My feelings about this are varied and complicated (and LONG, so I apologize), so let’s break them down together. (Or you can skip to GFY Kanye’s take at the bottom.)

[Photo: Annie Leibovitz/Vogue]

1) The look:

The dress fits her nicely. Credit to Kim for putting some zip into her eyes, too, but right half of her face is in semi-sinister shadow, which I LOVE imagining is because Anna Wintour secretly authorized a dash of Evil Shading. The lips and stripe of makeup on her left cheek just look half-assed, though. I’m sure the idea was to focus on the diamond engagement ring and nothing else, for some kind of forced regality, but overall, the lack of any other styling feels boring to me — surely an aesthetic choice to keep things extremely simple, but the result is that it looks like Brides, and not Vogue.

2) The Pose:

If the story is about both of them, it’s bizarre to me that Kanye is relegated to a footnote who’s just sniffing mopily at her neck; I agree with the praise for an interracial couple being on the cover, but if that is truly the achievement, then I don’t know why they couldn’t stand there more proudly as equals. Instead, he is stiffly cuddling the air in front of her uterus while her hands equally stiffly seem to be keeping his at bay. Why put him there at all? This feels like a compromise, as if Anna would only do it if Kanye were present, and Kanye is actively trying to force Kim front and center anyway so that he can call it a win. SPOILER: GFY Kanye agrees with that.

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3) The Editor’s Letter:

Even if it’s true, Anna Wintour is never going to come out and say, “Kanye TOTALLY brokered this deal with me, are you kidding?” But in addressing it at all, she gives the most careful and possibly transparently tepid endorsement of Kim ever; I can practically picture her gagging at her desk and thumbing through a thesaurus for ways to euphemize “sex tape”:

“Kanye is an amazing performer and cultural provocateur, while Kim, through her strength of character, has created a place for herself in the glare of the world’s spotlight, and it takes real guts to do that.”

It’s strength of something; self-promotion, self-belief, self-shilling, and yes, the ability to work hard, if that work is the business of being herself and changing clothes like a paper doll for each successive public appearance. I don’t harbor delusions that there is much of a personal touch to the Kardashian Empire beyond stamping their name on things and holding them in public with a sultry half-smile, but certainly all that travel and posing takes up time that she regularly spends, so… she excels at being busy. In my opinion, it doesn’t particularly take guts to stand in the glare of a spotlight you sought and pushed and shoved your way into with such relentless zeal. So Anna, let’s not pretend Kim’s ascent has anything to do with her insides nor her sterling core — or at least don’t let’s pretend you think that. Don’t tease us so, you sly fox. I think saying nothing is better than saying something that rings so absurd. Kim is a salesman, period. And it’s okay to admit that.

4) Why did she cave?

To be honest, the story of the machinations behind the scenes, whatever they were, is more fascinating to me than the fact of the cover itself, and I hope Vanity Fair tries to tell that story someday. There are rumors that Anna banned Victoria Beckham from her cover — someone who has carved out an actual place for herself in high fashion and IS a respected woman with talents in that arena that nobody anticipated, nor can deny — which makes it sit strange and suspicious that she turned around and handed one to a person who make klothes for Sears. Kanye is a legitimate pop-culture force, but Anna would never have put him on the cover by himself. This is also bizarre because Anna supposedly fought this cover for so long. What changed? I can’t think of anything Kim has done in the intervening time to change Anna’s mind, except a) yoke herself to Kanye, which absolutely shouldn’t be the definition of her worth by anyone’s math because that’s awfully archaic, and b) wear more stuff that’s questionable. It’s not like she discovered cold fusion and/or went and got a neuroscience degree — and THANK GOD for that; nobody needs her poking around in their skulls — nor did anything to shade the public perception of her. If anything, she’s someone who MAY deliberately have offset the PR loss from one spectacularly ill-advised and embarrassing marriage by finding herself a bigger and splashier one, and Willing To Accept A Lot Of Nonsense So You’ll Accept Me OOPS I MEAN FINDING TRUE LOVE FOREVER is not really a positive character trait. We all know money is driving every magazine, but Vogue usually covers it better than this, which is part of why it feels so disappointing and unsettling.

I’ll be honest, I never thought it would happen. I didn’t think Anna Wintour would want to endorse even tacitly likes of Kris Jenner — not even KIM so much as the craven Kris — and I thought she’d rather die than look this grasping. Her reasons can’t just be that Kanye begged her (unless he has photos of her with Roger Federer doing something unseemly, and frankly, if I were Anna, I’d rather just be like, “Great! Release those, because OMG I NEED TO GLOAT”).  The tenor of the cover — the Cosmo-like hashtag on the cover, the “selfie” story about Kate Upton, the half-hearted commitment to any other teasers — suggests that even Vogue knows there’s no point to caring that much about anything else in here, because it’s JUST a way to go all-in on trying to monetize Kardashian (or Kimye) Mania. It’s not like Vogue is the only one to do this, but it is the most surprising. Newsstand sales, buzz, a more plugged-in reputation (not to mention the heady rush of being wooed by people who treat you like the only thing they can’t live without, and maybe some iTunes gift cards); all of those are lovely things. But does Vogue need any of those things? Doesn’t it feel a bit desperate? Does the Fashion Bible of Record really need to court public opinion this much?

