• Wed, Sep 7 2011

Does This People Magazine ‘Meet The Children Of 9/11′ Cover Seem Exploitative Or HUGELY Exploitative?

Are you curious? Let’s think about the staging instructions they must have given this little girl. Let’s call her America.

“America, do you think you can look up? Yes. That’s perfect. Big eyes America! Big eyes that POP! No, Look up. Like, to Heaven. Now think about how you never met your dad. Do you even know what he looked like? Yes, tear up, just a little bit for the camera. Oh, you have his picture on a locket? Good, hold that up. Hold it up a little higher, America.”

I’m actually betting whoever did this photo shoot did have to tell that girl that bit about the locket. Somewhere (on Father’s Day, actually, when they shot this) a photo assistant – one who generally takes pictures of celebrities sunbathing – was telling a nine year old how to position her dead father’s picture for the best camera angle.

But it’s cool! Because it’s about them moving on. Or is it? It seems upsetting to me that by using a weepy-big eyed girl clutching a locket picturing her father on the cover of the magazine, the focus is not on – as the article tagline states -  how she is a “portrait of hope.” She is actually very clearly designed to be a – highly exploited – portrait of devastation. If you are confused, check the big weepy eyes and brave tight lipped smile and locket again.

Which is, first of all, utterly unnecessary. If anyone has forgotten that 9/11 was devastating they are experiencing a crippling form of Alzheimer’s, and we should only pity them. However, if the title of the article was “Remember How Sad 9/11 Was? Hint: Really, Really Fucking Sad” then this picture would have been a highly appropriate cover.

However, if the focus of the article is how these 10 year olds and their moms have “triumphed over tragedy” then why have they chosen an image that looks like it could have been taken the day after the attack? Were there not a 1,000 different images of children playing in the neighborhood and families rebuilding and – come on. Anything but weepy locket photos placed next to “Jen and Justin moving in!”

“Which reality show couples make it?” Well, I supposed the ones not crippled by a national tragedy and the death inside themselves.

Really. They couldn’t at least give their already inappropriate image the full cover? Little America had to share it with some reality show couple twirling and giggling wildly as squirmed on each other’s laps? Again – this did not set off alarms in People Magazine exec’s heads?

And speaking of their moms – where are they? I don’t mean that in a “where were their minds that they decided to smack their nine year old on the cover of a national magazine to be a new face for our airborne toxic event” way. I don’t, though I do legitimately wonder whether little America’s mother ran home with a copy of People and said “look! You made the cover!” in which case, I can’t stand it, I’m sorry, I just can’t stand it. Being on a magazine cover is not a validation of pain, it is a validation of the fact that the print medium needs to prey on people’s emotions to sell stories.

That said, I actually mean that in a “Really? Only Fathers died in 9/11?” way. There were no women working in the World Trade Center that day? None? Because it was WWII? Couldn’t People have just said “lost their parents” rather than “lost their fathers?” But I suppose that doesn’t carry quite the same “brave war widow soldiering on” gravitas does it? Because if mothers had died, fathers would have been left unable to care for their children? Oh. Wait. Because shooting them on Father’s Day was more convenient and closet to 9/11 than Mother’s Day. Oh, well, that makes sense then.

Covers like this trivialize it and reduce it and break it down. What is sad? A little red haired girl who looks like she might cry is sad So 9/11 is sad. Look at how neatly and cleanly they did that.

But this sort of fake pain is bad, because it’s easy and cheap and manufactured by a photo assistant who tells the girl to hold her locket just so, and an editor who thought that shooting them on Father’s Day would give it a nice hook. It’s bad because it is not real, and because that is not how sadness works. Sadness does not come at you head on when you are checking to see how Justin and Jen are doing, it is with us all the time, because grief – especially grief over that particular tragedy – is part of what defines us. We are a generation who carries 9/11 around inside of us, and who remembers it in vague, strange flashes, sometimes late at night when we pass the financial district, not because we are being beaten over the head with a magazine where a carefully positioned girl says “look at how sad 9/11 was.” Because if that is how we remember, then we are forgetting much too much.

Nice that Beyonce is pregnant, though.

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  • sheherbano

    “Reality Show Romances: Who’s Lasted And Why”

    ………”Who’s”??!?!?!??!?!?!?!

  • Eve

    Sheherbano– I think “who’s” in this case is a contraction of “who has,” which is unusual but correct.

  • Caitlin

    I agree with the entire rest of your argument, but just wanted to point out that the reason that they are focused on the fathers that died on 9/11, is that these are children who were born after 9/11 (ie their mothers were pregnant at the time). If the mothers had died, then the children would have as well? I know, stupid argument, I just wanted to make sure this didn’t become an equal opportunity, since you know, the whole thing is kind of appalling.

  • marissa

    This reminds me of what former founding People editor Dick Stolley once said about choosing a cover:

    “Younger is better than older, pretty is better than ugly, TV is better than music, music is better than movies, movies is better than sports, anything is better than politics, and p.s. – nothing is better than a dead celebrity.”

    I’d be curious what he thinks of this one.

    Despite my knee-jerk response to agree with you on this, magazine covers are supposed to be powerful, and very rarely is a cover photo a clean, live, honest shot of emotion. New York Magazine’s 9/11 cover is gripping, but with all of its cuts of of smoke and the elimination of the towers to leave those clouds against the bright Sept. sky has also taken lots of work. Thought, planning, and finding a way to convey human emotions go into the creation of commemoratives. They’re going to be contrived.

    I also think the audience sees a bit of what they want to see in covers. Personally, I don’t see devastation in that face of that child at all. And while it was a poor editorial choice to include the gossipy tidbits on the right, I don’t find myself thinking EXPLOITIVE! Just bad.

    Really I’m tired of being angry. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. Just ignore it, along with the 9/11 commemorative wines, the 10th anniversary plates, tea towels, gold coins, etc.

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  • Heather Gray

    I think honestly that it is a beautiful Idea….we read about, heard about and watched LIVE on TV the wonderful faces of all these men and women who had children DYING and I think it’s absolutely wonderful to kind of see these men come back to life in their childrens eyes and be able to speak to us over a decade later. I do not believe they are intentionally leaving moms out and I do not believe for a second that this People edition was to “Exploit” the children of 9-11….It’s so refreshing and calming to hear from them after all the hurt us as Americans felt seeing their young fathers struggling for their lives minutes before losing their lives. I think allowing the world to see their strength is not only a good healing process for them but for us as a country as well. It tells us the in every bad situation no matter how dark there is always light SOMEWHERE! These children are it. I think they are all so very beautiful, bright and strong and I look forward to more positive updates on how they are doing in the future. Thanks you People Magazine :)