass, and perhaps you should be substituted in that image.

  • foofyjim

    I think it would have been hotter if he were nude.

    I’m a pasty faced white guy so it’s possible I’ll never get it, but I am pretty sensitive to racial issues and I just never saw it that way. I’m not afraid of black men and don’t think they’re out to get all our white women as some have claimed. I guess I just don’t equate people as animals.

    He isn’t holding onto her, rather they have their arms around each other. She is smiling, not terrified or fainting. He’s bouncing a basketball (after all, he is a professional NBA player) not holding a club or other weapon. He may have his game face on, but I didn’t see that as threatening so much as intense. If I were straight and had my arm around Gisele, I might feel pretty intense at that moment too.

    In the end I think it’s important to be sensitive to racial slights, either intentioned or not. If black people really were offended, then I’d like to have an open discussion about why and what should be different. In the grand scheme of things, one might say that this was just a fashion magazine, while one might also say this is just one more little way to stereotype black men in America.

  • eagledancer4444

    Cord Jefferson is straight?

  • Ryan

    I can see how the Kong picture is similar to the Vogue cover, but LeBron James has been very vocal in saying that it was his favorite picture of the shoot and he likes the cover. I think of this picture less as racist and more as supporting hegemonic masculinity. A large, muscular athlete looking powerful and enraged as he holds onto a small framed woman…it’s more of a statement about masculinity than black culture, to me.

  • Rob

    I LOVE hegemonic masculinity!

  • Matt

    When I saw this. I said whitey is at it again. Joking. This really just looks like a game face and the King Kong reference would have never occured to me. Regardless it’s gotten Vogue some great publicity.

  • rickroberts

    Must we see racism in everything? The photo looks fun to me. I’d love to be in her spot. That looks like a big, big man if you – um – know what I mean.

  • Maverick69

    Well if it makes anyone feel better, I fill in for Gisele.

    Then maybe everyone can move one with their lives and deal with more pressing issues.

    Some people need to lighten up.

    It’s not like any of them were forced into the shoot.

  • sonny

    Honestly, I think this is a pathetic “outrage”. Who really thinks this is their intention in the first place? Find other pictures of Lebron James and he has the EXACT same look on his face. They wanted something dynamic for the cover and they got it. It certainly wasn’t to show him as an ape holding onto a damsel in distress. Ugh… find something better to protest!

  • M Shane

    Black Men have largely gained fame through sports achievement, and rich white men view them as expensive animals in their stables to be trades(sale )etc.

    Anyone familiar with the “Beauty and the Beast”, story knows that their was an implicit love story going on. His look of defiant anger (at society)and her look of comfort are perfect complements to the story line. He just needs to be hanging from a building. His frame is more apish(bulky) than model-ike certainly as BB. players go who are often tall and thin. He would look uncomfortanble in a suit. They had to be really conscientious to get sombody that heavy.

    Ask Camille Paglia, she’s the queen of art and social meaning. I suspect that Anne Leibowitz would puck it’s so commercial and racist.

  • Matt

    I was over on the sister site stereohyped just to see some of the comments. They seem to be split over there as well. I really disagree with one comment over there about that they are not hypersensitive that they are just mad for years of slavery? At what point are you not going to be mad anymore? Are we going to be in the year 3000 and still be saying I’m still mad. If we all go back in our history somehow we have all been discriminated or hated. It’s time to let it go and move on.

  • John


    Would be interesting to see if the same people who were so upset with the previous post, will conjure up the emotion or time to be offended about this image?

    I say nope.

  • rickroberts

    You’re correct, John. They will continue belly-aching over any criticism of their boy Barack as racist. (I’ll probably be called racist for using the word boy in this comment!)

  • hisurfer

    So, King Kong was supposed to be a black man? Or, black men are King Kong? I didn’t even know this was a stereotype. I truly am lost on this one.

    Besides, the ape on the left is supposed to represent Kaiser Wilhelm. I think the Kaiser was caucasian. Don’t quote me on that.

  • Jon

    So I Googled this poster, and it seems that if this picture were a reference to it then they are implying that Mr. James is a German fascist and Gisele is the Statue of Liberty

    Maybe if this country learned how not to be oversensitive we could focus on real issues instead of make up stupid controversies.

    Lebron James and Gisele were obviously OK with the Picture so I don’t see the problem. I don’t think Mr. James is naive, and if he had an issue with it he wouldn’t have/shouldn’t have posed in such a manner.

  • rickroberts

    Oh, HiSurf. You are smarter than I am, girl! I gotta look that one up. Kaiser Wilhelm? Really? Wow!

