Monday, May 19, 2014

Vanity Fair's Lost Opportunity with Scarlett Johansson

Vanity Fair, for me, usually gets the gold star when it comes to jaw-dropping-no-stone-uncovered research that reveals savory details to set a foundation for lusciously written prose.

So I was pretty excited to see that the magazine had a feature spread on Scarlett Johansson, who I consider to be our generation's Marilyn Monroe on steroids. If anybody could do Johansson justice -- if anybody could give this starlet depth of respectful journalistic coverage like a down white blanket over the glittery sex kitten persona -- Vanity Fair could.



I was hugely let down by this story, and I felt it deserved a blog entry, because it's the epitome of the mistake that every single person who claims to be a "journalist" should avoid at all costs:

Inserting yourself into the story.

Right out of the gate, we weren't reading about Scarlett, but about this writer's penchant for playing it cool with celebrities and then being awestruck by her dazzling photo shoot in a posh hotel.

We get a play-by-play of lustful thoughts, as the writer struggles to regain composure and concentration for the interview.

Then, we see the writer's feelings hurt, as Scarlett "firmly" (the word used in the article) refuses a glass of wine before the interview begins.


The writer then veers off course to give us background of the actress's career, which, under normal article-writing standards would be just fine, except that we're still waiting for the "main event," as it were -- the actual INTERVIEW.

Finally (finally!), the writer allows Scarlett to speak.

But by the time we get to her thoughts, we basically are reading a shallow discussion, as the writer continues to wrestle with thoughts about how Scarlett now resembles more of a graduate student than a glittery icon. The depth of content is as scanty as the negligee this writer has been conjuring since setting eyes on her.

I put the magazine down feeling like I'd just picked up a wanna-be-Playboy-article -- but definitely not something worthy of the prestige of Vanity Fair -- and definitely not something that could have given this bright young talent the respectful narrative she deserved.

And it got me thinking about people who call themselves journalists but are more like voyeurs who happen to have a gift with words.

See .... once you put yourself and your feelings and your thoughts in a personal profile piece, you've lost the entire game. Your job is to give the reader an opportunity to live vicariously through you. They should be the one sitting in your interview seat, hearing the words through your ears, seeing the subject through your eyes, but not seeing you.

That's where we have to strike the balance as journalists. We bring the person to life on a page -- magicians who are unseen, conjuring the images and emotions with a masterful pen stroke that gives the reader the intimacy they crave without knowledge that we were even in the room.

Have you ever gotten in the way of a story?

I know we're all tempted to do it, and I'm sure that when faced with a larger-than-life persona, our own egos fight to let the world know that we were there with them.

But if the reader gives you enough respect to take a few moments to read words you have written, at least give them the respect they're due. Get your arrogant ass out of the way, and let the interviewee step to the forefront.

In this case, the writer for Vanity Fair basically shoved Scarlett to the wings of the stage and took its center. Her spotlight receded, while this person's waking wet dream jumped up and down and screamed for attention.


It got my attention.

But this story's writer -- and whoever edited this drivel -- didn't win what they were seeking:

A reader's respect.

And I have to wonder if Scarlett Johansson cast the piece aside, thinking much the same thing.

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