It makes me wonder if Anna feels pressure from within, or without I suppose, to bend and flex and be perceived as having her finger on the youth pulse so as never to be accused of being out of touch — or whether Vogue is getting a rep as as too much of a dinosaur. Or both. In her letter, Wintour says:

“Part of the pleasure of editing Vogue, one that lies in a long tradition of this magazine, is being able to feature those who define the culture at any given moment, who stir things up, whose presence in the world shapes the way it looks and influences the way we see it.”

Setting aside the BS factor there: Doesn’t that — the pop-culture part; the world’s appetite for her in spite of its distaste for her — all make a better argument for putting her on, say, Vanity Fair, and not Vogue? And therein lies the spike in this cover’s punch: If Vogue were REALLY embracing Kim as worthy of its cover real estate, it would give her the same treatment it gives the other people it respects. She would get a proper editorial spread, and a profile on her as a person, instead of as half of what’s being sold on that very cover as a trend piece. Make no mistake, that is a careful stroke from Anna: Making the story about how we can’t stop talking about Kim puts the onus on the world instead of on Vogue, and basically says, “You are the ones who made this person, not us; we’re just looking at the aftermath of what you wrought.” It is not an endorsement; just a magnifying glass. And it feels very much like Vogue simultaneously making the decision and ducking it, like if Vanna White called out “I’d like an X, please,” and then, when none turned up, still stood to the side of the Wheel board pouting at Contestants Row with deepest sympathy, as if it wasn’t her voice at all.

That comment, to me, is also purely so Anna can sleep at night feeling like she acceded to something purely by the letter of the law and not by its spirit. I also think, as a statement, it’s only half-true. Vogue did put The Spice Girls and Lena Dunham on the cover, but moments like that are few and far between; more often than not you get uninspired pics like the November cover of Kate Winslet. I wonder if Anna’s attempted rationalization speaks more to what Vogue wants to become and what we’ll see down the line, and could spark an interesting discussion of what Vogue’s place actually is in the landscape — or whether this points to an identity crisis on Vogue’s part that takes it to a place where it’s less about celebrating art, and more about celebrating commerce. Or was it already there? If an annual YouTube issue is next, you’ll know someone’s seat is getting hot.

5) How do we all feel about it?

I’ve said that I think caving on the cover — not just the fact of it but the sudden reversal on it — makes Vogue look like it lacks confidence in its place in the world; it’s peculiar and grasping. There was also something really nice about the fact that there was a threshold that one couldn’t cross simply by releasing a sex tape and then standing on its shoulders and waving until we couldn’t stop looking. I am not clutching my pearls over it; Vogue isn’t precious to me. But I’m not cheering the decision either.  Kim Kardashian is not an underdog for whom I was rooting, and not somebody who I believe has been void of long-deserved respect. Nothing, least of all a Vogue cover, is owed to her simply for willing herself into existence. But she DID will herself into existence, and that IS a skill. It’s kind of like, don’t hate the hustler, hate the hustle. The world let her in; kind of like Two And A Half Men, there is an appetite for her, even if nobody you know personally is one of the people consuming it.

This doesn’t really have to do with Kim herself, but it’s been nibbling at my edges: I read an argument in which someone claimed this cover is a good thing because it’s super inspirational that she survived the slut-shaming of having revenge porn broadcast on the Internet. My concern about that argument is that I think it is extremely revisionist, and that because Kim has become incredibly famous, people want to absolve her of the really dumb (NOT slutty; just silly) thing she did by turning it into some kind of battlefield from which she emerged triumphant, rather than being like, “Yep, she did that, it was dumb, but she’s still here.” If anyone slut-shamed Kim, that’s terrible. But I think the world at large was just ridiculing the act itself. Kim made a sex tape. That’s fine. You watch whatever you want to watch on your own time, Kim. But it was PROFESSIONALLY LIT AND EDITED AND MONTAGED — seriously, there are shots of her walking on the beach intercut with it — which makes it the vainest and stupidest and most pointless of exercises UNLESS you plan on the world seeing you in it (or do you? AM I DOING IT WRONG?!?), so it’s nuts to me that she, and anyone, pretends she minded that it came out. She has said it made it hard for people to take her seriously, and yet its existence is the only reason she has an image for people to take one way or the other. She owes all her notoriety to it — and received from it, like a gift, an equally exploitative reality show that also makes it impossible to take her seriously. You can’t get a push up a mountain and then claim that push gave you blisters. Let’s not recast this as anything other than the fame grab it was — it’s not slutty; it was simply calculated — and in fact, acknowledging that is a better story. Her REAL triumph is that everyone in the WORLD believes that sex tape came out with her blessing, and yet she’s still here. And that’s not the first, second, or even third thing people talk about when they bring up her name. Own that, right? And as an aside, I get worried when people leap so quickly to using the term “slut-shaming” because that term has an actual cautionary purpose — it exists for a very real reason — and it would be bad if the world gets to a place where a person can do whatever the hell they want and then shut up their critics by calling it “[noun]-shaming.” That’s not why the term exists. It’s not a Get Out Of Jail Free card, or whatever. It’s a real thing people go through.