  • M Shane

    Sounds like there are some pretty uneducated people here: It’s hardly a sign of outrage for sonmeone to state a fact: that the image is racist: Traditionally , black people were associated with apes in lieu of humans to subordinate them to white people: I’m not going to waste my time providing illustrations, but historically many of the racist cartoon and quasi-scientific images of blacks were apelike. I believe that holding on to these social scripts is self defeating. That doesn’t mean that calling a spade a spade is somehow bad.

  • M Shane

    Whether you like it or not, the image is racist. The truth doesn’t just disappear because some queens get pissy amnd flutter their wings. Oh my, what did I say!

  • rickroberts

    Woo, you said spade! Isn’t a spade black? Oh, no you di’n’t!

  • NeedCoffee

    I soooo hope M Shane’s “spade” comment was unintentional!

  • Shoney's Big Boy

    What a retarded discussion.

  • Afroguapo

    +1 Andrew. Although I could see how some might be offended by this, I wasn’t personally because the fashion world is known for being edgy, cutting edge and irreverent. I thought the Vanity Fair pictorial where Naomi was Scarlett and Tyson Rhett Butler was fierce. It was subversive and played with stereotypes, just like I like the Target (I think it’s Target) where the cute dark-skinned black woman is having a door opened for her by a cute white boy and they’re mutually interested (again, playing with the idea of “well, why not” and not depicting the same imagery we always see). Annie’s depiction however is not original. It’s complete rehash and she knows full well she would be lying her ass off if she said the poster wasn’t her muse. It’s too coincidental. And Rick Roberts, no need to be overly sensitive or railing about the PC Brigade. We can discern the difference when someone means ill will and when someone doesn’t. And let the record reflect, Kucinich was my boy because he was the most progressive (economically and on social issues, like gay marriage) of the candidates but unfortunately he was not viable. HRC and BHO are centrists in order to be electable. Check out the article in Gay City News about it. Great piece.

  • mrmansonx

    I think it’s a good cover.

  • Dawgson

    I’m reposting what I wrote elsewhere:

    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.

  • Charley

    They will have him on the cover of Men’s Vogue wearing the latest in endangered species fur jockstraps if they think that will attract buzz and sales. The fashion industry is all about shocking the senses to the next level. BTW She looks like she is enjoying it. It was intentional, the King Kong similarity.

  • Alacer

    ok. so the cover resembles the poster. I think any controversy is unwarranted and empty. It’s not “imagery” in the “haha, look at us, we’re comparing the entire community of people of color with an ape because black people are just as primitive!” that’s a stupid conclusion. Is the issue not titled, the “shape issue”? when I look at the cover, I see the resemblance to the poster for King Kong, but entire focus is on the juxtaposition of their bodies to one another. don’t get your panties in a bunch, the models agreed to it anyway…

  • Charley

    It makes me want to buy the magazine, to see the other 9 other athletes with their model babes. You gotta admit Gisele is a knockout. This coming from a 3/4 gay 1/4 straight perosn.

  • Brian Miller

    Too many people are looking for excuses to be “offended,” and see/read/hear things that aren’t there.

  • Nic

    Can anyone else envision this image without him being angry? Because I can’t. If a white athlete was on the cover, he’d probably have the same pose. The cover looks like the poster, but so what? I could understand if Gisele had a ‘damsel in distress’ look about her why people would be pissed, but she doesn’t. Gisele looks just as powerful as he does. They are equals.

  • M Shane

    I’m glad someone picked up on the significance here of the “spade” comment : it’s a joke about contextual referances: verbal or visual . At one time gay people knew something about art, imagery, and social contexts. Use your imagination: what if the guy was a fat white guy: would the image have the same meaning. What if the woman was as big and black as the guy and the guy hosting her as skinny and white as the woman?(that’s for you Nic).

  • hisurfer

    Well Shane, yeah. That’s the thing. I think the guy could be white, or a buff woman, or what have you, and it would still work. As long as the Kong figure is muscled and the Fay Wray figure can toss her hair back, the image will work. I fail to see it as a commentary on blackness.

  • dreyer

    blacks are funny.

  • afrolito

    The first time I saw it, I thought it was racist. I haven’t changed my mind about that.

    Fuck Annie Liebowitz.

  • Ralph

    A few of you get this, but more of you don’t seem to: The image on the left is *NOT* King Kong. The woman in the poster is not Fay Wray. It’s a anti-German World War I poster – the barbaric German national character lurking under the veneer of “Culture” (see the ape’s club). There was no “King Kong” until 1933, which, you might know, came after World War I….

    It’s a famous graphic image and there’s no question but that the Vogue photo is modeled on it. But it might better be understood as a playful (yes) revision of that image, given (as others have pointed out) that the woman is no longer a traumatized victim but a willing partner. That said, it’s a stupid magazine and I don’t want to defend it.

