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September 23 2009

The most controversial magazine covers of all time. Includes a surprise appearance by Sarah Michelle Gellar's "zombie arm."

Oh god! Why does that Lennon/Ono picture haunt me wherever I go??
I took a Beatles class, and the Prof had that up on the overhead for like 5 minutes! There was nowhere else to look. Ever since then, I see it everywhere. *washes eyes out*

I don't get the big deal about the SMG cover.
I thought it was going to be that SMG shot where an arm is coming from behind her and suffocating her. I don't see the big deal about this "zombie arm."
I noticed the Entertainment Weekly, May 2 2003: Dixie Chicks cover and thought it could just as easily be a cover for Holding Your Own Boobs magazine.

Yeah, Sarah's photoshopped arm? Certainly mildly annoying to SMG, as well as lovers of reality everywhere - but hardly of the "Is God Dead?", etc. level of controversy.
I agree that it's definitely not the most egregious example of Photoshop from Hell, but I do wish more actresses would complain (or feel able to complain) when their images are distorted. I have major Photoshop-induced rage.
The SMG one is really the tamest one on there. Not even worthy, IMO. And I've seen more horrific professional Photoshop jobs.


They forgot The National Enquirer's best-selling issue of all time: the one with Elvis Presley in his coffin on the front cover. I mean, how do you compile this list without that epic rag?! LOL.

It was the forerunner of the Michael Jackson ambulance death shot. It's actually the most famous Enquirer cover of all time because of just how insidious and low getting the shot was (of course, the squished nose had a lot of people thinking that it was a wax dummy in the coffin--that was the start of the 'Elvis lives' rumors).

This one actually was schemed by the ever-so-tacky and notoriously tasteless tabloid sneaking a camera into Graceland with one of his "hog callers and chicken thieves" cousins for the picture (boy, was he ever accurate about his cousins). To top it off, the Enquirer photographer spilled coffee on the photograph and an artist had to make a drawing of it (a few details were wrong).


"Story Behind the Elvis in his Coffin Picture that appeared on the front page of the Nation Enquirer Tabloid on 6 September 1977: Iain Calder, veteran Editorial Director of National Enquirer wrote a book, The Untold Story: My 20 Years Running the National Enquirer. Calder admits they acquired the photo from Elvis' cousin Bobby Mann for $18,000.

Miniature Arco-Flex Spy Camera National Enquirer bribed Mann to sneak a miniature Arco Flex spy camera into Graceland and take a picture of Elvis’ corpse. The shocking photo appeared on the cover of the Enquirer and led to a record-setting sale of 6.5 million copies for the issue. It has since become the most famous cover picture ever. The return on the investment reaped National Enquirer over 1,000% profit.

The original photo of the famous National Enquirer picture of Elvis Presley lying in his open casket was shredded during a six-year anthrax decontamination effort on the tabloid's former headquarters, according to the newest twist in a federal lawsuit. The front-page photo, which sold a whopping 6.5 million copies in 1977, is the center of a dispute between Boca Raton developer David Rustine, who bought the contaminated building at a bargain-basement price in 2003 while it was still sealed and quarantined and John Y. Mason, whose company, Sabre, was hired to decontaminate it. In a lawsuit filed, Rustine, values the photo at $1 million, said Mason held the photo hostage in a dispute between the two over the cleaning. Rustine wants him to return the image or pay for it."

[ edited by NileQT87 on 2009-09-24 01:40 ]
I think it's just there as a representative of all the badly photoshopped covers of all time - perhaps the author considers it to be the most notorious of them.
So that's why SMG returned the purse. Aleways wondered abotu that.

And Darine Stern cotnroversial? After 3 or 4 blkack Playmates. Sigh, too bad I never met here....
The July 74 Lampoon cover was much worse.

Agree that the SMG cover is pretty innocuous.

[ edited by Chris inVirginia on 2009-09-24 03:08 ]
I remember when the SMG cover came out. I was working at the local library and we passed the magazine around going "Look at her arm! They made her look like an alien!"
Wasn't that the last Seventeen magazine shoot she did? I can't remember her ever doing one after that. The sad thing about this is that I still have that magazine. :( May 2003 people. MAY of '03! *sigh* I really need to get rid of my old magazines.
The reason why it's on there is because just seven years ago, something like that was still a pretty big offense and now people don't even blink an eye at terrible photoshop.
... but I do wish more actresses would complain (or feel able to complain) when their images are distorted

Let's be honest, though the unreality of the worst photoshopped shots is disconcerting and there're valid complaints about what it does to our perceptions of beauty (and reality in general), most of the time actors (and cars and fruit and anything else appearing in magazines) are "distorted" favourably i.e. if they have a wonky eye it's de-wonked, if it's a bad skin day that's taken care of, if there's a hair in the wrong place, presto, it's gone etc. So i'd imagine most don't complain because it's in their favour (whereas the alien/zombie arm most assuredly wasn't).

