Saturday, June 04, 2011

La Isla Bonita? Bruno Mars and Joan Smalls' Vogue Spread

To view entire spread, please visit the Noir Façade LJ here.

Whenever I hear that Puerto Rico is going to be featured in a magazine, I don't really get excited. In fact, I usually dread the publication. Why? Simple. There are only a couple of ways this will go:

1) Puerto Rico is amazing! It has lots of liquor, lots of beaches! Sun! Sand! What? Did I leave the metro area? Heavens, no!

2) Puerto Rico is a terrible place. Ridden with homelessness, unemployment, drugs, and violence. Plus, everyone's lazy. Lazy, lazy! Oh, could you bring me another Piña Colada.

I know that these are very general and stereotyped points of view, but unfortunately, they are the most common. Puerto Rico is either black or white. San Juan or nothing. Romanticized or horrific. This is why I'm particularly annoyed at this new Vogue spread. It just keeps perpetuating most of these ideas.

While it is very pretty (If, perhaps, a bit contrived), it is not Puerto Rico. It is the dream that many have of Puerto Rico. It doesn't even look like it's taking place in the 2000s, it looks like the stereotypical versions of 50s PR. Of course people are disappointed when they arrive. It is nothing like what they see. Puerto Rico, often promoted as the Isle of Enchantment (Isla del Encanto), is quite a nice place, but it is not a dream. We are still a colony and we are rife with political controversy. The English language and USA are explosive topics here, so be careful where you talk and how you express yourself.

But at the same time, we are people trying to get by. We depend mostly on tourism (though we have some serious brains going on, with many engineers coming from the old alma mater and going on to NASA or government posts), but we take great pride in our island's beauty and our ability to adapt and survive to changing political and literal climates. Our yearly hurricane watches are metaphorical and factual: if a natural storm isn't coming, you can be sure that some political or security related brouhaha is.

This is another fine example of Vogue going to a place and imposing their vision. I was already ticked off with Liya Kebede's Africa spread ("From Here to Timbuktu"), and the many vogue spreads that put ordinary people alongside or in outfits/accessories that cost more than they could ever hope to make (a recent example would be a Vogue India spread).

Sure, editors argue that it's just fashion. (Or as the Vogue India Editor said, "We weren't trying to make a political statement or save the world." And that people should "lighten up". (The Fox is Black) However, I firmly believe that it's not just fashion. As magazines leading in sales, and magazines that many people buy because they covet or are inspired by what's inside, they are sending out a message. They are saying that this is what's right, what's good, what's acceptable. And I can't go with that. It sells you their dream, but what about ours?

I love my island. Despite its flaws, it can be a beautiful place. And I hate it when people don't even bother to try to know it at all because they believe what the media feeds them. San Juan is not Puerto Rico. We are not a perfectly quaint or retro land. We have homeless. We have a homeless animal problem. This year, we've had the biggest criminal wave in a long long time. But we have incredible food, an unabashed love of fun, wonderful beaches and an impressive history. Seriously. Give the island more of a chance.

There are also other questions raised by this spread: Bruno Mars is half Puerto Rican. But he is also part Filipino. Why did Vogue choose to come here? While Bruno Mars certainly does identify with the Puerto Rican part of his heritage, why did Vogue choose to follow through with that? Why not Filipino?

I am glad to read that Bruno Mars was happy to visit Puerto Rico, and I have nothing against him. I listen to his music and enjoy it. The point of this post is to discuss Vogue's utter disconnection with the general population, and it's disregard of reality in the name of fashion.

Don't believe everything you read. And read Vogue with a pinch (or more) of salt.

If you are interested in the issue wherein this spread is featured, it's American Vogue's June 2011 edition.

Works Cited and Consulted:

The Fox Is Black. "Vogue India's Fashion Spread Stirs a Controversy". < > "Vogue India Fashion Spread Stirs Controversy". < >

Noir Façade Livejournal. "La Isla Bonita | Joan Smalls & Bruno Mars by Peter Lindbergh for Vogue US June 2011"< > "Liya Kebede in Vogue's From Here to Timbuktu". < >

Versatility, Beauty, and "Vogue Controversy". < >

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