You might suppose that Vogue magazine would have learned to be a lot more careful about its cover stories, after the landmark outrage of its February, 2011 cover spread lauding Syria’s Asma al-Assad, wife of the dictator.
Who can forget that cover story? Profiling Asma as “A Rose in the Desert,” writer Joan Juliet Buck gushed on and on about Asma, first lady of Syria: “glamorous, young and very chic — the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies.” Vogue treated its readers to a tour of Asma’s “wildly democratic” life with her husband, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, and described Asma as leading a down-home life of style and good works, answering the door of the presidential residence herself, “in jeans and old suede stilleto boots,” and rushing around, “breezy, conspiratorial and fun,” accessorized with little more than her Chanel agates and a Syrian-silk Louboutin handbag.
It was all about rebranding Syria’s regime as open, modern, classy. Asma, according to Vogue, was on a campaign to promote what she called Syria’s “brand essence.”
The month after Vogue ran that cover story, Syria’s people rose in open protest against the Assad regime — protest that has now gone on for 14 months, to which the regime has responded with hideous violence, shelling, shooting, jailing, and torturing, with a death toll now topping 10,000. During these horrors, as we now know from leaked emails, Asma whiled away some of her time with high-end online shopping.
Now, in a more subtle manner, comes another Vogue exercise in branding — this one featuring United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on the May cover of Italian Vogue. In this case, unlike that of Syria’s regime, there is at least some reasonable justification for the advertised aim — which is “rebranding Africa.” Reportedly, L’Uomo Vogue is trying to create a better image for Africa’s more successful ventures, calling attention in an accompanying press release to “a positive side to the continent.”
Fair enough. But in that case, why on earth is Ban Ki-Moon the cover celebrity for this issue focused on the better side of Africa? In an article on this latest bout of Vogue creativity, the Guardian suggests that Ban is such a big draw — interviewed by Italian Vogue editor Franca Sozzani — that his starring appearance suggests Vogue is serious about giving Africa a boost.