A lot of those didn't seem controversial so much as just striking images to me though obviously controversial is partly a cultural thing (compared to Europe people in the US seem to have a bigger "thing" about nudity for instance) and also (relatedly) partly an era thing. I get the "Passion of Ali", "Darkening of OJ" and "John and Yoko" ones most, certainly in their time I can see those being controversial (and the OJ one is never going to be right, whatever we might individually think about his guilt or innocence).

And is God dead BTW ? Haven't read that issue, keen to know how it turned out.
I thought the biggest deal was when they photoshopped Kate Winslet to be skinner and she took offense at the idea that even though it made her look "better" it was a misrepresentation and all that stuff about negative body image and so forth.

The details about the purse make it sound like that's some sort of a well known or big deal? I don't get it. Is this supposed to be something about representing actors as shallow and fickle, or principled and animal conscious?

For that matter, is People really known for a strong journalistic tone?
Well exactly, there's a world within that "better" (those photos weren't changed because she looked bad or even overweight, they were changed because somebody somewhere decided arbitrarily that her hips were too curvy and not only that but IIRC, after she'd spent some time getting back into shape too, possibly after having a baby i.e. it's effectively saying "even after all that work you're still too big", hardly surprising she took offence and not only on her own behalf).

That said, Ms Winslet complained about the magazine (was it 'Vanity Fair' ?) distorting her figure but I don't remember her complaining about them removing the odd zit or laughter line or smoothing her skintone or whatever (or about the flattering lighting or makeup that was applied i.e. all staged photos are "distorted", it's all about where we draw the line). My point being, it's when the actor feels negatively misrepresented (for whatever reasons, and those will vary among individuals) that they complain and NOT just when their image has been "distorted". Maybe for the most part they don't feel negatively misrepresented which is why they don't complain ?

The purse thing just struck me as a coda to the story in that the only compensation she got was a purse and she didn't even get that (because she sent it back). Didn't seem to be saying anything about SMG to me, let alone anything negative.
Well, everyone wants to be their best. ; ) Especially in that world where being less than perfect can effect your "next meal." And everyone wants self-determination of what their best is.

People who want their warts to show or exaggerate their negative qualities belong to an "alternative" world. You know, they've got "edge" --as they tend to proclaim rather loudly. Because that also effects their "next meal." ; )

FYI: Nope. God isn't dead. Not even retired. Humans won't let that happen.

John T. Elson, the editor who wrote the original article, is probably a stronger authority on the question than myself however, since he died on September 7, 2009.

edited for spelling, mostly

[ edited by BreathesStory on 2009-09-24 14:24 ]
kyotoyoshi, that's what I figured. Photoshop is so ubiquitous now we don't really think about it, but just a few years ago it was unusual.

...flagrant abuse of Photoshop is something that the art department and editor usually catch before print time.

Oh really? Enough slips through to keep at least one website in photos. :)
It's this idea of "flagrant abuse" that most puzzles me about the anti-photoshopping sentiment. It's the "flagrant" abuses that bother me least because no-one's idea of what's real or achievable is being polluted by images that are clearly unreal and tampered with, it's when you can't tell that it's most dangerous, that's when it's really changing how you see the world.

John T. Elson, the editor who wrote the original article, is probably a stronger authority on the question than myself however, since he died on September 7, 2009.

What better time for a follow-up article ? *eyes Ouija board* ;)

Well, everyone wants to be their best. ; ) Especially in that world where being less than perfect can effect your "next meal." And everyone wants self-determination of what their best is.

Sure, but I do think there's maybe an element of hypocrisy to, when their idea of best doesn't match yours, getting up and talking about how it's to do with protecting young girls and body image issues and so on. I'd have less problems with it if e.g. Kate Winslet (nothing against her BTW, she's always seemed funny, genuine and down-to-Earth to me, she's just the name that came up) had said "I don't like that particular alteration of my image, I didn't OK it and it goes too far" rather than claiming to be anti it for political reasons when she's (apparently) not anti all the other kinds of distortion that happen all the time as a matter of course (aforementioned de-wonking of eyes, zit removal, straightening of noses etc.) or at least accepts them as "part of the Hollywood game".

Those distortions also present an entirely unrealistic aspiration and conception of physical beauty and also give young girls (and boys) body image issues but there're no "right on" points to be scored by taking a stand against them. The fact that they may be smaller, subtler changes individually doesn't mean they're not equal cumulatively.
And is God dead BTW ? Haven't read that issue, keen to know how it turned out.

To paraphrase someone, "Nothing solid" on that question.
So no concrete answers ? Ah well, the issue was probably going to be hard to get hold of anyway.
Re: the photoshopping that is all around us now:

This is part of what I do for a living - though I won't do it gratuitously - that is, I'll retouch if it interferes with the main purpose of the graphics/photo work we do - which is to help sell clothes by ensuring that they look good on the women & men in our ads, etc.

