Edel Rodriguez's "Controversial" Newsweek Cover Illustration

Edel Rodriguez's Last week's Newsweek cover, "What Silicon Valley Thinks of Women," stirred up a storm of controversy on social media, news sites, and TV. The cover, illustrated by Edel Rodriguez and art directed by Grace Lee, was attacked as "sexist," "ignorant," "obscene," and "offensive." (Mediate has a good rundown of the many Twitter attacks on the cover.) The Today Show website ran an article titled "Sexism still alive and well in Silicon Valley (and on Newsweek cover)." and Techcrunch followed with "What (Some) Silicon Valley Women Think of Newsweek." The Today Show show even ran an outraged segment on their morning show.

Edel Rodriguez defended the cover and his illustration in interviews with PBS and the Huffington Post. He explained it perfectly to The Huffington Post:

"I wanted to depict the harassment that women suffer. How the harassment can be unexpected and come out of nowhere. To show that frozen moment of shock, when a woman is just going about their life at work and something like this happens. I wanted to have the viewer see that moment when they look on a newsstand, and to be shocked themselves. Then be compelled to pick up the magazine and read the story behind the cover. These harassers have spent much of their lives behind a computer, seeing women as objects. I wanted them to be confronted with their stupidity as well. Hopefully by seeing it there, frozen in time, they could come to terms with what they are doing."

Flavorwire weighed in and said, "Stop Freaking Out About Newsweek's Silicon Valley Cover and Read the Story." Their writer commented that "the cover was an extremely accurate representation of the content" that "did its job."

To put this controversy into context, we've asked for thoughts from former Time magazine art director Arthur Hochstein, and have collected a gallery of eight other Newsweek covers illustrated by Edel over the past few years. Edel (who was a longtime cover art director for Time International) has collected some of his interviews on the subject on his Drawger page.

(Above): Newsweek, February 6, 2015. Illustration: Edel Rodriguez, art director: Grace Lee

Edel Covers4.jpg(Above, left and right): Critical graphic responses to the Newsweek cover appeared online.

Arthur Hochstein was the longtime art director of Time who created over 1,000 covers while at the magazine. He's been through his share of cover controversies, so we asked him to give his thoughts on this one.

Arthur Hochstein: My first reaction is: Somebody is seeing a Newsweek cover? (I can say that because I used to work at Time). My second is: It's a funny, empathetic and spot-on expression of what is a very real issue. Political correctness is a shackle on free thinking, imposed by the very people who espouse free thinking.

This kind of thing (a provocative cover image) used to be something celebrated, at least before the ultimate echo chamber of the Internet became part of our daily reality. You did (you hoped) a great cover that might grab people, and broadcast it to, as Milton Glaser would say, your tribe. Those who weren't in your tribe never saw it, or didn't really care. Then it was pretty much over. (Except for those few covers with a long half-life.)

Nowadays, the image not only reverberates instantaneously and ad nauseum, but is used as fodder by anyone who has an agenda, pro or con, or gets reduced to a meme. By that point the cover itself, and the message it's trying to convey, are overwhelmed by the "debate" about it--the original idea conveyed by the cover gets lost in the crossfire. Because the playing field has been leveled, everyone's opinion counts. That's supposed to be a good thing, but all that noise cancels out all the other noise--it's just becomes meaningless static.

I saw an interview with the author of the piece, Nina Burleigh, who pointed out that many critics of the cover never even read her story. There was a politically correct, angry piling on that failed to see the ideas and nuance in the presentation.

At the end of the day, Edel did a smart, heartfelt image. In an age where the buzz counts more than the thing itself, it's a big win for Newsweek. A lot of people seriously did not realize Newsweek still exists. They do now. It's a big win for Edel, too, although he might not yet fully realize it. His work keeps getting better and better, and his presence and influence are expanding exponentially.

I used to have a little framed mirror in my office at Time that my father gave me. On it was etched: Illegitimi non carborundum, a mock-Latin aphorism meaning, "Don't let the bastards grind you down." Now before the PC police come after me, I'm merely saying if we censor ourselves to avoid any conceivable negative reaction, we're all the worse for it, and we'll live in a much duller world.

Here's a collection of eight other covers that Edel Rodriguez illustrated for both domestic and international editions of Newsweek between 2009-15.

Newsweek OSAMA COVER.jpgNewsweek, May 16, 2011. Illustration: Edel Rodriguez, art director: Lindsay Ballant.

Newsweek Gaddafi cover lo res.jpgNewsweek, October 31, 2011. Illustration: Edel Rodriguez, art director: Lindsay Ballant.

Edel Covers2.jpgNewsweek, September 14, 2009. Illustration: Edel Rodriguez, art director: Adolfo Valle.

Newsweek_Cover_black.jpgNewsweek, June 19, 2013. Illustration: Edel Rodriguez, art director: Robert A. Di Ieso.

Edel Covers3.jpgNewsweek, October 26, 2009. Illustration: Edel Rodriguez, art director: Adolfo Valle.

Newsweek Cover HI RES.jpgNewsweek, December 10, 2012. Illustration: Edel Rodriguez, art director: Lindsay Ballant.

Newsweek cover layout PM.jpgNewsweek, January 25, 2010. Illustration: Edel Rodriguez, art director: Adolfo Valle.

Newsweek 2013 Final Cover CROP.jpgNewsweek, special issue, 2013. Illustration: Edel Rodriguez, art director: Leah Purcell.

AN AFTERTHOUGHT:

George Lois covers.jpgGeorge Lois created these covers for Esquire in 1967. The headline on the left reads "The New American Woman: through at 21." On the right, actress Ursula Andress was made up with a black eye and cuts to illustrate a cover titled "Our growing obsession with violence." Lois is an icon for many of today's magazine editors and art directors, but you have to wonder how his covers would fare in today's hyper-sensitized and quick-to-criticize social media world.

Further Reading:
Stop Freaking Out About Newsweek's Silicon Valley Cover and Read the Story [Flavorwire]
The Artist Behind the "Sexist" Newsweek Cover Speaks [Huffington Post]
Artist Behind the Newsweek Cover: It's Not Sexist [PBS Newshour]
Newsweek Cover on Silicon Valley Sexism Lights Up Twitter [Mediaite]
  • FJGC

    Agreed!

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