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December 1, 2008

Your Turn: Annie Leibovitz Turns Tina Fey Into New American Sweetheart … Or So She Exclaims

Tina Fey Leibovitz VF Cover.jpg

"Annie's going to photograph my soul, right?"

As perhaps the biggest star (after Obama) to emerge out of Campaign '08, I'm curious about your take on the new Tina Fey Vanity Fair cover. (I'm sure VF was thrilled to have her, by the way, after telegraphing — through a sour grapes set of parody covers — how they missed the boat with Barack.)

The scene is photographed by Annie Leibovitz, known for her commercial mastery in playing to and with the intersection of politics and entertainment. Besides my interest in just about every element on the page, I'm curious — just like Annie's Vogue LaBron James cover was born out of a World War I propaganda poster — what the historical references and implications of this image are.

And then, what's with that quote, and the situation of Tina between AL and Maureen Dowd? And exactly where is that flag planted?

What Tina Wants (VF Modo Cover Story)

(image: Annie Leibovitz. Vanity Fair. January 2009)

  • richard dent

    I’m way too in love with Tina Fey to offer any other useful comment.

  • Jody

    Looks to me like the reference is to “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” The flag appears to be planted in Canada, on the Ungava peninsula of Nunavik, Quebec, along the northeast shore of Hudson Bay. We’ve always known you wanted to conquer us.

  • ice weasel

    I would class this as a fail for AL. She’s better than this. It’s too cheeseball to be kitschy cool and the muted colors for the retro look make it look flat to me (maybe that’s the intention, if so, it’s still stinks).
    The modo piece was typically modo, mundane, all about modo.
    I did like the multiple image from the interior. I thought that was fun if not totally original.

  • thomas

    The quote reminds me of that anecdote wherein James Joyce was having his portrait painted and the painter was talking away about how his job as an artist was to endeavor to capture his subject’s soul in his paintings. “Don’t you worry about my soul,” Joyce apparently said. “Just get my tie right.”
    Whatever its design elements, this is still just a publicity image. Superficial, seductive, triumphal, etc. etc. Everything’s new and exciting, everybody’s got something to sell. No soul here, just saleswomen doing their very best to create enthusiasm. Empty.

  • vcInCA

    this shot reminds me of this image: (which was planted straight in the US heartland). Fey’s map appears to be planted at the intersection of the UAE & Iran, if i’m reading my map right (ironies, of course).
    on another front, fey’s stance/dress/hair are evocative of the burlesque revival, and even the 30’s-40’s patriotism (tho the flag backwards is weird-is this common, beyond the pic i reference?), and also evocative of some sort of revival of ‘american spirit/patriotism’ ala ‘come get er, boys, this is what you’re fighting for,’ wherein it seems that, by criticizing palin (among others), fey is being portrayed as a ‘true patriot’–and perhaps a sexier one (than palin) at that. evoking old, while citing new, all in the name of patriotism, it seems to me.

  • Brian O’Nolan

    Well, for a start, it’s a beautifully designed cover, in terms of composition and color and typography, something US magazines do the best. Even the barcode looks part of the pattern. The quote is obviously sending it all up – this is as far from an introspective, soulful look as you can get. Yet the color balance and Tina’s expression stops it from being brash; she’s guying the mood and respecting it at the same time, a very nice balancing trick.

  • bystander

    Great catch, vcInCA, on the parallel themes of the VF photo and the one you pointed to.

  • acm

    wow, vcInCA — I think that’s exactly what they were going for, with a dash of extra-sexy baton-twirler thrown in. very retro, a bit odd, and appropriately comical, i think, although one hates to lose Fey’s typical cat-eye glasses…

  • KansasKowboy

    Sorry Richard Dent, I saw Tina first.

  • db

    It appears to be a 48 star flag. Dislike Alaska much?
    Also, those look like welder gloves, even if they aren’t.

  • ivyleaves

    Dear Richard Dent and KansasKowboy, thanks so much for reminding us of the main purpose of this cover: to receive cash by pandering to and reinforcing the reduction of women, no matter how accomplished, to the ability of their physical presentation to titillate sexual interest and the blanket endorsement of the targets of the titillation. In short, it’s not a compliment to Tina Fey that you approve.
    The whole business makes me sad, especially since the article is by the execrable Maureen Dowd.