  • IDNY

    1. I think is pretty obvious that this image intentionally meant to reference the king Kong poster imagery. I don’t know how you can question it really, I am actually shocked there is even discussion to the visual intention. A photographer like Annie Leibovitz doesn’t shoot anything by accident. Especially not something this obvious and transparent.

    2. I thought it was FANTASTIC. It was fun, intelligent and relevant. Certainly NOT racist. Vogue has no obligation to feature an Athlete in their magazine so why do it to just mock them? Why even include them at all in that case? It doesn’t seem reasonable nor professional to me. I think the kids over at Vogue are a lot smarter then that (even though it seems from this discussion that some of their readers may not be).

    3. LeBron James is a BEAST! Everyone knows it and nobody denies it. Its a sports term to describe someone of INCREDIBLE or frankly freakish physical ability and talent. He is “KING JAMES” literally. Thats is his commonly used nick name in the media and by teammates and fans. *FYI – its the Shape issue as well and I believe the name originally came from how he celebrates and shows emotion on the court. It may very well be a intentional reference by Lebron himself. He also has publicly said he had no issue with the shoot at all nor does he with the outcome. Having said that it is also commonly thought that Lebron is one of the more fashionable (and attractive) NBA players right now so I can see why Vogue would go in the direct opposite way of every other commercial image we have see of him previously. I think they were just trying to show his other side, you know a little contrast, his “most fear player on the court” side but in a smart, fashionable, and sophisticated way.

    4. Lets just superficially critique the images. Does Giselle in the vogue image look anything like a “damsel in distress”? Not at all. She looks like she is being pulled into his arm and couldn’t be HAPPIER. She is not shying away from him, there is no expression of fear or disgust on her face like there is in the movie poster versions. Her body position is to reflect movement without there actually being a lot of it. The ‘Kong’ image is merely a cultural reference derived from his public persona in the sports world. EVERYONE RELAX!

    If you didn’t notice the reference at all then I question your expertise to critique and de-construct imagery in the first place and if you HAD noticed it and thought it was a racist punch to the stomach, well then I would assume you have your own agenda in this election year for prompting such a backward discussion on race.

  • Adam

    He’s gorgeous.

  • porsha

    I agree with Adam, he IS gorgeous but then it’s just a magazine cover. I don’t buy or read Vogue…so?

  • whl

    it’s obviously not about color and it’s a magazine cover…lighten up people

  • M Shane

    I’m glad that someone was bright enough to admit that thier was a King Kong referance: It’s highly doutful that a big white guy would work at all to the same effect because of the historical origins.
    In western historical imagery,( there’s and article I recall in one iof the ArtJournals I think) regarding those multitudinous racist images from some years ago.
    The image has meaning within a history of racist content.since associating Blacks with mokeys is racist. I’m not offended because I’m not black and don’t see any connection with Obama-which is kind of dumb. Apparently James thought it was humerous, and thought that his fame overrode any negative association (or he didn’t know the association) and a lot of educated black people, familiar with black history would find the picture racist. If whoever is looking has a poor notion of western imagery they won’t understand the issue. Go to the Library and forget about politics for a few minutes.

  • afrolito

    It’s clearly racist imagery, but i’m not surprised a bunch of white fags can’t or won’t get it.

  • rickroberts

    Afrolito, what a lovely comment. It warms my heart so. Thank you.

  • Doogie's Howitzer

    People need to take a 500mg chill pill. I saw a report about this on TV and some black guy was spinning out of control over it and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why he had his skirt up over his head. I think it’s a killer shot. So WHAT if he looks like a gorilla in the shot – he DOES look like a gorilla while making that face. However, to take him and extrapolate it into ALL BLACK MEN looking like apes is nonsense. If you guys like this bs, you’re gonna LOVE IT if Obama is elected. Every black radical will be screaming when someone says something negative about Obama and we’ll have a president who doesn’t have the balls to tell them to shut the fuck up.

  • afrolito

    Dummy howitzer,Thanks for proving my point with your idiotic post.

  • M Shane

    afrolito : it’s just a matter that any beanbrain should get, as you say, especially fags, unless they have lost any abslutely any sensitivity to bigotry. Then they have the nerve to ask for “equality.” LOL. You reap what you sow. Some folks are to narcsistic to have Compassion , which is the only thing that can heal the world.

  • Summrboy

    Yawn. Want me to tell you what’s racist? Not caring about the genocide in Darfur because they have brown skin and no oil. Save your faux outrage for something with some substance.

