There’s something vertigo-inducing about Bono’s editing an issue on Africa for Vanity Fair. The visual conflicts abound: Alongside Bono’s Guest Editor’s Letter about how many African children die from preventable diseases, a nude threesome promotes a Dolce & Gabbana purse; at the end of an editorial spread about 20 innovative covers shot by Annie Leibovitz, Dolce & Gabbana returns, using a piece of beefcake in a thong to promote a cologne. This is like reading an article in Playboy that condemns female genital mutilation.
About those innovative covers: If it seemed unlikely that President Bush would sit passively as Archbishop Desmond Tutu prayed (presumably for Bush’s soul), that’s because it didn’t happen. As Daryl Lang of Photo District News reports:
Bush was photographed April 13 in Washington while Tutu was photographed April 28 in Kobe, Japan.
Vanity Fair is making no secret of this, having posted Leibovitz’s impressive travel schedule online. The schedule reveals that none of the subjects who appear together across the 20 covers actually posed together except Bush and Condoleezza Rice.
… The print magazine, in which all the cover photos are reproduced inside, offers clues that portraits are composites, but never says so directly. “We decided that 20 different covers had a nice ring to it. That meant 20 individual photo shoots,” Graydon Carter writes in his editor’s letter.
It would be hard for a casual reader to realize that, to take one example, Sen. Barack Obama didn’t actually sit down with Muhammad Ali. Through the magic of retouching, some of the subjects actually appear to be interacting — Madonna caresses Maya Angelou’s arm, Chris Rock tugs Buffett’s ear, and Tutu actually embraces Brad Pitt. The portraits are edged with a black film border, making them appear to be processed directly from a negative.
Tutu did interact with Pitt for an interview. It starts at a parodic level of flattery:
Brad Pitt: It’s a real pleasure for me to get to speak with you.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu: You don’t know — I mean, my stock has gone up. When people knew that I was going to speak to you …
B.P. Let me say, I’ve seen all your movies, and I’m a big fan.
D.T. Thank you. God bless.
Soon enough, Pitt begins asking questions — well, really, they are declarations that sometimes end in question marks:
What is it about the great religions? Why can’t the great religions play well with each other? What are they defending? I’ll tell you my interpretation: it signifies a lack of faith to always be threatened and always to have to prove your way is the best. It seems again to be antithetical to the teachings of the individual religion.
… So certainly discrimination has no place in Christianity. There’s a big argument going on in America right now, on gay rights and equality.
… You have talked about Nelson Mandela and how he had every right, as well as South Africa itself, to come out of the apartheid machine embittered and wanting revenge and retribution. You guys came up with this radical idea — the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Quickly, you had two known routes. You could go for justice, retribution justice, as in Nuremberg. Or you could get blanket amnesty. But you came up with this idea for healing the country and a new definition of justice called “restorative justice.”
Tutu answers Pitt in a spirit that’s every bit as cuddly as the faux cover showing Tutu hugging his interlocutor.
Bono solicited several interesting essays, including a report on economist Jeffrey Sachs’ work, self-promoting details on how Bono’s (Product) Red sales have made a difference in Africans’ lives and a fascinating study of how everyone’s DNA ultimately points back to Africa.
“… I’ve always imagined that I hadn’t been a singer I would have been a journalist,” Bono writes in his Guest Editor’s Letter. “But, in truth, my bandmates saved me from disappointment, as I’m no natural editor.”