Just when you think you’ve heard or seen or read it all, some magazine cover comes along to prove otherwise. Whether it’s Time’s recent breastfeeding cover throwing down the gauntlet to moms everywhere or Newsweek’s similarly timed rainbow-colored haloed proclamation that the president is gay, some magazine covers will enjoy a shelf life well beyond their issue date.
And it’s not always because of stunning photography, like National Geographic’s cover featuring a red-cloaked woman with haunting eyes. Nope, some magazines attain infamy by the controversy they stir up—at that point in time, of course. While this month’s Time and Newsweek covers figure to be in dubious company, here’s a look at the five most controversial magazine covers of the past 25 years as compared to some of their earlier contemporaries.
Vanity Fair, August 1991: Paper-thin models baring a lot—or even all—on the cover of a magazine is nothing surprising. But when a very pregnant Demi Moore showed off her baby bump and then some, it not only caused a stir—it inspired a string of copycats like Cindy Crawford, Halle Berry, Britney Spears and most recently Jessica Simpson. The pose was shocking the first time, but lately it’s become more commonplace than controversial.
Rolling Stone, Feb. 9, 2006: Avid readers of Time or students of history will remember its uproarious “Is God Dead?” cover from 1966. If that simple red-text-on-a-black-background cover generated more letters to the editor than any other issue in the magazine’s history, imagine the outrage over rapper Kanye West’s portrayal as Jesus with a crown of thorns around his head. Much more graphic than Time’s cover 40 years prior, but no less controversial.
The New Yorker, July 21, 2008: Politicos of any level knowingly open themselves to scrutiny and ridicule. Take Michelle Bachmann’s “Queen of Rage” or Sarah Palin’s short shorts Newsweek covers. Questioning the motives or justification behind choosing unflattering or sexist shots is not without a heated debate, but The New Yorker’s portrayal of the Obamas as fist-bumping terrorists in post-9/11 America crosses even that controversial line.
Rolling Stone, Sept. 2, 2010: Several controversial cover lists place Janet Jackson’s 1993 Rolling Stone cover—featuring her topless with her then-husband’s hands around her breasts—above the magazine’s “True Blood” cover with the HBO series’ three completely nude and blood-splattered stars. Does this signal a relaxation of social mores in the nearly two decades between the publication of the two? Or rather does the public hold its “nonfictional” stars to a higher standard?
Newsweek, July 4, 2011: File this one under “Controversy, Creepy.” Few other words can describe this cover that has no preceding equal that depicts Princess Diana’s return from beyond, not to mention how her aging process has (gracefully?) kept pace with the passing of time—thanks to, what else, Photoshop. Skin not crawling yet? Superimpose her image next to daughter-in-law Kate Middleton for one of the most bizarre and controversial magazine covers to date.