Magazine covers

Have you ever visited a foreign country and gone through the magazine racks at a news stand? Magazine covers say a lot about what's topical and what's valued by the people of a given culture. Although more and more people consume digital media these days, print magazines still sell. This lesson introduces you to the wonderful world of magazine covers and the conventions of this text type.

  1. Work in groups. Study Texts 1-5, which are considered 5 of the most controversial magazine covers of early 21st century. What stylistic and structural features do they have in common? Why do you think they were considered controversial? Discuss these two questions. Do some online research to learn more about why these covers were considered controversial. Do you agree or disagree with people's opinions on these magazine covers?

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  3. What are the structural features of magazine covers? What kind of features were common among Texts 1-5? Compare you list of common stylistic and structural structural features to those presented below. How are they similar or different?

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    Feature Example
    Title: The name of the magazine is a major element of the cover. Is the title of the magazine behind or in front of the subject / person on the cover? Consider its position in the layers of content. Foreground is more prominent. Background is less prominent. The white, serif font of the 'Newsweek' title on the red background stands out and is characteristic of an opinion magazine. Sarah Palin's head is in the foreground, making her stand out even more than the magazine title. 
    Ears and teasers: These refer to the upper left and right corners of a magazine cover or newspaper front page. They usually include 'shout outs' to other articles in the magazine, which may interest readers.   'A global innovation survey' and 'Obama and Fort Hood' reference popular stories in the media which readers of political magazines would quickly recognise. The black font on the red background is less prominent than the title. 
    Lighting and colour: The subjects or people that appear on magazine covers are often photographed in a studio with artificial lighting. This prevents unnecessary shadows and reflections. The colour palette of the cover will also set the tone and mood of the cover.  Sarah Palin is well lit, with some light reflecting off of her legs. The colour red appears in the US flag, the magazine title and her sporty top. Red is the colour of the Republican party and is often associated with political rallies. 
    Image: Magazine covers almost always include an image. Most often this image is a (portrait) photograph of a person or several people. People seem to be drawn to people.  Sarah Palin and the US flag appear before a window. Palin famously said that "I can see Russia from my backyard." No doubt the photographer had this in mind when asking her to stand in front of a window to her backyard.
    Symbols: If photographs are composed or constructed, then photographers may include props or symbols. Symbols provide a succinct way of communicating a message.  

    Palin's trainers, the US flag and her multiple mobile phones all seem to be on display as symbols of athleticism, patriotism and connectedness, respectively. 

    Heading and captions: Magazine covers often have headings and captions that capture the readers' attention and add meaning to the images. Like the teasers, these are meant to intrigue audiences and encourage them to buy the magazine to read the feature articles. 

    "How do you solve a problem like Sarah?" echos a line from The Sound of Music, suggesting that she doesn't follow orders. The caption clearly expresses the opinion of the magazine, claiming that she's "bad news for the GOP" (the Republican party).


  5. If magazine covers often depict people, then body language plays large role in constructing meaning. Study these aspects of body language and the examples of each in relation to the Sarah Palin cover. Then split up into groups. Assign each group one of the covers from Texts 1-5. As a group, give a short presentation on how the body language of your cover contributes to the controversy of the cover. 

  6. Aspects of body language Example
    Teeth: In the Western world, showing one's teeth, by smiling, may be sign of affability but also weakness Sarah Palin's smile makes her look more like a photo model than the future Vice President of America. 
    Gaze: Is the subject looking at the camera, to the side of the camera or to a far away place? The subject’s gaze has an effect on the reader. People in power are often distant and unapproachable. Looking into the camera, on the other hand, shows engagement with the reader. Sarah Palin looks straight at the camera, which also engages the reader in a friendly, approachable way. This does not exude power. 
    Hands: What does the subject do with his or her hands? Crossed arms tend to make one look strong. Fidgeting hands are a sign of weakness. Hands on hips, such as Sarah Palin’s, show force, defensiveness and independence. It is literally difficult to walk around her.
    Skin: Skin means exposure. Exposure may be a weakness or strength, depending on the photographer's intention. Exposed skin can also suggest sexual availability. You will rarely see female politicians with cleavage for this reason. In the case of Sarah Palin, skin could be associated with athleticism and power. But does she want to be judged according to her legs?
    Torso: If one leans forward, they are eager to engage with the reader or listener. If one leans backward, they are disengaged. 

    Palin is leaning against a tall chair, which suggests she needs support and lacks strength.


  7. Have you ever created your own magazine cover? Whom would you depict? For which magazine would you create your cover? Why would you construct your cover in the way you want to construct it? Use text- and photo-editing software, to create your own magazine cover as an Imaginative piece (see Portfolio activities). 
Assessment

Magazine covers may or may not have a 'sense of authorship', depending on the magazine. Therefore, they may not be considered a non-literary 'body of work' for your individual oral. As practices texts for a Paper 1- style analysis, they are perfect because they combine visual and written elements to construct meaning.

Last modified: Tuesday, 31 March 2020, 8:26 AM