  • Afroguapo

    Summrboy, indeed that was the very premise of the God Damn America speech. Our hypocrisy as to what we will and will not interject ourselves into. Operation Iraqi Freedom my ass? Lies. As I said previously, I wasn’t offended by the cover (but can see why some might be). It’s obvious Annie is running out of creative impulses and she ended up doing something very unoriginal and unimaginative and more or less regurgitated black iconography we’ve seen before. Next she’ll have Jennifer Hudson in a banana skirt reinvoking Josephine Baker. Put as Afrolito said, I’m sorry, but a lot of you come off as a bunch of bigoted (or clueless) queens. Hope the Black Party was fun and that you played safe.

  • rococo

    I think these discussions here are great, but maybe there is no answer, maybe just many….maybe, yawn, summrboy is an idiot because he doesn’t realize that the Sudan has tons of oil but that China is the primary importer of Sudanese oil and maybe he isn’t. Obviously, M Shane is right that there are racist implications…Maybe john, hisurfer, and Ralph are correct that the add was for an anti-german ww1 campaign…does that make M Shane wrong, or just an idiot for not adding that into his commentary. i don’t know. It would make him wrong that the image invokes King Kong, though. um, unless…Obviously if the image does predate King Kong, then the image must have influenced King Kong itself….more to the ponit, perhaps the designers of the original poster were playing on the inherent racism of the times, eg scary germans = scary black man. can all of this be true without Vouge having malicious intent. Spirited discussion make for such interesting reading when i’m up at 6am on a sunday, so keep it up yall, this shit is fresh.

  • tommy

    Afrolito – It’s clearly racist imagery, but i’m not surprised a bunch of white fags….

    Ain’t that the pot calling the kettle black. If supposed racist imagery or words hurts your delicate little sensibiliyies than maybe you should practice as what preach.
    Oh wait by sayinf preach, am i implying that you’re southern Baptist which inturn maybe black?
    I’m sorry I didn’;t mean to us such words, How dare I!

  • Afroguapo

    Tommy, I don’t know Afrolito but I can only surmise that he’s put off by the “imbalance” on this site where there’s a predominant thread of non-black gay men saying obnoxious or clearly wrong things. One can be quick to temper if you consistenly read the same comments over and over again which seem more like knee jerk responses without much thought backing it up. And yes, I know the quick retort from some can be “well, if you don’t like it, go to some gay black web site and STFU” I get my news from a variety of outlets. I liked this site for more pop culture stuff, not the heavy stuff which has proven to be contentious.

  • Your Brown Shirt Is So Sexy

    Poor, LeBron James. I guess he’s just another ignorant, low IQ athlete who’s just too stupid and uneducated to have realized what a mess he was getting into when those white devils at Vogue told him to pose like one of the most powerful, sympathetic, romantic, iconic cinematic characters in history only with a twist — this time Kong’s object of desire (King Kong was a love story, after all) was all too willing to be held in his arms. Someone better be named his guardian with power of attorney because he obviously doesn’t have a mind powerful enough to assess a situation and make the right decision on his own. Someone get him a sippy cup, STAT!

    And, by the way, exactly how are we jumping to the conclusion that King Kong was supposed to be a black man anyway. Let’s see . . . 1933 . . . America . . . KKK more popular than Neo Conservatism was in 1996 . . . bigger than life, powerful, black man as ape metaphor makes off with hot blond white woman in the first half hour of movie . . . forget New York, ape metaphor must die immediately . . . movie is over before the intermission.

    I think if Kong represents anything, it is Jung’s wild man archetype of the deeply masculine aspects of our nature: Big, hairy, and naked, the Wild Man is totally liberated from the trappings of modern civilization, he still possesses almost magical powers over the forces of nature and his animal brethren.

  • Charley

    There is another factor that ties into this cover. Real life. Some of the top European fashion models today have rich black athlete American boyfriends. They are blonde trophies to the black atheletes. It seems to be a trend, like O.J.

  • Charley

    Are the atheletes racists because of white girlfriends ? The hypersensitivity about race has reached gigantic proportions, due to the election. We need to chill out. I am not sure dialogue solves the problem. Over at another blog run by a black lesbian, she has tried to bridge the gap. But she is on the defensive because of her race, and whites are referred to as whitey. Her dialogue and the black bloggers there are bias, pointing the finger. They don’t seem to get Obama’s message. They were all against Condolezza Rice, but now that she has spoken out on the race issue, they are all for her.

  • hisurfer

    “It’s highly doutful that a big white guy would work at all to the same effect because of the historical origins.” Ah, Shane. Your argument is totally negated by the picture on the left – which is of a big white guy gorilla.

    This doesn’t even come from the same *place* as the historical racist images where black men were made to look like monkeys (not, I should add, like King Kong). Those other images emphasized stupidity & ignorance (i.e., equating black men with dumb monkeys). This image is all about sex and power. And sex (stops to wipe his brow). There’s a whole lot of sex in that picture (catch me if I swoon).

