The five most controversial magazine covers

By Hayden Donnell

In the wake of Vogue's heavily criticised Kimye cover shoot, we take a look at five of the most controversial magazine covers of all time.

Vogue's Kimye cover, centre, along with the covers of Vogue's, April 2008 issue, right and Vanity Fair's August, 1991 issue, left.
Vogue's Kimye cover, centre, along with the covers of Vogue's, April 2008 issue, right and Vanity Fair's August, 1991 issue, left.

Time, January 1939

Time's decision to pick Adolf Hitler as its 1938 Man of the Year has been subjected to criticism for decades. Many have accused the magazine of glorifying the genocidal dictator with its cover image of him at an organ, playing "his hymn of hate in a desecrated cathedral while victims dangle on a St. Catherine's wheel while the Nazi hierarchy looks on."

Time has always defended the cover. It has regularly reminded critics that its yearly award is given to the most influential person, rather than the most admirable.

Vanity Fair, August 1991

These days everyone from Brooke Shields to Britney Spears has done a revealing photo shoot while heavily pregnant. But when a seven-months-pregnant Demi Moore posed nude for Vanity Fair's August 1991 issue, it shocked critics the world over.

The magazine was subjected to an avalanche of criticism over renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz's cover image of the then 28-year-old star. Many conservative groups in the US found it to be morally objectionable. However, Leibovitz and Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown argued that the cover was a feminist statement and a counter to a decade dominated by power suits. Moore said it made her feel glamorous and beautiful.

Rolling Stone, July, 2013

With tousled hair and dreamy eyes, the man staring out of the July, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone could have been a rock star. Instead, he was an accused murderer.

Rolling Stone drew plenty of criticism for the cover accompanying its comprehensive profile of Boston Bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Boston's Mayor, bombing survivors and the governor of Massachusetts denounced the magazine. Several New England stores pulled advertising. A brief statement from Rolling Stone said it was important to examine the complexities of how Tsarnaev walked away from his potential and, in the words of the cover story itself, became a "monster".

Vogue, April 2008

Annie Leibovitz again stirred up controversy with her April, 2008 photo of NBA superstar LeBron James and model Gisele Bundchen on the cover of Vogue. It depicts the athlete screaming and bouncing a basketball with one hand, while holding the serene model with the other.

Critics said the image was racist, claiming it was an obvious nod to the poster for the 1933 film King Kong. James himself said he was pleased with the shoot, saying it was just him "showing a little emotion".

Esquire, April 1968

Muhammad Ali refused to go to war because of his Muslim beliefs. The most enduring image of the persecution he faced over the decision is him posing as a Christian saint.

Designer George Lois persuaded the legendary fighter to pose as Saint Sebastian for the April, 1968 issue of Esquire. When Ali protested that he couldn't pose as a Christian, Lois argued that it was "a symbolic thing".

"Anyone in the world can look at this thing and understand the imagery. And the imagery doesn't say that you're a Christian, the imagery says that you are a martyr," he said.

The response to the cover image was predictably boisterous.


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