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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Vanity Fair: The Rap Issue

by Kari Tervo

I'm a big supporter of print media. I know I'm sitting here writing on the internet, but there's something more thoughtful and curated and edited about words on a printed page that makes print media very valuable. No, what's on the newsstand isn't breaking news, but you can find breaking news in 7 billion places on the internet (there is one blog for every man, woman, and child on the planet). Magazines are where you find in-depth analysis and commentary on that news, as opposed to the half-baked punditry with click-bait headlines you see rushed out for page hits on the internet. So let's read magazines!

In today's review: The November, 2013 issue of Vanity Fair.

CLICK RAWR TO SEE HOW THE OTHER HALF LIVES!

I've been reading Vanity Fair since 1997. It didn't initially seem like my bag (fashion spreads and rich people?), but I bought an issue for a college assignment where we had to deconstruct an ad. Given that the table of contents sometimes appears after literally 90 pages of glossy fashion ads, I picked up a copy. I kind of expected to scoff at it, populist that I am. But I found myself drawn into their investigative reporting on Andrew Cunanan, who murdered fashion designer Gianni Versace.

I was pretty impressed, and I've been reading Vanity Fair ever since. Paradoxically, I've never subscribed, though I would save a lot of money if I did. I guess part of me is still holding out against those fashion spreads.

On this month's cover is Jay-Z, which is pretty remarkable for Vanity Fair. Vanity Fair is a patrician (read: white, monied) publication that exhumes Princess Di and various Kennedys several times a year for further posthumous analysis (in this issue, it's JFK himself). It's pretty rare to see a black man on the cover, unless it's one of those Hollywood or music issues. And then, the diversity is generally seen in a group shot.

Let's just say this: Vanity Fair has special issues of various sorts, focused on fashion or Hollywood or successful people who are successful because they were born into success (umm. . .I guess that's like every issue). But, I am pretty confident that Vanity Fair will never have a rap issue.

So how did Vanity Fair handle the presence of a successful black mogul in its high street pages? Pretty good. Okay. Much of the story is legit, about Jay-Z's background, lyrics, cultural impact, and uncommon talent. The rest of it can pretty much be summed up as "BLACK MAN HAS NICE THINGS."

At least you're trying, Vanity Fair. I say nice job. However, I could not overlook this irony: In Lisa Robinson's interview with Robin Thicke earlier in the issue, she actually asks him: "So where did this love of black music come from?" Yeah. In an issue with Jay-Z on the cover. Oh, Vanity Fair. At least you're trying.

About the rest of the issue: You will want to be NPR's Kai Ryssdal after reading a short profile. A longer piece on Mia Farrow, her global activism, and how her family was torn apart by Woody Allen's marriage to their adopted daughter will leave you inspired and heartbroken. Angelica Huston presents luscious words and imagery in a reminiscence on her childhood with her father, the famous film director John Huston.

I have a couple of standing "who cares?" with Vanity Fair. On the first page of the "Vanities" section, they always feature some young pretty thing who they say is going to be the next big thing. I can confidently say I have maybe heard of one of them ever again? At least upon reading that first issue in 1997, I learned the word "provenance," part of their standard form on the actress. Some good came of it. But they're really horrible fame prognosticators.

Oh, the other "who cares" is when they do their "power lists" and "new establishment" and who cares and blah blah. Those lists primarily consist of people who have benefited from the fact that privilege begets privilege, which they somehow unilaterally ignore in favor of highlighting success. Um, okay. Like I said, I'm a populist.

Let's see, what else. There's that feature on JFK's assassination, in which many what-ifs are pondered. Their conclusion: There was one man with a gun. I guess the Warren Commission already concluded that, but Vanity Fair had a JFK quota to fill. They're clinging to Camelot like editor Graydon Carter clings to the same haircut he's had for literally decades.

Clearly, Graydon Carter shares a hairstylist with Queen Elizabeth. 
Vanity Fair's obsession with England runs deep.
I appreciate Vanity Fair for the education it has provided me about world events and different cultures (i.e., the wealthy and powerful). Even though I have beefs with it sometimes, overall, I think it's a great magazine. The November 2013 issue of Vanity Fair is exemplar of the complex, meaty content mixed with lighter fare that makes a great magazine.


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