I'll retouch if the door jamb juts into frame and is distracting. I'll retouch to remove the dreaded camel toe. I'll retouch if the way the model's hair fell obscures the collar detail that's part of the featured embellishment, etc. (I'll also retouch something in particular if the client asks for it, but that is far rarer.) But I don't automatically reduce a waistline or take out a laugh line here or there or remove all moles or the millions of other alterations that many do as a matter of course.

However, I'm in a low-to-mid range world of fashion. In high fashion - as in any other high-profile advertising work - these changes are done as a matter of course these days. I'd be fired - or fail to get work - if my retouching at those levels didn't aim for flawless perfection (unless the look is grunge or scruffy.)

I can fly under the radar and get away with minimal changes because there aren't eight or nine creative/art editors and PR flacks and sales managers, etc. looking over my shoulder saying, "Can you just pull in that thigh a little bit?". I just have the client - usually the owner or manager of the business - who sees the photos from our shoots come out looking good and doesn't analyze anything too much, unless their clothes look bad or unstylish.

Many of the sweeping photo alterations - on almost every level of advertising, low to high - we see today wouldn't have been made in the past - although there has been retouching as long as there has been photography. These changes were simply too hard & took too long, which equals expensive and deadline-threatening in a world (fashion & advertising & entertainment promotion) that moves very quickly. It took quite a skilled artist, and screw-ups could not be undone as easily.

Lots of changes today are made simply because it is so easy to do and it doesn't require a whole lot of training/experience to do most of 'em. (Note: the guy in this video can can be annoying.)

Folks are (increasingly) ingrained with the notion that 1) thin is better and prettier and 2) flawlessness is automatically better and should be achieved whenever possible, whether or not the particular goal of the creation requires it.

I don't know what the answer is - but this is how we're manipulating the depiction of humans in photography partly because we can, and it doesn't require much thinking or effort to get it done (although obviously, there are crappy photoshoppers and skilled photoshoppers). For the most part, only a few women's groups are complaining about the relentless flawlessness that assails us daily, so little or nothing will change, I imagine.

Saje speculated that outright crappy photoshopping is less egregious than the cumulative effect of the subtle photoshopping that's done so well you can't tell - until your expectations of beauty get pushed to an unreasonable level without your awareness. I agree.

As Saje has also said, if the folks in the photos that have some clout don't complain that their retouched photos are phony when they are made to look better as well as when they are made to look odd, (and if the folks making or being served this inauthenticity regularly just accept it or do it unquestioningly or apathetically) then:

1) What we got here is some good ole-fashioned hypocrisy
2) Photos will just keep on getting increasingly unreal.

(Note: none of the above addresses the fact that most models are extremely thin, photogenic and young to begin with, creating a whole 'nother level of unreality in uniformity of depiction. But that's a tale for another day.)
Orangewaxlion Saje: I don't *know* that anybody except myself was confused about "The Purse." I read she got mad over the cover, they sent it as an apology/appeasment gift, and she returned it. I was confused about it since she's not a vegan and ostriches are ranched anyway, not hunted or trapped, and ranched for feathers and "the other red meat" as well as leather.
But if she just doesn't wear leather, it makes sense. Accepting a peace offering you have no use for makes the folks who sent it feel e better about themselves for no good reason. And it wouldn't be a practical charity donation; having lived in a shelter myself for a while, I don't think any woman living in one would *want* such an expensive item.

Saje BreathesStory barboo; I realize you were bantering, but in case you'd like some background, as I recall (I wasn't reading Time when I was in elementary school) the article was about the grassroots effects of the Death-of-God Theology movement of Hamilton, Altizer, and such. Thing is, by the time of the article, it was already becoming sort of old hat in the seminaries, and most undergraduate-level courses in religion no longer covered it by the 70s.
Of course, the broader question of how many people in the present-day public take God as a serious factor in their decisions is, well, broader.

And I still wonder what Darine Stern looks like today.

QuoterGal; since you work with photographs I guess you'd be the wrong person approach about drawing dinosaurs for the "novelogue" I'm planning :-).

[ edited by DaddyCatALSO on 2009-09-24 20:25 ]
Lots of changes today are made simply because it is so easy to do

When my daughter got her school photos last year, she was dismayed to discover that they'd removed all of her freckles. :)
barboo - CWDP FTW!

Very nice !
We have a winner.

Thanks Vague.
It's not secret that Sarah does indeed wear leather. The article is wrong, they didn't send her a leather purse; I think it was an expensive alligator skin purse.
Thanks Kyotoyoshi, I was wondering about the accuracy of the report on her leather wearing...I was pretty sure she wore it quite frequently...
Kyotoyoshi Blueskies : Back when it happened, I heard it wa sostrich skin. Given that both are ranch-raised and aren't endangered in the wild and given that Sarah isn't exactly an airhead and probably knows that, the only reason I can think for her returning the bag would be to say "I'm not interested in makign nice, you just shouldn't have doen that." Which would probably mean she has a whole lot more principles than I expect from anyone, in show-biz or out, in this pathetic excuse for a century.

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