    I don’t see violence. I don’t see ignorance. I don’t see “let’s make LeBron look subhuman.”

    I definitely think that some are projecting their own internalized racism onto the photo. Like Cord Jefferson.

  • Starsailor_X

    Okay, enough of this tired pre-fab discussion. Now let’s talk about the S & M sexual imagery of the Crucifixion–the ultimate bondage and discipline image, a near naked superhero impaled and helpless and vulnerable on a cross. Break out the baby oil and discuss amongst yourselves.

  • M Shane

    hisurfer: sort of a point! Whart if it was Rush Limbaugh instead of James (sexy? )
    Charley: Where I live there are more mixed race couples than anywhere. Fat scandinavian girls and black guys (don’t have to be athletes)
    Blacks, to my knowledge have been anti-Obama and in favor of Bush because of the fascist religious take and because Condi has always been the #1 black bitch on the planet.. Most Afo Americans will probably vote republican because they see Obama as an African Black who they dislike almost as much as fags.

  • Afroguapo

    okay, time to go back to Jezebel or Gawker where there’s at least a modicum of common sense and perspective. Blacks are not a monolithic group anymore than whites or homosexuals. Some of you on here presumed I was for Barack simply because we have African ancestry. I was actually for Kucinich because I liked his stance on a variety of issues and he didn’t resort to the same political gamesmanship as the other candidates have (which unfortunately seems to be necessary to succeed in the mainstream). My brother-in-law, who is also black, will likely vote for McCain because he’s a big game hunter, an army brat, fervent believer in religion and he makes a considerable salary. I will never like Condi and could care less that she and I are of African descent. Clarence Thomas is black, as is Alan Keyes. I have NOTHING in common with them and find their views repugnant. M Shane do you just say stuff to be incendiary (“who they hate as much as fags”) and Charley, you are notorious for painting with the broad brush, please save that for the canvas.

  • Charley

    Anyway, I think the cover is genuine camp and a classic. If Annie Liebowitz still has the copyright, she should market it as a poster. It would outsell the number one poster, Farrah Fawcett, 10 to 1. It is this kind of in your face stuff that lifts the spirits of both black and whites in America. It is interracial, and both are being who they are, she a beautiful model, and he a macho black athlete. They may have been guided into those poses by the photographer, a lesbian BTW, but so what. Ellen would do the same for a laugh.

  • afrolito

    Hisurfer: You are full of shit. Cord Jefferson (and anyone else with a brain and a pair of eyes) does not have to project anything onto that image, since it clearly has a racial subtext.

    M Shane: You are a fucking idiot.

  • Charley

    footnote: an extremely talented lesbian photographer.

  • Charley

    And lover to the late and great Susan Sontag.
    They both are great and vibrating on a very high level of consciousness.

    Susan Sontag and a Case of Curious Silence

    by Patrick Moore

    On Dec. 29, 2004, major gay and lesbian news organizations announced that “lesbian writer Susan Sontag” had died. In its obituary of Sontag, the New York Daily News wrote, “Famed photographer Annie Leibovitz had been her longtime companion.”

    On Dec. 29, 2004, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times reported Sontag’s death on their front pages, with more stories inside. Yet neither paper mentioned Sontag’s relationships with Leibovitz and other women.

    It seems that editors at what are, arguably, the nation’s most respected (and liberal) newspapers believe that one personal detail cannot be mentioned in even the most complete biographies–being a lesbian.

    In a 1995 New Yorker profile, Sontag outed herself as bisexual, familiar code for “gay.” Yet she remained quasi-closeted, speaking to interviewers in detail about her ex-husband without mentioning her long liaisons with some of America’s most fascinating female artists.

    An unauthorized biography written by Carl Rollyson and Lisa Paddock and published by W.W. Norton in 2000, reports that Sontag was, for seven years, the companion of the great American playwright Maria Irene Fornes (in Sontag’s introduction to the collected works of Fornes, she writes about them living together). She also had a relationship with the renowned choreographer Lucinda Childs. And, most recently, Sontag lived, on and off, with Leibovitz.

    Sontag’s reticence is surely part of why the two Timeses neglected this part of her life. But she didn’t deny these relationships. And given that obituaries typically cite their subjects’ important relationships, shouldn’t the two best newspapers in the country have reported at least her most recent one, with Leibovitz, as well as her marriage, which ended in 1958?

    Some will ask why revealing Sontag’s sexuality is relevant. As Charles McGrath wrote in his appreciation of Sontag in the New York Times, “Part of her appeal was her own glamour–the black outfits, the sultry voice, the trademark white stripe parting her long dark hair.” Sontag was well aware of herself as a sexual being and used her image to transform herself from just another intellectual into a cultural icon. She may well have felt that her true sexuality would limit her impact in the male-dominated intellectual elite, while an omnisexual charisma opened doors.

