Time has been known to court controversy with its cover images in blatant attempts to get attention on the newsstand: Ally McBeal as the death of feminism and that mother nursing a kid old enough to stand up immediately spring to mind. This week, the news magazine is at it again, though this time it’s not clear how intentional the baiting is.
The new cover declares “Gay Marriage Already Won,” but, for once, the mere depiction of gay kisses is not the source of the uproar. Instead, the issue is one of objectification: The cover comes in two versions, one featuring two gay women kissing, one featuring two gay men. And there’s a subtle difference in the staging, with the women open-mouthed and steamy and the men engaging in a wedding-like smooch.
Who knows why the editors chose the photos they did? Usually, that decision comes down to a bunch of intangibles: which shots are focused and framed the best, which shots look right in the space, and which ones simply strike a chord with the person making the final call. It’s entirely possible that person didn’t consciously realize the difference in passion levels. But let’s just say that if it was an accident, it was a telling one. Male-gazey American media tends to like its hot lesbian action — such a common male fantasy that it’s become a cheap TV ratings tactic… and a cliché. And it tends to still get a little weird about dudes making out.
Gay marriage may have “already won,” and the fact that we’re not all freaking out over the mere display of gay couples kissing on the cover of Time is a hopeful sign. But we still have some work to do on our societal attitudes toward sexuality.
Hollywood.com correspondent Jennifer Keishin Armstrong is the author of Sexy Feminism and Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, a history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, due out in May. Visit her online at JenniferKArmstrong.com.
Follow Jennifer on Twitter @jmkarmstrong