  • Recluse

    My first thought was Annie doesn’t like Tina. Then, the shot looks amateurish, slapdash, put together by high school kids giggling over the costume, Annie’s trading on her name. And the flag looks dirty. Beige not white stripes? Weird. And finally, we’ve come a long way baby, NOT! T&A and lovely gams, Tina. What else ya got? Do you have hopes your daughter will be more than a body? You’re not helping.

  • shane

    Oh beans to all a y’all. What, women are never supposed to appear except fully clothed lest somehow we’re being exploited and objectified (and by the way, we ALL objectify and I have no problem with it)?
    I love the photo. As Brian O’Nolan said, the composition and color are gorgeous, Tina’s her usual sassy, ironic self, and I dig the sort of silly triumphalism of the whole thing.
    Lighten up!

  • MandatoryMary

    The uncredited quote in Tina Fey’s factious voice seems to be an extraneous effort by VF to push us to see her as patriotic to the core (either that or a sultry leader of the color guard.) Do photographers typically get credited on the cover of VF? Is the extra fanfare of credit and dialogue between the artists an effort to point out the contributions of three powerful women in media all in once place?
    And now I’m curious about that LaBron James cover. What is AL saying in comparing the first black man on a VF cover to a giant, villainous gorilla?

  • Clem Guttata

    I think her stance is a perfect send up.
    It’s the equivalent of a wink, telling us that she’s making fun of the situation while also paying homage. Likewise, the quote. I heard “Annie” say in a recent interview (IIRC, on Fresh Air) that she doesn’t attempt to capture anyone’s “soul,” it’s just not possible within the constraints of what she does.
    Can anyone tell what that round symbol just under the V is?

  • Asta

    The Delta of Venus.
    I’m rather surprised no one has commented on the covert sexuality of the costume. The door’s open, come on in. To me, the photo is more about Sarah Palin than Tina Fey.
    Just saying.

  • JM

    @ shane: You don’t have a problem with people being dehumanized for other people’s titillation? That’s, um. Sad.
    @ Recluse and ivyleaves: Totally. I like Tina Fey, and I think she’s funny, but her feminism stops where her paycheck starts.
    @ Asta: Totally. My first thought was, “Oh! A vulva!” My second thought was, “Does she know?” But how do you not know?

  • bartcopfan

    Also, those look like welder gloves, even if they aren’t.
    db, nah, those aren’t welder’s gloves–the cuffs are ‘way too large (they’d catch hot sparks)! I’d say they’re more like horse-riders’ gloves. And yes, that IS a 48-star flag–the stars are lined up in 6 straight rows and 8 columns, not w/ the columns offset as in the 50-star flag.
    Isn’t the quote a variant on the supposed native American “steal one’s soul” view of photography?
    Clem, I too heard the Liebowitz interview on NPR’s Fresh Air w/ Terry Gross. What I remember AL saying (interpreting here) was that capturing the subject’s soul in a photograph was great if it happened, but that it was too elusive to count on (and could best be done if the subject was followed all day).

  • expatasia

    (tho the flag backwards is weird-is this common, beyond the pic i reference?)
    If someone is ‘marching forward’ holding a flag on a staff, that’s the direction the flag would ‘wave’ (backward on the staff).

  • ivyleaves

    So, I found a link to the article online. Sounds like Tina Fey is going with Alec Baldwin’s encouragement to sexualize herself in pursuit of fame and profit. The “soul” comment was pretty funny. I hope she comes to her senses and realizes that she is stealing her own soul, and that of her daughter, with this direction. Given the Annie Leibovitz Miley Cyrus cover, I imagine Susan Sontag must be rolling in her grave. Disgusting.