    More important, though, Sontag’s lesbian relationships surely affected her work and our understanding of it. Two of Sontag’s most famous essays dealt with issues associated with homosexuality: “Notes on Camp” and “AIDS and Its Metaphors.”

    The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times found ample room to discuss Sontag’s cancer and subsequent mastectomy, which were not seen as lurid details but as necessary information in understanding the work of the author of “Illness as Metaphor.” The papers also included extensive discussions of Sontag’s schooling, her early family life, how she met her ex-husband, even her thoughts on driving in Los Angeles. However, her relationships with women and how they shaped her thoughts on gay culture and the larger world of outsiders and outlaws (a Sontag fascination) were omitted.

    There is, of course, a larger issue here: Continued silence about lesbians in American culture amounts to bias. Gay men seem to have settled into the role of finger-snapping designer/decorator/entertainers in the mass media. Meanwhile, most lesbians who achieve widespread fame–Ellen DeGeneres, Melissa Etheridge and Rosie O’Donnell–have to remain in the closet until they have gained enough power to weather the coming-out storm. This model victimizes those who are out and proud from the very beginning.

    The obituaries, remembrances and appreciations in New York and Los Angeles do anything but honor Sontag. They form a record that is, at best, incomplete and, at worst, knowingly false. But don’t look for corrections, clarifications or apologies.

    The New York writer and activist Sarah Schulman has been, ironically, described as “the lesbian Susan Sontag.” Schulman told me recently that Sontag “never applied her massive intellectual gifts toward understanding her own condition as a lesbian, because to do so publicly would have subjected her to marginalization and dismissal.”

    Susan Sontag was a brilliant, provocative writer who had vital, loving relationships with some of the most fascinating and creative women of her day. I believe that her intellectual accomplishments are even more compelling when one understands how her sexuality informed them.

    Sontag was often quoted as saying, “Be serious, be passionate, wake up!” Let’s hope that America’s leading newspapers follow her advice.

    Patrick Moore is the author of “Beyond Shame: Reclaiming the Abandoned History of Radical Gay Sexuality” (Beacon Press, 2004).

    © 2005 Los Angeles Times


  • Afroguapo

    So what if Annie is a lesbian. Gay men on here have demonstrated that their sexuality doesn’t make them necessarily enlightened. Yes, Charley, the photo was indeed camp and deliberately meant to be provacative and titillate because they elected to dispense with a more subdued cover. It’s not artistry (as I said before, Annie wasn’t being original or imaginative) but a marketing tool to sell magazines. This was the other photograph that was a contender.

  • Afroguapo

    This cover is supposed to the lift the spirits of blacks and whites in America? How so?

  • hisurfer

    So, afrolito, if “anyone with a brain” can see that it is racist … then you are saying that LeBron doesn’t have a brain. Which, to me, is more offensive than anything you might see in the photo.

    Test: Go to Manhunt. Or Adam4Adam. Or Gaydar. Search for variations on ” King Kong” as a screen name. A lot of people are using that image, worldwide, and of all races. You better let them know how offensive they’re being. I don’t think they know.

  • Charley

    The picture is worth thousands of words. Pamshouseblend and other black blogs did not even run this topic. Must not want a dialogue about race, in my conclusion.

  • Afroguapo

    Or Hisurfer, it doesn’t have to mean that LeBron doesn’t have a brain or stupid, but rather that he doesn’t mind being commodified as such. And as far as manhunt, adam4adam, yes a lot of men want to be depicted as sexual dynamo studs in that arena to get horny bottoms to presumably put out. This magazine however wasn’t the exchange in cyberspace to lure someone into bed. Face it, some of us are sensitized to this because of history. Remember the black Venus (a hottentot) who was literally on exhibit in a cage for whites to survey. Rather than belittling others people take on the image and assuming they’re making much ado about nothing, look at it from their side as well. As I said, I wasn’t offended by the image but I’m not going to tell someone who is that they are flat out wrong and dismiss them. We all have different sensibilities.

  • Charley

    Putting James in a Brooks Brothers suit may be the answer, but I don’t think they make them that size. For me, big dicks are great, but not big black ones due to being scared as a child by a black pedophile in Virginia. I guess that makes me racist.

  • Afroguapo

    Wow, we’re getting all cathartic and TMI. No, it suggests you have some type of post traumatic stress disorder. We’re all informed by our experiences to some degree.

