January 17, 2008

Smile—someone somewhere is masturbating to your picture


Today, in the copy bullpen of Time Out New York, we were discussing the physical comeliness (or lack thereof) of the model for our previous two covers. Our latest cover is at left (I can't find the preceding cover online and I'm not about to scan it).

I know, it's hard to see in detail, but trust me here… People were commenting about how atypical, um, ugly she is for a model. Who knows—she's not my type. Some were marveling over why we chose such an unattractive woman to appear on our cover two issues in a row. Others opined that her lack of typical beauty made her more interesting.

But I noticed something: She's smiling on this cover. You don't often see that. In fact, the preceding issue's cover depicts her with that standard vacant-model stare on her face.

This is a pet peeve of mine, something I've never been able to understand. Why don't models smile? Why do so many of them look bored, or stoned, or distracted, or stupid? Is it supposed to make them more beautiful? (I know, I know—maybe they really are bored, or stoned, or distracted, or stupid.)

I don't see the logic of the nonsmiling-model paradigm. A model, theoretically, is in a situation, wearing clothes, whatever, that I'm supposed to want to buy/buy into. But if the model isn't enjoying herself, isn't having fun, why would I want to be part of it? I mean, sure, maybe I'd want her on a carnal level, but isn't the idea that the model is in a world I wish to enter? If it's so boring or enervating, why wouldn't I just stay where I am, wearing lousy clothes and not making $100-bill angels?

Some of this is probably sour grapes on my part, sure. Not that I ever wanted to be a model, or particularly sleep with one, but there's got to be something nice about being so physically beautiful (by someone's standards) that you can make a living from your face. So maybe I criticize because I'm trying to find fault.

Anyway, I'm casting about for a theory here. Is it because models are so cool? They're so awesome that the world bores them? Or is it in order for us to take them seriously? I'm reminded of a subway ad campaign from the late '90s; it was for KISS-FM, the local R&B radio station. Each add emphasized how the station played both old-school R&B and current hits, depicting an example of an artist from each era. One showed the Temptations, from their '60s heyday, side by side with Dru Hill. The Temps had smiles a mile wide, the Dru Hill guys had scowls that screamed, "We would kill you and/or make sweet love to you just as soon as look at you." Interesting. Certainly, in the '60s, black men like the Temptations had to look "friendly" and "presentable" (hence the matching suits) to get over with mainstream crowds. By the '90s, black culture had asserted itself in pop culture to the point where it was more important for an R&B artist (let alone a rapper) to keep it real, to look slightly dangerous, to refuse to tap-dance for the white man. My college pop-culture theory education comes back around again…

3 comments:

Marie said...

models do whatever they're told to do. i imagine some photogs/art directors think the vacant stare makes the model look "cooler," which would make the clothes/vodka/pixy stix seem more appealing. But this is used only for "high end" products. Cigarettes, sodas, department store ads use mostly smiling models. what they're selling is lifestyle--either a "cool" lifestyle or a "fun" lifestyle.

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