Recently, there has been a lot of controversy regarding the Entertainment Weekly cover that featured a scantily clad Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe. While everyone is entitled to their opinion about the nature of the cover shoot, this humble podcaster believes that everyone needs to chill the heck out. But, really, what does my opinion matter? I talk into a microphone in my studio with my wife about this show and while I absolutely adore my listeners/readership, my pull in the Outlander community can only go so far. The one opinion about the cover that actually mattered, however, was that of Diana Gabaldon herself – and she made sure people people knew she was going to weigh in on the controversy.
Weigh in, she did, and it really surprised me. Hit the jump to find out what she had to say and why I was ready to pounce ALL OVER her – but couldn’t.
So before we get into any of this, let’s take a look at the cover in question just in case you have been living on Mars with Matt Damon for the past few weeks.
Man, I still can’t get enough of this photo and neither can our staff – read all about it here. Whatever you want to say about the cover, whether it’s good like us, or critical like other well known Outlander Blogs, you have to admit that the picture is freakin’ sexy as hell.
And not just for either women, or men – it’s steamy for both.
But, there have been some people that have complained about how the cover didn’t tell the complete story of Outlander, or that it’s “selling out,” or that it’s soft core porn, etc. That vocal minority was so adamant that many people felt compelled to address those claims, including Diana Gabaldon.
Soon after the “controversy” started to gain traction, Diana published the following status on Facebook:
Essentially she was inviting people to talk about the cover without giving too much inclination on what she thought. Not one to shy away from social media posturing, it was a unique thing to do for Diana – call the cover “scandalous,” encourage discourse, and then see what happens.
Do I think she was trying to get the temperature of her fans before she committed either way? Well, eh, no. Not entirely. I don’t think Diana has ever had a problem sharing her opinion – torpedoes be damned. But, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention this as a possibility for her social media tease.
Either way, I was dying to know what she thought about the cover.
If she were to disparage the now infamous cover photo, I was going to pounce all over her potential negativity. In fact, I was going to write a piece so scathing that if I had published it, I might as well have taken this blog, poured gasoline all over it, lit a cigar, and watched the whole thing burn in a glorious blaze right down to its virtual ashes – people would have been THAT pissed off about what I would have had to say (more on this in a bit).
If her remarks were positive – well, I’d back her up no problem.
Regardless of her choice, I was going to tell you, the reader, the truth about what I felt. Good, bad, or ugly. Let me just say, I was quite impressed with DG’s response.
But before I tell you why I was so impressed, let me say first that from what I’ve heard, the books are great. (If you don’t know, no, I have not read them yet. And I intend on keeping it that way because I like being a show-watcher only. I also am a HUGE Ron Moore fan, and trust him to give me a fully realized adaptation of Outlander.) That being said, even though I still don’t understand why people call her “Herself,” I do respect Diana’s work, her accomplishments (as she is more talented in writing than I am in any aspect of my life), and the sheer creative nature that she must possess to develop such a lush, vibrant story. But, in light of my relative newly-indoctrinated membership to this universe, I will freely admit that I’m not as invested in Outlander as our many readers and still have yet to see the “smoking gun” reason for the zeitgeist surrounding the story. Although, I do suspect this will probably come with time.
Outlander, its fandom, its podcasts (including mine) its blogs (including mine), the books, and everything in between aren’t the end-all-be-all for me. Which, given my role as podcaster, is a good thing because not worshiping at the temple of all things Gabaldon affords me the chance to analyze/interpret and ingest the (slightly) less biased bigger picture of Outlander. In other words, Outlander and DG are not the rock upon which my modern era of entertainment is built. (In the spirit of full disclosure, that space for me is reserved for the likes of only Damon Lindelof and JJ Abrams.)
So the next morning, I opened Facebook to see if DG has posted her response to the “CoverGate” and like any good blogger, I had my figurative lighter in hand, ready to watch the world burn – just in case.
I was prepared for the worst – a huge piece condemning EW, which would have cataloged how the cover was pedestrian, insensitive, inaccurate, demeaning, and a poor representation of Diana’s authorial triumphs. It was a reasonable expectation considering how she framed the teaser status, and the fact that she asked the readers to compare the (admittedly “scandalous”) EW cover to the more academically attuned cover she personally designed however many years ago. It even almost felt a little like a loaded question. Moreover, she has expressed in the past how her opinion has differed with the people who run STARZ, or the show beforehand – so it was certainly plausible.
But then, a most curious thing happened – I read her eagerly awaited response (click here for the entire facebook status) and before I could even bring out the slightest hint of my inner Joker, I actually agreed with what Diana had to say.
Her response was well-written (it would be hard to imagine anything else), tempered, and even a little critical of the naysayers. I was genuinely impressed with DG’s response to EVERYONE.