  • leomoore

    It never would have occurred to me to associate the picture of Lebron James and what’s-her-name with a recruiting poster from World War I with the Kaiser depicted as a raging gorilla. First of all, the poster appeared when my grandparents were children and the only political picture they had in the house was a portrait of Franklin Roosevelt. Second of all, if we pore through every image painted, sculpted, or photographed over the last 10 millenia, there are all sorts of images that can be interpreted as racist, sexist, xenophobic, or depicting someone else’s religion as Satanic. Frankly, it seems like such a tremendous waste of intellectual energy to look for insult where it is unlikely it was intended.

  • hisurfer

    I understand that black Americans are going to be more sensitized to potentially racist imagery. And I’m familiar with the “sambo” style imagery of the early century and the PT Barnum-style monkey images before that.

    But … this doesn’t even seem remotely related to those. That’s where I get stuck. I cannot think of one negative image of black man that this refers to. Point to one, I’ll apologize. And no monkeys or chimps, ok? The scientist in me wants King Kong, or a mountain or lowland gorilla. Orang-hutans don’t count either. Until then, it’s a tenuous thread.

  • geo

    “Are we just naive? Maybe.”

    “We” are very ignorant of history.

    It gets really tiresome how the gay communities complain of being treated like second-class citizens, while being so willfully indifferent towards racial injustice.

    What Leibovitz has done is deliberate and inexcusable.

  • dr.resol

    I would’ve never made the connection had it not been pointed out. And what’s with the club? Gorillas don’t use clubs…

  • sugarsmack

    I have no doubt that Annie Leibowitz was inspired by the King Kong image on the left. There are too many similarities from the bat being replaced by a basketball to the material and cool color of the dress. But I don’t see this as racist. If the man on the Vogue cover was a black actor or musician without any particular reputation as being ferocious or aggressive, than the reference would be incongruent on the topic of character and would only leave the allusion to racial stereotype. But this is a big, bad basketball player and I don’t see how this cover is any different than nicknaming him King Kong on the court. It’s a reference to athletic aggression and physical size and shape. If you’re hung up on the ape reference, well that’s your own Rorschach-like association. And I’m certain that Vogue was aware of this potential and saw the buzz that would ensue.

  • M Shane

    “It ‘s a referrence to athletic agression, and physical size and shape” also, if you recall the story: ignorance and helpless entrapment, as in enslavement. I don’t know where Rorschach associations play in.
    Annie Leibowitz is a noted photographer (noted mainly for her fine art ) commercial photographers do what they are directed to photograph.
    BTW. Charley, thanks for the article about Sontag: the fact there is that, because of the rampant aniti-intelectualism of modern (fascist)America, we hardly know what an intelectual of her abilities looks like. I have never had any questions about her sexuality–it is all implicit in what she wrote and I recall a Bi movie that she made. People nowdays, in the model of our president don’t comprehend anything but the most boringly pedestrian statements: bad as Nazi Germany.
    Sontaq and Leibowitz never lived together. I believe that shre realy was Bi. Her immersion in camp very definitely defines her as more of a faghag than a dyke(who don’t generally share that humerous proclivity.

  • JazzZ

    If I was highsurfer and lost my editorial job, I’d be bitter, too

  • Charley

    Sure, M. Shane. The one and only time I was in Vogue, my article “The Arts Grow In Ireland” (July 1974), there was also an article about Susan Sontag in that issue. I agree, she was bi-sexual.

  • M Shane

    hisurfer : I’m not sure that a lot of people know the difference anymore between duifferent types of ape!
    Charley: While it’s politically unfashionable to be bi-sexual now, From what I know about sexuality, in consistency with recent cognative theories, it has to do with a persons ability to frame(certain) people mentally as objects of sexual diversion. Someone like Sontag had a wonderfully diverse mind. She’s one great loss to our culture. Scares me that the great minds are all dying off in America, for lack of any educational system.
    BTW, I’ll look for that article. I saw an article in one of the periodicals re; current Irish art: Some great stuff. I still recall an almost minimalist painting of a flax field in the near dark!.

  • papergirl

    It proves that black athletes get money and get a white blonde women !!

  • ben

    Any designer or visual artist who attended college for their training would have more than likely come across this image in any History of Modern Design class. Maybe the concept was internalized and not plagiarized?

  • Mr C

    Personally I really didn’t get The King Kong controversy until it became an issue on all the blogs.
    As a confident Black Man. I am not offended for the simple fact if there is anyone on here who would refer to LeBron as a beast with the coins this brother has. I don’t think he cares. His dream is being lived. LARGE

    It was a simple photo shoot and as always controversy sells if this was the intention of VOGUE magazine.
    This is “poppycock” The ad that got me was last year when they had all of these track runners with dark, and beautiful bodies on their knees with a white guy standing in front of them like their master, or something. And I forgot what the ad was for. However, it didn’t really connect with the advertising of the product.

