Blind Man with a Pistol

King James, Undercover

LeBron James, who is often pipped as the best-dressed man in the NBA, recently became only the third man to grace the cover of Vogue Magazine. What’s more, James is the first African-American man to ever feature on the most-prized spot in fashion. The image is certainly forceful: the powerful, 6’8″ James with the graceful Gisele Bündchen hanging off his arm. But magazine analyst Samir Husni is quoted by the Associated Press saying that the image “screams King Kong…[the cover] brings those stereotypes to the front, black man wanting white woman.”

Such statements will doubtless attract criticisms of oversensitivity, even of actively searching out racism in an otherwise innocuous work. But, when juxtaposed with the other two men who were lucky enough to find their way on to Vogue, Richard Gere and George Clooney, the choice of dress, colour scheme and pose remains significantly different. In fact, Clooney, in the June 2000 issue, also poses with Bündchen in a very different arrangement. Where is his animalistic energy? Richard Gere, with his then-girlfriend-cum-supermodel Cindy Crawford on the November 1992 cover, expresses a refined, vulnerable air. The three covers maintain the same red lettering, the same pairing with the world’s most powerful model (let the irony of that one slip by for now, please). So why, we are compelled to ask, did Vogue opt to put the sartorially slick James in a tanktop and shorts, mid-scream?

Of course, it is difficult to rebuke a magazine built on tapping into cultural codes and assumptions and reproducing them on a quarterly basis. A casual glance through their cover archives is enough to recognize every cultural stereotype around: the pale waif, the sultry minx, the savage amazon, etc. So what’s the story here?

Cover images from