Sports Illustrated accused of being offensive

Sports Illustrated is accused of being offensive by using a Chinese man, penguins, and an African tribesman as Photo: National Science Foundation

CHICAGO, February 17, 2013 — It’s a tough way to earn a living, but someone has to do it: They write about their anger, frustration, assaults on their tender sensitivities, and being offended, and they want everyone to feel the same way. 

These people can’t let any perceived offense go unmolested. The First Amendment be damned: Political correctness and so-called multi-culturalism must be defended at all times. Anyone who is the least bit “offensive” must be punished and demeaned for their infractions. 

And so outrage is being directed at “Sports Illustrated” over its 2013 Swimsuit Issue. The magazine’s crimes against tender sensitivities include posing white models with indigenous people in their native garb and with penguins in their natural habitat. That’s right folks, even penguins are protected by the politically correct multi-culti storm troopers. 

In an overwritten screed in Jezebel, Dodai Stewart unleashes her fury. She cites the usual tropes of colonialism, racism, and isms in general. She is appalled at the photo of a white model on a raft with a Chinese man wearing a conical hat. She argues that his use as an exotic prop is an endorsement of colonialism and engenders negative stereotyping of the Chinese people. The man pictured operates a raft on a Chinese river. Those are his work clothes. Should they have dressed him in a Speedo or some fashionable yachting couture? 

She reserves her real outrage for the picture of the white model posing with a spear and an indigenous man in tribal garb whose buttocks flash the camera. Another exotic prop. Perhaps they should have dressed the man in designer urban clothing replete with saggy below the waist jeans with his underwear clad buttocks flashing the camera, a pistol in his hand, and a blunt hanging from his lips. 

The indigenous people and penguins are referred to as “exotic props” as if that were something evil. No one ever comes to the defense of exploited Venetian gondoliers when they are used as “exotic props” in photographs, ads and movies. 

What is this angst over Kate Upton posing with penguins in Antarctica? There are no indigenous people in Antarctica. Maybe the exotic prop tuxedoed birds are a representation of the liveries who service the wealthy. Servants are an abused class and caste of people. Yes, that must be it. 

Yahoo Shine includes this nonsensical quote in its article: “These photos depict people of color as exotic backdrops,” David Leonard, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Department of Critical Culture, Gender, and Race Studies at Washington State University, tells Yahoo! Shine. “As with beautiful oceans, picturesque trees, people of color are imagined as exotic, as novel, as foreign, as uncivilized and as a point of comparison for the civilized white beauties scantily clad in bathing suits. Beyond functioning as props, as scenery to authenticate their third world adventures, people of color are imagined as servants, as the loyal helpers, as existing for white western pleasure, amusement, and enjoyment.” 

Here is another gem from the same article by a Professor of History and Ethnic Studies, Director, Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America (CSREA) at Brown University. “It’s understandable why some would find these photos disturbing. The juxtaposition of scantily-clad white, modern, cosmopolitan and western woman against natives, animals, exotic scenery, primitives (African native), traditionals (Chinese fisherman; ethnic minority girls in China); The exception is the photo of the Spanish bullfighters, in which case the model is suggestive of the bull. The white models are tourists and colonials.” 

We all learned something important. We finally know what an associate professor of Critical Culture, Gender, and Race Studies and a Professor of History and Ethnic Studies, Director, Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America (CSREA) do. They earn their living by being perpetually disturbed. 

Indigenous people wearing native garb pose for photographs with tourists and for professional photographers all the time. Members of some African tribes make a nice living doing so. This is nothing new and definitely not offensive, except to the disturbed whiners. 

There is no pleasing these people. Had Sports Illustrated traveled the world and photographed the models sans the “exotic props” the issue would still be criticized as demeaning to women, exploiting women, using women as mere sex objects, appealing to sexists, pornographic, and a host of other complaints and whines. 

If the magazine offered a glimpse of outdoor pursuits on the seven continents, sans the models, it would be accused of stereotyping indigenous people as primitive and penguins as predatory hunters instead of cute, entertaining, frolicking birds. That kind of stereotyping and exploitation is strictly reserved for National Geographic. 

Maybe next year “Sports Illustrated” should forget the models and just put skimpy swimsuits on the penguins.


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Peter V. Bella is a retired Chicago Police Officer, freelance journalist and photojournalist, cook, and raconteur.  He likes to be the irreverent sharp stick that pokes, prods, and annoys. 

His opinions are his and his alone. Mr. Bella is a member of the National Press Photographers Association, Online News Association, Chicago Headline Club, and the Society for Professional Journalists. 

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Peter Bella

Peter Bella is a retired Chicago Police Officer, freelance photographer, freelance writer, budding videographer, and passionate cook.  He aims to be the sharp stick that pokes and annoys.  The Middle Class Guy is a political column written from a center-right point of view.  While concentrating mainly on politics he will stray into culture, entertainment, sports, cooking, and humor from time to time, along with Memories of things Pabst.  All from a middle class perspective.

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