3 reasons why I didn’t blog on the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue

Yes, the debate on the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition issue showed up in my facebook and Twitter newsfeeds and some friends even sent me direct messages with links to critical comments and analysis. None of this will be linked or featured in this post which is an attempt to ‘not write’ on this issue.
While I totally agree that the approach reinforces bad stereotypes and may even be racist there are three basic issues why I resisted engaging with the debate so far:

Web traffic doesn’t care whether you are a critical anthropological gender expert
In the brutal reality of the 21st century attention-fueled economy web traffic, clicks, mentions, hashtags are part of the media reality – and they are primarily driven by abstract numbers. When the Huffington Post claims that SI is
getting a lot of buzz for the wrong reasons and then include a 52 image series Relive past Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issues you are essentially learning a lesson in media hypocrisy.
What SI has achieved is that a significant group of people who normally wouldn’t bother with the publication is engaging with it – no matter how critical or unfriendly this engagement is. Si popping up in my social network and ‘filter bubble’ is a win for SI and publisher Time Warner.

Mainstream media don’t need ‘education’
For some time I have also believed that incidents like this happen, because the publication, editorial team etc. ‘didn’t know better’; finally, there’s a critical academic or blogger who can teach some more and educate the editorial team of SI on gender, development and all sorts of other issues. Because none of them knows how to Google (in case they really wanted some critical advice), none of them has a social science degree (in case someone wonders about 
‘stereotyping’) and none of them has any idea on how to get their content ‘viral’ (I guess those liberal critics will get into overdrive when they see those pics’).
Controversy is a very valuable currency and I’m pretty sure SI knew it was playing into the hands of critical commentators. The best thing that could happen to SI is that in the ‘aftermath’ of the ‘scandal’ the New Yorker or a similar quality publication runs a nice piece on SI and the ‘underlying’ issues. Better yet: Why not publish another issue with more culturally ‘appropriate’ images and a group of gender, development and anthropology researchers joining the set?! Plus you can feature
fresh ‘local’ talent. In the end, it’s a self-perpetuating dynamic without any ‘change or ‘lessons learned’ and more Sports Illustrated magazines sold.

Sometimes there’s no ‘bigger picture’ – just continue not buying SI
At the end of the day, deliberate ignorance can be bliss to some extent. Critical blog posts, increased traffic and more hits on Google’s image search somehow don’t do the trick. Resisting the urge to engage can be an equally valid option than engaging to resist.
I haven’t bought a single issue of SI and most of my friends haven’t either. That’s mainly because there are many big conceptual flaws in the concept of a Sports Illustrated magazine which essentially is part of our consumerist, capitalist society that oftentimes fetishes ‘sport’ for all the wrong reasons. Critique will hardly be reaching those who are committed to the ‘brand’.

At the end of the day, or at least this short non-post, we may think more on whether there are strategies to change perceptions on development (and a more just/equitable/participatory/diverse society) by sidelining mainstream media, their sound bites and simplified images.

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