The part where I fully bought in, however, was when she says:
“If you honestly think this cover is “smut” or “soft porn,” then all I can say is that y’all should maybe get out more. If you’ve ever watched television in the UK, you’ve seen more explicit things than this three or four times in an evening. If you’ve been watching “Outlander,”(as theoretically you have) you’ve seen much more explicit sexual encounters on several occasions. Were these not “smut”? Is it OK to watch “soft porn” in the privacy of your home, but intolerable that other people should glimpse it on a magazine cover?”
That’s it. Pack it up, ladies and gents – call it a night. You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.
This is all that needs to be said about the cover. I couldn’t have crafted a better statement myself. But for the sake of this exercise, let’s keep going.
In the end, neither she, nor I, can help if you’re a prude. Sorry – if you don’t like that idea, or you disagree with that assertion, well, this is America and you’re entitled to your opinion. But I can’t help that person who doesn’t like this cover because it makes them feel “uncomfortable,” or if they’re worried people won’t watch Outlander because the cover doesn’t properly encapsulate every waking detail about RDM/DG’s story. That’s a preposterous claim, and an even more preposterous expectation. Even Diana is aware of how problematic it can be to try to find a single shot to tell the complete story:
“For those complaining that the EW cover doesn’t properly express the depth, complexity, etc. of the story (books or show)…well…no. It doesn’t. Would you like to suggest a pictorial cover that a) would express that, and b) would appeal instantly to a wide audience? It’s one image; there’s no conceivable way for a single image to encompass this story, or a fraction of it. A magazine cover is meant to do _one_ thing: attract eyeballs. With luck, said eyeballs will zip to Jamie and Claire, but will also see the word ‘Outlander’…. It’s _one_ magazine cover. To assume on the basis of this that the whole world will gasp in horror and make a note circled in red to Avoid Watching Outlander, at all costs, is…perhaps a trifle over-reactive.”
Outlander fans claim an inordinate amount of ownership over their favorite work. Many are very touchy, overly sensitive, quick to condemn and/or defend, and are extremely vocal no matter what. Which, I suppose, is a good thing and a bad thing. In fact, their feeling of ownership is almost as much (and I stress the word ‘almost’ very heavily here) as those people who love Star Wars. (I would most certainly fall into this category for Star Wars by the way.) Too often, however, some fans have ascribed an aura of infallibility to Outlander.
My unique perspective of the Outlander fandom has shown me that while there are fans who are totally realistic about their expectations of Outlander, there are also those fans who think Outlander is “just the greatest book/TV show ever!” and can do no wrong (and I suspect that most of the critics of the cover fall into this category). These people are entitled to their opinion, and I respect their undying love of Outlander. Truly I do. I, too, really like Outlander. But, it is not above reproach. I mean, Outlander, in terms of just the television show, has A LONG way to go if RDM intends to knock on Breaking Bad’s door.
When an episode of your perfect and venerated show/story STARTS with Jamie orally pleasing Claire in bed for no other reason other than just, “because,” even the cover’s most ardent detractor has to admit that a major (load bearing) pillar of the show is sex. Humor me here; where was they public outcry when that scene happened? Where, exactly, was the call to action for sensible nature at that point? Guess what, there wasn’t one. So, say it with me now (even in whispered acknowledgement if you must) – it’s OK.
And, get this, ready for me to bake your noodle?
Putting the idea of sex-in-Outlander, even it’s implied nature, on the cover of a magazine is OK, too.
Beautiful people sell magazines. Sex sells magazines. (Hell, Cosmopolitan has based an ENTIRE company on sex and beautiful people). And when your show has beautiful people like Jamie and Claire, who have (married) sex as often as they do, guess what’s going to be advertised? It’s not gonna be the Scottish hills, I’ll tell you that much.
In fact, the magazine has created such a buzz that the show has received more publicity than ever before! But, don’t let me tell you that; let Diana herself tell you:
“God bless those of you who _did_ express outrage, concern, or dissatisfaction, whatever your motives for doing so. <g> Because nothing—and I do mean nothing—makes more effective publicity than controversy. By objecting and writing blog posts and heated comments, you’ve done more to stimulate interest in the show (and by extension, the books) than the EW piece could ever have achieved had it been received with universal approbation by fans. So thank you!”
Kendra Spring Klasek, Editor In Chief of this blog, made a STELLAR point to me while proofing this article when she said, “that cover was the stroke of genius from STARZ that we’ve been begging for, and those fans [who complained] were biting the hand that feeds them.”
Dear Lord, is she correct. We’ve waited God knows how long for STARZ to catch the lightning-in-the-bottle that would give Outlander it’s due and it finally happened. People are talking about it on multiple levels and popular interest is finally piqued. But, now that’s not good enough? Now we’re playing down to the lowest common denominator of sex? We’re suddenly above that aspect of humanity? Highlighting sex appeal is ok for everything else, but not Outlander? It needs attention, but not THAT attention?