6) In sum: This cover is what it is. Kim Kardashian is what she is. Both are here, now; neither can be undone. Its just a cover, and in a month or two we’ll forget that we cared, and Anna knows that. The fact is, Kim Kardashian is an immovable force. We don’t have to like it, but she is what’s happening right now. It would be hypocritical of me to whine about it. We have made the decision ourselves to keep kovering Kim Kardashian. People have asked us to stop paying attention to her, and while I completely understand the request — I personally choose not to give her shows nor her merchandise my time or money — it doesn’t make sense for us to do that, because the fact of the matter is, pretending she isn’t going out in krazy klothes won’t make her go away. She isn’t relevant to fashion itself, but she does relentlessly put on its clothes to peddle herself; she uses her self-made platform to push a personal style she clearly thinks is edgy and intelligent and aspirational, and her evolution (or lack thereof) on that front is related to what this site does. To ignore that simply mutes a large part of the pop-culture conversation. It’s like denial. It doesn’t help anything, so let’s just all hold hands and march forward into the morass and hope someone better is on the other side.

Vogue may agree. It is allowed to take the temperature of pop culture water and decide to jump in; what rubs me wrong is it then turning around and pretend it was swimming in the pool all along.

However, if Anna next puts the Housewives of Wherever on the cover, I MAY clutch my pearls and move to the moon, just me and Justin Bieber and Richard Branson and Lance Bass (aren’t they the ones with tickets on Virgin Galactic?) and please SWEET LORD also David Beckham and a girl I can hang out with, like Emma Stone, so we can repopulate up there, and we are going to start over together and it will be really awkward and the first generation of our children will have a 50-50 chance of being douchebags, but we’ll deal.

7) However: If you want a cover subject who, in Anna’s words, “define[s] the culture at any given moment, who stir[s] things up, whose presence in the world shapes the way it looks and influences the way we see it,” the name of a person who’d fit that mandate is right there on this cover. Mindy Kaling has gotten where she is by writing, performing, and producing; she is sort of polarizing, in the sense that some people get her show and some don’t, but her tone is very much of the times, she’s used social media and the Internet to further her persona in clever ways (remember her blog?), and she folds the very pop culture she is part of into the show she’s making. She is impressive and charismatic, and she is a strong, smart woman of color who is confident in her skin and her size, in a way it would credit Vogue to recognize. Obviously Vogue doesn’t want to chase Elle, but giving Kaling her own cover — not one out of four, or whatever; one in color, which features more than just her face and can’t be confused for a DeBeers ad — would be a stronger avowal of hard work and character and pop culture and diversity than Kim and Kanye, in my opinion. I don’t mean this to feel like a stump speech, but it just makes me laugh that this issue gives off the whiff of Vogue trying really hard, and in fact a better solution may be right in there under their noses and they missed it.

8) In GFY Kanye’s estimation: “WE DID IT, FOOLS — I TOOK VOGUE TO SCHOOL AND PROVED THAT I RULE BY GETTING THEM TO FUEL THE FAME OF MY BABY-MULE, AND NO, THAT’S NOT AN INSULT BECAUSE MULES ARE DOPE. NO DISRESPECT. THEY REALLY KNOW HOW TO CARRY THINGS. BUT I DIGRESS. I LAID DOWN THE LAW AND GOT STUCK IN ANNA’S CRAW, AND SHE SAID SHE’D PUT US BOTH ON AND CALL IT A DRAW, BUT I STILL SAY I WON, BECAUSE I HID A TON, SO THE MAIN PART OF THE PICTURE IS THE BAKER OF MY BUN. SO THANKS ANNA WINTOUR, AND A HEARTY BONJOUR, FOR TAKING AN ATTITUDE DETOUR WITH YOUR BIBLE OF COUTURE AND MAKING IT A BROCHURE ABOUT MY LADY SO PURE AND HER VIBE SO MATURE. SHE WILL NEVER BE OBSCURE; INSTEAD SHE’LL ENDURE, AND NOW THAT YOU’VE ENSURED. SO THX. THE CHERUB RUG WITH MY FACE ON IT IS IN THE MAIL.”

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