Thursday 22 August 2019

Leslie Ann Horgan: 'I'm having a serious issue with too many social issues'

Pop Life

Jane Fonda on the cover of ‘The Non-Issue’ of British Vogue
Jane Fonda on the cover of ‘The Non-Issue’ of British Vogue
Leslie Ann Horgan

Leslie Ann Horgan

My first thought on seeing the magazine was "about time". On the cover of British Vogue's May edition is the inimitable 81-year-old Jane Fonda with the words "The Non-Issue" written underneath. For a couple of seconds I thought that the headline meant just that; this was an edition not focused on any one particular social, political or ideological issue. "What a relief," I thought. What a brave move to go against the cultural current.

Of course, upon further reading, I realised I was wrong. The magazine is, in its own words, "a groundbreaking celebration of ageless style and beauty". It is age that's the "non-issue" in this instance - the magazine says it's taking a stance against age discrimination and the invisibility of women over 50 in the fashion world and media landscape. Bravo to that.

Ageism, particularly pertaining to women, is an important issue to tackle, especially coming from an institution as influential as Vogue. (Incidentally, it transpires that this is just a special supplement that will accompany British Vogue. The cover of the main magazine is a rather safer 45-year-old Kate Moss.)

Much as I applaud the effort, however, I won't be buying the magazine. Call me whatever the opposite of 'woke' is (asleep?), but I liked glossy magazines when they were simply filled with eye-wateringly expensive clothes, ads for eye-wateringly expensive clothes and articles about people with creative jobs and fabulous lifestyles. Now, it seems as though every magazine has to be flying the flag of some social crusade. Is there no room for escapism any more? Sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, abuse of power, body shaming and gender stereotyping are just some of the big issues of our times that can and must be tackled. I myself have used this column to address several of them in the past. In recent months, however, I find that I've reached issue saturation point - and I'm worried that it will tip over into full issue apathy.

Consider this past week alone: all male rock band Green Day came under fire for mansplaining after announcing they will be releasing a graphic novel aimed at "the rebellious everywoman", Rihanna's Fenty Beauty range withdrew a highlighter called 'Geisha Chic' after it was criticised for appropriation of Asian culture, and Miley Cyrus drew the displeasure of the internet and the US Parks Service after posting a picture of herself sitting in a Joshua tree - a protected and fragile species.

Then there was Justin Bieber, who had to apologise for a characteristically stupid April Fool's prank which suggested that his wife Hailey Baldwin was pregnant. Clearly he'd missed the previous week's court of public opinion ruling that Mother's Day is insensitive to those who cannot have children or who have lost their own mother.

Yes, sexism, cultural ignorance, Hallmark holiday insensitivity and the environment are all valid issues, but when everyone is shouting about being offended at the same time, they all get lost in the clamour. When everything is an issue, nothing is and we run the risk that a fatigued audience - bombarded everywhere from social media to glossy magazines - will, like myself, start tuning it all out.

Of course, a significant proportion of the noise is coming from those who see commercial opportunities in embracing woke views. When corporations cannibalise the big issues to make their brand look current or to sell us more stuff, is that not an even bigger issue?

While I'm sure British Vogue has good intentions in correcting a social imbalance that it helped create, it's noteworthy that the non-issue issue comes in partnership with L'Oreal Paris. In a post on Vogue's website, we're told that the magazine and the beauty brand have a shared vision about challenging stereotypes and positively shaping perceptions of age. Personally, I find that a bit rich coming from two brands who have long valued youth over all else - but right now I'm too jaded to take real issue with it.

(Oh and before you take to social media to shame me for the views expressed in this piece, don't worry - I'll use next week's column either to release a public apology or to write about the very serious issue of writers who have issues with issues.)

Irish Independent

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