Thursday, April 05, 2012

you've come a long way baby?

Vanity Fair has set its sights on television actresses for its May issue, on sale tomorrow. Photos of the cover are leaking all over the internet. The cover's novelty is that next month is a "special TV issue," focusing solely on women, as opposed to the usual film stars featured on the cover. What is most shocking and surprising is how par for the course this cover has turned out to be. Why is it necessary to depict a bunch of actresses, nude except for diamond jewelry, in bed together as a cover? Does that really say, "great actresses?"

L-R: Julianna Margulies, Claire Danes, Sofia Vergara, and Michelle Dockery, bottom right
All you have to do is look at the eyes of the actresses to see that they aren't exactly comfortable with this choice of depiction, either. All of these women play strong characters on their television shows, many of them the lead character. Why can't they be photographed as strong women too, rather than merely objects of desire? Any of these ladies would look just as sexy fully clothed as they do in lingerie or just a silk sheet. Being sexy and beautiful is undoubtedly part of the profession, and something that actresses certainly try to portray and maintain. But to be promoted merely as a sex object, after all the hard work these ladies have put in, seems to be rather short-sighted, and even insulting.

It doesn't get any better on the fold-out photo. Now clad in underwear at an all-girl pajama party, seven more actresses (a little more ethnically diverse, but per usual for Vanity Fair, relegated to the interior of the cover) lounge for the cameras, but the focus is not on any of their abilities on screen, but their breasts. It's impossible to imagine this same cover shoot with television's male stars. Ashton Kutcher, Kiefer Sutherland, Steve Buscemi and Ed O'Neill naked, under one big white silk sheet? The stars of The Big Bang Theory in their underwear? Actually that might be kind of funny, if done with tongue firmly planted in cheek, and they were in Superhero undies. But none of these photos for the May issue were taken with a sense of humor.

Clockwise, L-R: Emily Deschanel, Archie Panjabi, Grace Park, Kerry Washington, Kat Dennings, Emily Vancamp, and Emmy Rossum
Vanity Fair and photographer Norma Jean Roy just don't get how the opposite of empowering this all is. To underline the contrast between a docile babe waiting for our gaze, and the characters they play on TV:

Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife — bouncing back from a scandal involving her husband, she starts fresh as a junior lawyer in her firm

Claire Danes, Homeland — a CIA officer assigned to he counterterrorism unit

Sofia Vergara, Modern Family — gorgeous and funny, but also a strong and loving mother

Michelle Dockery, Downtown Abbey — a strong, independent woman who should by all rights inherit her father's estate, but because of the unfair laws of inheritance of the time is forced instead to make a "successful" marriage

Emily Deschanel, Bones — a forensic anthropologist and crime author

Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife — in-house investigator for the law firm

Grace Park, Hawaii Five-O — police officer and former professional surfer

Kerry Washington, Scandal — a former White House communications director who now manages her own crisis management firm

Kat Dennings, 2 Broke Girls — works as a waitress while dreaming of opening a cupcake shop

Emily VanCamp, Revenge — a woman who lives to avenge her father, wrongful convicted as a terrorist

Emmy Rossum, Shameless — is raising her family, something far beyond the abilities of her deadbeat father

That's an impressive list of strong characters played by accomplished actresses. Too bad this cover negates all of that. Many actresses have nudity clauses written into their film and television contracts, but maybe those contracts don't include magazines. Looking at all of these lovely ladies I couldn't help but think of a recent article that I read in the New York Times Magazine about the actor Peter Dinklage, who is best known for his role as Tyrion Lannister on Game of Thrones. Dinklage, a dwarf, had struggled many years as an actor before he had his break-through in the film The Station Agent, and achieved huge success and recognition on television in Game of Thrones. But no matter how hard it got, he refused to ever take a job as an elf or leprechaun or anything else he considered demeaning.

Hollywood definitely has a double-standard with its actresses. But one wonders what other, more creative, images we may have been graced with if these ladies had banded together, and like Dinklage, had said no. Having nude actresses on its cover has become de riguer for Vanity Fair. Isn't it time for a change?
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