Just a week after a KKK-endorsed candidate became our president-elect, America is back to business as usual. Nobody knows this better than People magazine, which celebrated Trump’s win with a glamorous cover story on “his life, his family, and his astonishing journey.” People’s coverage walked a fine line between normalizing the reality TV star and glorifying his underdog story. But as one of the most-read magazines in the U.S., with a circulation of more than 3.4 million, People has no business normalizing this man or fawning over his unexpected political ascent. Yes, People may cater to readers who enjoy poring over photos of Jennifer Aniston in empire waist blouses—but that doesn’t mean that it’s not staffed by intelligent, aware people, who doubtlessly have things to say about our 45th president that don’t fall under the tidy umbrella of “his astonishing journey.”
People’s victory coverage came just weeks after the magazine published a story by a former writer, Natasha Stoynoff, about being assaulted by Trump in 2005. In response to inevitable backlash, editor in chief Jess Cagle insisted, “I assure you that the cover on the president-elect is in no way a celebration or endorsement of this deeply polarizing figure. And we continue to stand steadfastly by Natasha.” Of course, a fuzzy feature on a man’s family life doesn’t exactly read like steadfast support of the woman he reportedly assaulted. Instead of peddling slideshows that celebrate Ivanka Trump’s “way too cute” kids, People could have focused on some of the many issues that will directly affect its readers in the coming months. We all know that Ivanka and her wealthy progeny will survive a Trump presidency—what about the rest of us?
As we all await the first season of Trumplandia and the season finale of America as we know it, many celebrities and politicians have urged unity and optimism. People magazine has answered this call as only they can—by turning away from politics and promoting their annual Sexiest Man Alive issue. This traditional crowning of a walking, talking six pack marks an uncomfortable return to business as usual. Apparently, a week is the allotted amount of time for critiquing a media outlet’s shameless, shoddy coverage, before our unquenchable thirst for pictures of hot dudes gets the better of us. Don’t get me wrong—I’d take this People magazine cover of a beautiful, cappuccino-colored human boulder over last week’s glamour shot of an unnaturally tanned septuagenarian any day. But gifting The Rock with this sexy title hardly compensates for glorifying a man who is, both personally and politically, a threat to women.
From its celebration of Ivanka and her family to its lame tradition of annually honoring one straight, technically attractive, usually white Hollywood hunk, People isn’t just on the wrong side of history—it’s positively retro. If done correctly, Sexiest Man Alive would be a feminist endeavor, not a nail salon joke. But the award consistently makes only half-hearted attempts at reversing the male gaze, treating man candy with far more respect and deference than a female pin-up would ever receive in a mainstream magazine. When profiling accomplished actresses and female musicians, male writers—even those from “serious” publications like Vanity Fair and The New York Times, let alone those from Sports Illustrated—often seem to exclusively consult their own erections. If Sexiest Man Alive is billed as our once-a-year opportunity to ogle some man candy, let’s really give the people what they want: full and total objectification. Instead, we get Dwayne Johnson in jeans and a white T-shirt. He isn’t even lifting up the T-shirt flirtatiously! Then there’s the tame caption: “He’s sweet, smart—& sculpted.” The man is so muscular that he’s literally named after a solid mineral material, and you’re trying to talk to me about his personality and IQ?
Of course, publishing high-def pictures of The Rock’s anatomy won’t reverse the effects of centuries of female objectification. But if the 2016 Sexiest Man Alive cover isn’t going to be a picture of a nude Matt McGorry reading The Argonauts and calling his local congressman, can we at least get a shot of some pelvic muscles? This isn’t rocket science, People.
This Sexiest Man Alive cover also doubles as a platform for The Rock’s budding political aspirations. We all know that The Rock is a former professional wrestler and the current voice of demigod Maui in the upcoming Disney animated film Moana. What you may not know is that the actor currently known as Dwayne Johnson may be eyeing a 2020 presidential run. No, really. In his People interview, Johnson muses, “I used to say it jokingly but every time I was asked, it was with a real genuine interest…So I started to really think. Could I make a difference? Could I surround myself with really brilliant people to help me make decisions? Do I care about this country? And when the answers continued to come up yes, then I thought, there’s a good chance. Yeah, one day. Then we’ll do another interview like this.”
As The Rock recently told Vanity Fair, “This past election shows that anything can happen.” But is Johnson as qualified a political candidate as he is a national hunk? Earlier this year, The Washington Post ran an article outlining Johnson’s “weirdly plausible path to a political career.” According to the Post, the Fast and the Furious star’s political strengths include being a mixed-race registered Republican in the crucial state of Florida, as well as being one of the most consistently likable stars in America. In a subsequent Instagram post, the actor shared a screenshot of the piece, adding, “More and more pieces like this are popping up due to the Presidential election and they're cool/fun to read...I care DEEPLY about our county...and the idea of one day becoming President to create real positive impact and global change is very alluring.”
Johnson has a proven record as a public patriot. In the wake of the death of Osama bin Laden, The Rock famously tweeted, “Just got word that will shock the world - Land of the free...home of the brave DAMN PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN!” Johnson’s social media soundbite was quite a surprise, since it was published a full 45 minutes before any of the major networks broke the story. In a subsequent interview, The Rock explained, “I got friends in high places and low places...The individuals who were there were proud to let me know. I knew the president was going to give his speech; I thought he was going to give it at a certain time and so I thought, I think it’s appropriate that I tweet ‘I’m damn proud to be an American’ and keep it in that space without giving away too much information.” In retrospect, Johnson’s decision to protect his sources and use appropriate discretion could be construed as downright presidential.
Understandably, a fellow ex-reality TV star’s recent win has further galvanized The Rock. In a recent interview, when asked specifically about a future White House run, Johnson responded, “If I felt like I could be an effective leader for us, and surround myself with really high-quality leaders, then sure, I would.” If elected, The Rock would join a growing group of presidents who seem more interested in fame and media coverage than the nitty-gritty of daily governance. In fact, the actor may be perfectly content to rest on his sexy laurels. After learning of his new People-bestowed title, The Rock said, “Wow, we’ve pretty much reached the pinnacle.” He continued, “I’m not quite too sure where we go from here. I’ve done it all, this is it.” Johnson is clearly wrestling with the classic question of which is more prestigious: the United States presidency or the title of People’s Sexiest Man Alive.
It’s too early to say whether or not The Rock will join fellow celebrity Kanye West in vying for the 2020 presidency, or if his campaign will stick with his original slogan, “Can you smell what The Rock is cooking?” What we do know is that he would have the support of People magazine, which has proven both willing and able to fawningly cover celebrity candidates. Here’s hoping we all make it to the inauguration of our next President Johnson.