So is this the real Michele Bachmann – or just a cover story?

<em>Picture: Office of Congresswoman Michele Bachmann</em>
Picture: Office of Congresswoman Michele Bachmann
Funny how?

Republican Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has made the cover of Newsweek magazine, which should represent a triumph for her.

Unfortunately, there is an easy consensus from both left and right that the senator for Minnesota looks, to be frank, odd. While focusing on the funny-ha-ha, The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart contends that the intention of Newsweek’s famously liberal editor Tina Brown was to make the woman they’re calling Sarah Palin 2.0 look funny-strange.

Fox News think it’s a left-wing conspiracy.

“Some people look at this picture and think Michele Bachmann looks crazy, “ Brown said, in a rather unconvincing rebuttal. “Some people look at it and think it’s the next president of the United States. The fact that these two things are no longer mutually exclusive is what I think makes it pretty compelling… This is a very polarizing moment in politics and this cover absolutely captures that moment.”

Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s sketch-upload site Funny or Die has certainly made merry on the issue.

The real problem is that great magazine covers – portraits of high-profile individuals, anyway – tend to do one of two things: capture someone’s essential essence, or play with it to change perception or surprise.

Both are normally – but not always – done with the subject’s blessing. Here, in no particular order, are five magazine covers which do one thing and five which surprise:

Five covers which captured someone in a moment…
1 – Andy Warhol, Esquire, May 1969
Art director George Lois’s covers for Esquire were expert at capturing the essence of a story. So much so that they made them into a book. Lois worked in advertising, too, which made sense when you look at how he helped Esquire sell Andy Warhol.

2 – Demi Moore, Vanity Fair, August 1991
Not only Hugh Hefner knows that plenty of nude women have graced covers, but Annie Leibovitz’ portrait of a nude pregnant woman got America talking. And, no, that is not Ashton Kutcher’s older brother in there.

3 – Kurt Cobain, NME, April 1994
Sometimes an image can say more than a hundred obituaries.

4 – Vladimir Putin, Time, December 2007
In modern terms, the two main portraiture photographers are Martin Schoeller and British photographer Platon. Platon’s shot of Vladimir Putin was not in itself noteworthy, but Time’s pronouncement of the Russian leader as 2007’s Person of the Year was the real talking-point.

5 – Suede, Select, April 1993
The music press likes to think of itself as starting scenes. It could be a challenge to round up the lapsed Melody Maker readers who will petition on behalf of the “Romo” and “New Wave of New Wave” movements. This cover actually did start what would become Britpop. While the rest of the music press was shoegazing and had their eyes fixed on Seattle, Select saw something in the burgeoning British music scene featuring Brett Anderson in front of a Union Jack. Under two years later, Damon Albarn shouting “Wake Up, America” from the stage of Blur’s all-conquering Brit Awards.

…and five covers which flipped the script
1 – Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, W Magazine, July 2005
A happy families shot of the Jolie-Pitts wouldn’t look shocking now – the weekend papers carried shots of them outside a west London branch of Halfords. But before the ink on your divorce to Jennifer Aniston had been filed (that was August), going to an upscale fashion mag with your new girlfriend, fashion photographer Steven Klein and some imaginary weans is pretty out there.

2 – Ice-T, Rolling Stone, August 1992
After the riots (remember them?) in LA, Ice-T released a charming ditty with his band Body Count called Cop Killer which had Moses himself (OK, Charlton Heston) walking into a board meeting at Warner Brothers and parting the Red Sea of shareholders. Rolling Stone had a novel way of soothing the biggest story in America that summer – this.

3 – Macaulay Culkin, The Face, November 2002
Terry Richardson is a provocative photographer. And The Face certainly had plenty of provocative and iconic covers. Any number of Kate Moss, Kylie or Madonna images could have been chosen. But Kevin from Home Alone. This time it was the readers who affected both hands to cheeks and opened their gobs.

4 – Britney Spears, Rolling Stone, December 1999
A long, long time ago there was a period last century when Britney Spears appeared on magazine covers with her clothes on. Then Rolling Stone and David LaChapelle talked her into this. (Note to magazine editors: next time a truculent pop star tells you they won’t share a cover with another artist, remind them Britney shared hers with a Teletubby.)

5 – Diana at 50, Newsweek, June 2011
What would the late Princess of Wales have made of life in 2011? We’ll never know. That didn’t stop Tina Brown trying to have a controversy-rousing guess.

The Michele Bachmann cover is problematic because if she wasn’t complicit in the way she was represented, it doesn’t seem entirely fair. Voters in America will soon have their chance to make up their minds on the candidate, but whether this cover captures her essential essence is unsure. It could tell us more about the magazine editor behind it.

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