  • Victor F

    Annie Liebovitz sexualizing one of her portrait subjects should come as no surprise. Liebovitz gets famous people to take off their clothes, that’s her thing. People who are surprised by it are unfamiliar with her work, I think.
    I think Liebovitz’s photographs represent our desires as Americans to see famous people for who we think they are. Her photographs do less to expose who people really are, but reinforce our desires to see famous people unclothed, or as caricatures as in this photo of Fey. It is Liebovitz’s interpretation of our interpretation of Fey.
    It’s a very dynamic cover: the large, waving flag, saturated colors, triangles everywhere. And we already know Fey is a comedienne who specializes in playing characters, so dressed as a Yankee Doodle Girl, we could imagine a sketch of her parading down a street in a costume, pretending to be something or someone else. Which is what she does every week, right? So this photo captures Fey’s dynamic personality with her sense of playfullness as a comedienne. I don’t think it’s completely inaccurate, even if it is 100% contrived.

  • richard dent

    To ivyleaves:
    I didn’t say I loved Tina Fey because of physical attributes. Why do you ascribe that motive to me?
    In fact, I have long been a big fan because she has presented herself as a smart woman who doesn’t take guff and has a sense of humor. She was great on Weekend Update, for example. In real life, she is accomplished (writer, actor, producer, mother, spouse). I have always thought brains and personality are sexy.
    It wasn’t at my suggestion that she decided to pose for this cover. Personally, I think she shows too much skin/cleavage, and the clothes and pose is too overtly sexual.

  • Michael (The BAG)

    My initial take on this cover had to do with the twist on Fey’s role as a parodist — given away by the kitschy soul quote — as Victor so elegantly elaborates.
    At the same time, and picking up on what db said, I can also see it as a total, and ultimate rip on Palin. Call it Fey’s final triumph. Specifically…
    *Flag of the lower 48? Drives home point Palin ultimately a secessionist.
    *Outfit, parted as it is, making overt reference to continuous sexual undertones (the red panties a reminder of Fey-Palin’s signature red outfit)
    *Doesn’t the map look like Fey standing in Alaska with Russia in the background, the flag planted near the border?
    *Don’t those gloves, with industrial look, also connote plumber’s gloves?
    *And then, wasn’t Palin always playing dual role, as presidential material and American sweetheart?

  • desertwind

    That’s quite a hooch door on those drawers.

  • Brian O’Nolan

    There’s more than one reference in the comments to her “being sexualized”. As if she was somehow a-sexual, without sexuality, and the portrayal warps this innocence into sexuality?
    Only in America (and the Middle East) do you get this attitude – that sexuality is a bad thing. Someone said he was surprised that no-one had mentioned the “covert sexuality” of the image. Perhaps that’s because there’s nothing covert about it. Did he mean overt?
    As always, those uneasy with the portrayal of women as sexual beings tell us way more about their own hang-ups than about the image. To them, I’d ask them to imagine the Playboy (or even Hustler) equivalent, and save their anguish for something that warrants it.

  • Asta

    Brian, actually I think I had another word in mind but I still can’t come up with it. “Overt” is appropriate. There’s really nothing subtle about the costume.
    Freud would have a field day with this.

  • Kyria

    Brian, I think there’s a substantive difference between a sexual being and a sexual object.
    Just sayin’.

  • ivyleaves

    Richard Dent: I wasn’t the only one in the comments to assume this. Perhaps because of this: “I have always thought brains and personality are sexy.” Whether it’s the skin or not that you find personally sexy, it’s still all about how much sexual fantasy she brings to you, not her comedic brilliance. The entire existence of the Vanity Fair article is because she has become popular enough to sell some magazines, after all.
    Brian O’Nolan: I’m pretty sure you have no idea about my hang-ups. It’s very insidious, as Shane so aptly illustrates, that women are both expected to be pure and innocent (madonna) AND sexy fantasy fodder (whore) both at the same time, with a nice crazy-making coating of guess which when. We must conform to society’s expectations, even as they shift. I spent a lot of time battling the slut-shaming double standards of sexual behavior for the genders. Somehow this was much less troubling to the general population, and liberal men, than battling the reduction of women’s role to “hot or not?” I would wager that almost no comments show up on this blob with even one comment about how “hot” a guy is and nothing much else of substance.