    Folks just take one and BREATHE!

  • Charley

    I missed that cover of the white guy standing in front of dark beautiful bodies on their knees.
    Racism or a fight about politics and Israel ? Certainly not, no one would stoop that low, especially the pro-Israel owner of Vogue, S.I. Newhouse and family. It is only a fashion magazine. Yeah, Right.
    Not trying to stir up a Bensonhurst fight here, but Al Sharpton, Jerimiah Wright, Louis Farrakahn, are all anti-Israel and anti-semitic, but who listens to them ?

  • Afroguapo

    I agree with you Mr C. I wasn’t offended by the LeBron ad but just thought it was very unorginal, unimaginative and complete rehash. It was like workaholic Anna Wintour called Annie on a Sunday night in that clipped austere speech of hers and was like “Annie! Anna here, just wanted to know where you were with ideas for the cover regarding the issue on shape/fitness. Meet me tomorrow at my office at 9 for a status update and remember I want BUZZ/PULSE. Ciao!” And Annie was like “Jesus frickin Christ” and managed to come up with this. +1’s to Smackdown and Ben, respectively, as it’s incontrovertible that the photo on left was either her inspiration — even if vaguely (too many similarities) or perhaps it was internalized as Ben posited rather than actually copied. I personally prefer new subsersive ads or fresh advertising that makes us INTERNALIZE new images and not reinscribe old ones. As I said before, I liked the Vanity Fair piece with Naomi as Scarlett (who pulls the hauteur off fabulously when having her corset tied) and Gianfranco Ferrer as Mammy (non traditional casting) or the new D&G watch ads where we’re momentarily duped into thinking that it’s a straight couple running late and meeting up for dinner when it’s in fact two same sex couples meeting for a date and they kiss on arrival. This profession is about CREATIVITY ORIGINALITY after all. Annie, that being said, you deserve a C- for this. Mr C, the ad you referred to was an INTEL ad.

  • M Shane

    Afroguapo : I can assure you, as having worked and been trained in the print /design world that the Art Director makes the “creative decisions” as to what and who will be photographed, with publications. If you are familiar wih Lebowitz’s fine art work it hasn’t the faintest similarity to her commercial work. Indeed she has always drawn an explicit line between the two. A bourgeise fashion rag would never ever print her creative work nor would she let them! This is very typical of what they do; that it legally has racist associations would only be significant if James found the use offensive and he apparently can get a laugh at the association: You can be sure that James signed a well deliniated contract which precluded that possability otherwise he could sue them. Vogues’ business is triteness, not art.

  • AladinSane

    What I truly find odd, and maybe I’m insensitive since I apply logic over emotion, is that there is any connection betweeen the two at all. We are a bilateral (a basic body plan in which the left and right sides of the organism can be divided into approximate mirror images of each other) species. HMMMM…that means that generaly speaking, if you want to photograph two people, one must be on the left and the other on the right. OMG, I get it…No wait, I don’t.

    The only obvious connection I can make from the pictures is that there is a “male” on the left and a “female” on the right (and even that is a dubious conclusion since the ape has no obvious gender). How many ways can you pose two people? Oh wait, he’s black and she’s white (I think, though I’ve never heard either self-identify). OMG maybe they’re right, he has his arm around her and she’s obviously happy (wait again, that means subjugation…cough cough).

    What I find more amazing is the inherent racism of finding similarities between the two. Homophobia is not the only thing that can be internalized. Is it possible that people can pose for a magazine and have it mean anything other than what it appears? Have the people in question been asked their views of the shoot? The truly bigoted presumption is that the people involved had no choice, and that they couldn’t possibly think for themselves.

    Strangely (or not so much) I’m reminded of a song by The Ark…

    Are you tired of being an object
    Or did you never get the chance
    To be one,
    And now you wanna make sure
    There´s no fun
    You´ve been missing
    Are you tired of being an object
    Or are you just jealous
    That you ain´t one,
    Now you realized that those objects
    Do all the kissing

    Well don´t project you spleen
    On the girl on the magazine
    You never know,
    Maybe she´s feeling quite comfortable
    The only human right for which I´m
    Gonna fight
    Is everybody´s right to sometimes feel

    Uh-oh, maybe it´s you who need
    Maybe it´s you who need real freinds
    Well she doesn´t need your voice
    `Cause she´s already got one

    And though she doesn´t push
    With as much force
    It can even be stronger than yours
    When she uses it
    In a sensi-sensi-sensual whisper

    Well, don´t project your bore
    On the girl on the dance floor
    She doesn´t at all find
    The men´s looks abusive
    She doesn´t want your shield
    Maybe she´s the one who´s free
    Maybe sometimes getting fucked
    Can be amusing

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