Social Distancing Not

How are these April covers consistent with what should be practised in the community?


HW vs Nuyou April 2020

It isn’t clear what these two SPH titles are supposed to mean or reflect, but one thing is apparent: the latest covers of Her World and Nuyou are not in keeping with the times. A trio and a quartet, especially when fashionably togged, appear to be what they are—a social gathering, now bane and ban. That they comprise individuals (models in one group and new Mediacorp artistes in the other) that undoubtedly fall into the category known as Gen Z, a not-easy-to-comprehend, don’t-wish-to-be-comprehended bunch, considered to be self-centred and indifferent to the present pandemic, intensifies the problems  of the covers, specifically the ‘optics’.

These photographs could, of course, have been shot before social distancing became the catchphrase and must-do that it has, but do they need to be placed right there on the front? Could a substitute not be found before readers scream “tone-deaf”? Monthly magazines typically go to the printers thirty days before they hit the newsstands, in the middle of the month. If both titles were due to be on sale on 15 March, it is possible that the cover photographs were decided by 15 February. At that time, we had a total of 72 confirmed COVID-19 cases, making us the worse-hit country outside China, which, ten days earlier, had announced the lockdown of the entire Hubei province. A little foresight on the part of the publications would have allowed the anticipation of a pandemic. Perhaps it was until Italy’s initial lockdown on 9 March that the worse was imaginable. By then, the well-occupied magazine covers would have seen their advanced copies sent to their respective editors.

The cover of the 60-year-old Her World, abbreviated to HW in 2017 (a pair of single-syllable words needs to be shortened?), is a composition of two reluctant faces and one vacuous smile, with an announcement at the top-right of the page, “Youth Takeover!” (exclamation mark conspicuously bold), now sounding a tad ominous. Given the bad light youngsters have cast on themselves in the wake of “elevated” social distancing measures, this photograph is, at best, untimely. If covers speak of the current climate, perhaps Her World is on to something, yet one can’t ignore the irony of this pictorial and textual emphasis on youth during a disease outbreak particularly detrimental to old people.

Nuyou, a Chinese magazine, has English cover blurbs. The Now Issue, it highlights, but what is “now”? For many (mainly the authorities), now is not the time to gather (in fact, this is one of three covers. Nuyou proudly declared on IG that these comprise the most artistes on a month’s covers to date—14 in total!). Proximity aside, what truly caught our eye is how heavy-handed the digital enhancement of the faces of the models is. “Brimming with youth (青春洋溢的他们)” isn’t enough to assure admirable skin. Complexions have to be refined to the state of completely no pores. Magazine covers is where Photoshop is mortician, perfection is imperfection, posterity leads to afterlife. Cover images are, of course, more durable than we are. And probably more than one pandemic-causing novel coronavirus.

Photos: respective magazines