  • JM

    @ Brian O’Nolan: What is meant by complaints about women “being sexualized” is not that women are otherwise asexual and should remain so, it is that women are being reduced to and defined primarily as sex objects. The way to tell whether a woman is being defined as a sex object rather than being portrayed as an actual human person is not to imagine how much worse a Hustler photo would be, but to imagine whether the image would still make sense if it were a man rather than a woman.

  • shane

    Brian O’Nolan, I agree with your take on this. Where’s the dehumanization? Our physical beings ARE part of our humanity, as are whatever choices we make to expose them to others. The photo reflects the totality, which is to say the complete humanness, of Tina….her charm, her spirit, her great humor, her intelligence, all of which are further informed by what we already know about her. Her unique sexiness and allure, which are an integral part of her personality and her humanity, are also on display to great aesthetic effect.

  • B.

    I like Tina Fey and I think she looks cute on this cover, nice composition, yada yada, but I don’t like this cover at all. I could make up some plausible reasons why I feel that way, but I don’t really know, its just my gut reaction.

  • bartcopfan

    I too heard the Liebowitz interview on NPR’s Fresh Air w/ Terry Gross.
    Of no importance, but the interview was on Morning Edition, not Fresh Air.

  • T.

    When I saw it, I thought of the talent portion of a beauty pageant contest…yeah, like, this could be sarah Palin.

  • Asta

    Showed this to my husband, asked him for his first impressions.
    (Aside: Husband is an engineer geek. Read whatever into that.)
    He said: It’s sexy in a vintage kind of way.
    Me: What about the costume?
    Hubby: What about it?
    Me: Don’t you see the sexuality of the skirt?
    Hubby: It’s no different than what all the cheerleaders are wearing. What’s your problem?
    So there we have it. It’s about cheerleaders, and maybe it really is.
    Give me an S! Give me an A! Give me an R! …… you can catch my drift.

  • s9

    vcInCA seems to have found the historical reference, if you ask me.
    The difference is interesting. In the historical picture, the flags of the United Nations (with the U.S. flag prominently located in the lead) have been replaced with a single U.S. flag. Also, the historical picture has the woman dressed in a marching band flag team outfit, whereas Fey is dressed in an outfit more reminiscent of burlesque.
    If AL is really drawing her reference from the picture vcInCA found, then her update on the image seems to promote an ideal of American exceptionalism. (I know: we should be surprised?)

  • richard dent

    Maybe others mis-read my comments, too.
    Are you saying I can’t find brains and personality sexy? What about if I just say “attractive?” I surely didn’t say anything about what you imagine as “how much sexual fantasy she brings to [me], not her comedic brilliance.” I respond to TIna Fey, and her comedic brilliance. Like I said, it wasn’t my idea for her to dress up like this.
    I haven’t read the article, so I can’t respond on that.
    But you are correct to say: “The entire existence of the Vanity Fair article is because she has become popular enough to sell some magazines, after all.” But how does that impact the discussion of the photo? She could be popular (she is) and a magazine could run a photo of her dressed like at SNL, or in one of her films. I would be at least as interested, and I am not alone.
    I agree with you there remains a double standard about women’s sexuality, but I don’t agree that it is created only by men and suffered only by women. This very cover was shot by a woman and posed by another. Both are powerful, and voluntarily made the choices to create and display this image.
    Men also are subject to societal prejudices (ask a short guy, or a poor one) although I am not saying they are equivalent or equal.
    I appreciate that you responded to what I wrote. Let me ask to consider this.
    Your post responding to Mr. O’Nolan takes issue with what you think is his idea of your “hang-ups,” as he doesn’t know you. To the extent he was saying that, I don’t blame you. But you don’t know me, and on what I think is scant-to-no evidence, you attribute thoughts and motives to me (objectifying sexual fantasy rather than appreciating brains and personality) that don’t exist. I don’t like it any more than you do.

  • Karen

    Great catch on the origin photo, but AL took a bit from the “Vargas Girl” as well.

  • Janus Daniels

    This is not a picture of Tina Fey. It is a picture of Sarah Palin, as played by Tina Fey. The comments don’t address that.
    “Annie’s going to photograph my soul, right?” adds a heavy hint.

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