Tina Brown, you underestimate us. By us, I mean U.S., the nation of douche burgers and hibiscus beet sorbet, of Top Chef and Cake Boss, of ballooning obesity rates and sushi academies and molecular gastronomy—in short, a country of food lovers who do not need extra enticement to buy an issue of Newsweek dedicated to the 101 best restaurants in the world.
Your Aug. 13 cover could have stopped at a pair of tender asparagus draped across a plate and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. A summer cobbler with a dollop of sweet cream. A jewel-toned lobster on a bed of greens. Dayenu: It would have been enough.
Instead, we got phallic asparagus dangling suggestively above a woman’s open mouth, lips parted just so. If you want to stir up controversy, at least be clever about it; don’t insult your readers by treating them like Pavlovian drones who can’t resist a sexy picture. We’ll take or leave erotica. Steak is another story.
By now, of course, everyone should be used to Newsweek’s efforts to stay relevant as a print magazine (see: “The Fantasy Life of Working Women” and Barack Obama, the first gay president). And its competitor Time is certainly not without its own transparent provocations. Yet the cheesy innuendo of the newest issue seems especially desperate.
There are just so many things wrong with this cover. Though it is clearly supposed to suggest oral sex, the photo is anatomically perplexing. I count two stalks of asparagus in the image. Really, even hanging suggestively over a pair of crimson lips, they’re more reminiscent of legs, as if a little green Thumbelina were dancing across her adoptive mother’s face. What’s more, the picture isn’t even original photography. It’s a stock image, with prior appearances, for instance, in the U.K.'s Observer Food Monthly and Russia’s Harper’s Bazaar. So in addition to being clunky-obvious, borderline sexist, and a little bit gross (I don’t love forcing asparagus and genitals into mental proximity), the cover is totally uncreative. Newsweek art department, stop phoning it in!
Media critic Jim Romenesko recently published a letter from Tina Brown assuring beleaguered Newsweek/Daily Beast employees that the print magazine would live past September. That gives Brown and team at least a few months to realize they’re working from the wrong recipe and whip up something actually inspired for us. Might Justice Scalia be persuaded to re-enact the asparagus pose with broccoli? I would pay $4.99 for that.