What are we, six years old?
As a book reader, or even show watcher, you know that sex, and sex appeal, are HUGE parts of the Outlander story. This is not a recent revelation. You already read what was coming in the book while sipping on your cup of tea, or eating popcorn as you watched our beloved show on Saturday nights.
To my understanding, when people have sex, they’re usually naked, right?
So now you’re surprised that when STARZ, EW, and Outlander advertises a major load bearing portion of the show (which we already established as sex), they use a method whose sole purpose is to do what any self respecting business is supposed to do: employ a known commodity, spark interest, and market that commodity as effectively as possible? (Sex being a method that is also just as bankable as death and taxes no less)
How is any of this a surprise at the least, or wrong at the worst?
I don’t know – I HONESTLY don’t know why some people have a problem with the cover. Sex, and sex appeal, are featured on other magazines. It’s all over television. It’s everywhere in movies. Given the fact that you know it’s a huge part of your show, you know that sex appeal is bankable (especially considering the actor’s chemistry), and the fact that Claire and Jamie’s sexual relationship is widely applauded during the run of the show, then it only leaves a few logical explanations left.
Are the critics happy to see two people who are posing in a sexual manner in the comfort of their own privacy, but embarrassed to see it at, say, the checkout counter while buying groceries? Are they whistling past the graveyard? Or are they the like old timey magicians who are screaming, “hey, look at this over here! See how great this is! ::cough:: But, don’t pay any attention to that over there – nothing to see there ::cough::”
C’mon, really? Are we all dumb enough to fall for that?
Are these people Obi-Wan Kenobi?
“These aren’t the kilts you’re looking for. Move along.”
Then again, perhaps these critics aren’t like Obi-Wan, trying to trick everyone into thinking there’s nothing there. I’m willing to admit that. But, then they are, at the very least, like Spock – a Vulcan who abides by logic but is also haunted by his deep rooted human emotions that he desperately tries to suppress.
There is that whole logic and excuse of refinement some of the critics could employ – maybe some fans want to feel more secure in Outlander by only publicly regarding/dissecting everything else in Outlander like character development, plot setting, literary mechanics etc.. Could it be they do this because it makes them feel smarter, more authorial, or more high brow than other fandoms? Is the facade of sophistication what gets them through the night?
Another idea is that they’re insecure in their own sex life, or maybe it’s because they’re sanctimonious “pearl clutchers.” (thank you guys for that amazing line – you know who you are). Maybe they’re too mortified to admit that they like sex in the same way that everyone publicly hates Donald Trump, yet the guy absolutely dominates his competition by HUGE amounts during the primaries and Super Tuesday. Somebody voted for him, right?
What if they don’t want to have to explain to their friends why they like the show so much because they can’t eloquently quantify their inner desires. So they only speak about it in hushed tones like a mid 20th century Boston Irish Catholic family who’s guilt shouldn’t be talked about in public, yet must be worshiped privately as a deep, dark, and shameful secret at all times.
Christ, it’s like they have to apologize for how sexy the show is. I’m sorry – WHAT!? WHY!?!?!?
NONE, that’s right, none of the Outlander fandom can promulgate the notion of Claire as an amazing, independent, fierce, idyllic model for all modern women (which, she is), and then persecute STARZ, EW, or Outlander for highlighting one of the MAIN characteristics of Claire that make her so exciting and different from other cardboard-cut-out female leads in Hollywood: her sexual power/prowess.
I daresay there may be hypocrisy at work here ::GASP::
And this is why I was ready to absolutely TEAR into Diana’s response if she were to speak out against the cover.
She can’t write the books she has written, participate in the production of the show like she did, or write the script of an episode as she has for season 2, and then declare how the sex in the show shouldn’t be held up as a selling point to readers of the magazine or potentially new viewers of the show. But most importantly, my god – could you imagine how her words would have hurt the public relations of Outlander the show?
I can see the headlines now, “Outlander Author Condemns Photo Shoot!” Talk about undercutting all the work that not only Ron Moore has accomplished, or STARZ has accomplished (in a time where it’s truly hurting for exposure and ratings) but also the PERSONAL investment she has in the production of the show as well. It would have been devastating.
Luckily, none of that happened.
Which is why I was massively impressed by Diana’s statement. She didn’t come off as a ball washer for the show (she admitted that the photo doesn’t capture the complete essence of Outlander), but she also gave her approval for what they tried to accomplish.
Touche Diana. I’m honestly wicked proud of you for going against the grain here.
But I can’t call you “Herself” until someone gives me a reasonable explanation about what the hell that nickname is about. I mean, I get where it comes from, but I’m not grasping the “why” of it. Please forgive me.