Week In Review 10/22/09

Rhode Island's rankings and French Vogue's rank styling

by by Maggie Lange & Beatrice Igne-Bianchi

There are all sorts of lists: to-do lists, wish lists, guest lists, hit-lists, pro and con lists. Lists can be funny (McSweeney’s), socially-affirming (VIP lists), obsessive (Rob Gordon’s Top 5 from High Fidelity), or denigrating (Forbes’s business lists). In recent news, Rhode Island is on the list—usually in the “denigrated” category.

In their annual list of “The Best States for Business,” out earlier this month, Forbes dismantled Rhode Island’s corporate cred by placing the Ocean State dead last. The stats also indicated that Rhode Island is the second-worst for both unemployment pay and the economic climate. Forbes explains that the main factor in determining business-friendliness is the state’s tax policies and regulatory positions, but didn’t parse out other details—although surely unemployment factors in (the editors didn’t mention the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s list of state unemployment rates, in which Rhode Island holds third place with a rate of 12.8 percent).

The list has forced a political outcry, particularly from Governor Carcieri, who said that his tax policy would improve corporate relations, but attract more businesses. Forbes indicates that the purpose of these lists is to raise awareness in states about their business policies, but doesn’t apologize if giving states a low ranking plummets their ability to attract businesses into further despair. Despite the monetary misery faced in the Ocean State, Forbes did rank Rhode Island 21st for quality of life.

The Ocean State is used to Forbes’ abuse. In April, Forbes proclaimed Providence the Hardest City to Get By In. Compared to the 50 largest US Cities, Providence is also the 10th Most Miserable City. Luckily, with all this misery and hardship, Forbes has told its readers that Providence is the 12th Thriftiest City.

However, the merit of the factors that make up these lists is dubious. In a March 2008 interview with the providence Journal, Bert Sperling (from Sperling’s Best Places, and a contributor to the Forbes lists) indicated that the process of list-making is not as systematic as the term “list” would imply. He explained that if the lists remain the same from year to year, they aren’t as exciting for readers, so editors change the criteria to change the results. “Let’s just say the only way you would see change like that is if they change the methodology,” Sperling said.

Yet, there are some lists that can’t be reckoned with—lists created solely by the numbers. According to the Providence Journal last week, the Ocean State ranked 52nd in the list of receivership of U.S. stimulus jobs—behind all 49 other states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. On their “Recovery: Track the Money” website, the US Government reports that as a result of federal contracts signed by President Obama, the government has created (or saved) 30,383 jobs. Six of those jobs were in the Ocean State. Yet even this list is deceptive: these numbers don’t include the approximately 1,700 jobs created or saved with stimulus dollars given to and spent by the state government, Carcieri’s administration reported to the ProJo.

Rhode Island isn’t last in everything. Rhode Island is not only the smallest state, but it is the third closest to sea-level, and has the second highest population density. Rhode Island has also recently acquired some other surprising exceptional rankings. A few weeks ago, The Independent reported that the Ocean State’s official web site——won the Interactive Media Award in an international competition in website design. The Ocean State also has the second nationally ranked golf team, finishing close behind Pennsylvania and tying with Illinois.

On other lists, sometimes it’s worst being first. Shocking data this summer revealed that the smallest state had the biggest drug problem. The national Department of Health and Human Services revealed that for people ages 12 and over, Rhode Island ranked highest for use of marijuana, alternative illicit drugs, and alcohol use. Rhode Island was 4.5 percent above the national average for drugs and 12 percent above the national average for consumption of alcohol. State health officials put forth an outpouring of explanations, usually indicating that it is Rhode Island’s high incidence of urban populations and high unemployment that cause substance abuse.

Some lists are absurdly trivial—Rhode Island was the site of the seventh best monster truck crash of all time, according to Other rankings are saccharine and sentimental—one of Sperling’s Best Places lists, from April 2006, listed Providence as the fourth Most Romantic City for Baby Boomers. Lists like 2006’s Thinnest State with the Largest Population of Obese People from Medical news today (Rhode Island is third) are confusing. Other lists pose the question of why anyone would bother checking: Men’s Health magazine revealed the Ocean State had the ninth most dental visits per capita.

Despite having arguably the worst economy in the US, a raging drug problem, and a miserable capital city, we’ve got clean teeth, baby-booming romanticism, and monster-truck glory. So, have hope, Rhode Island—those qualities are practically an E-Harmony profile waiting to be made, and you’ll be dating more business-savvy states in no time.

Rhode Island at the top o’ the charts:

» hardest city to get by in
» Worst State to do Business in
» Smallest
» drug and alcohol addiction
» Best State Website

Blackface is never the new black
This month’s Vogue Paris features Holland’s blonde model-of-the-moment, Lara Stone, posing in blackface makeup for a 14-page editorial in the magazine’s “Supermodels” issue—which, consequently, does not feature a single black model. As reported by, the article starts by lauding Stone’s distinctive yet unconventional features: her “uninhibited gappy teeth,” “sensual” body, and “radical break with the wave of anorexic models” (we’re not convinced). However, the “exceptional” traits that Vogue Paris apparently finds so refreshing about Stone are nowhere to be seen. Coupled with the notable minority of black models in Vogue in general, this speaks volumes to the magazine’s implicit definition of beauty. Styled by editor-in-chief Carine Roitfeld and shot by photographer Steven Klein, Stone’s three pages show her closed-mouthed and painted head-to-toe in what looks like Espresso-colored foundation. The Daily Mail reported that Vogue Paris said “it was unaware it had caused offense, but said it could not give any further comment.” While France doesn’t have a deep-seated history of minstrelsy as a form of entertainment for Caucasians like the United States, both Roitfeld and Klein—an American—have no excuse for the magazine’s offensive and distasteful shoot with Stone.

Klein has photographed Caucasian models in darkly colored makeup before. The Rhode Island native and RISD-graduate shot a ten-page spread for the February 2006 issue of Vogue Italy with two white models made up to look like black women. Even Anna Wintour contracted Klein to shoot an editorial in 2008 for The Fashion Bible—the September issue of the magazine that sells the most copies annually. For the spread, the photographer painted the fair-skinned Brazilian model Caroline Trentini burnt orange and hid her blonde locks under a black swim cap, posing her as a “creature” that appears out of the water. Trentini is surrounded by a group of white models dressed in couture garments, who gawk at her as she dangles her long limbs from different structures dressed only in a cut-out bathing suit, as if to suggest her primitive nature. Whether it’s some twisted tendency or a sickening attempt to push the limits of artistic conceptuality, Klein has a thing for changing his models’ skin tones with make-up. Earlier this year, Klein shot another spread for Vogue Paris entitled “Lara Fiction Noire” which featured the naturally pale Stone posing with two white male models who were painted deep tan, red, and matte yellow to presumably highlight Stone as the white woman among non-white men. (Do we smell ethnic stereotypes?) Not only that, Stone and her fellow male models were photographed in violent and erotic poses—signature marks of Klein’s work—that resemble a cross between erotic vampire scenes from True Blood and mild S&M.

While the editors-in-chief of Vogue Italy, America, and Paris may have opted to use Klein’s work because they saw it as envelope pushing and edgy, his art is in no way depoliticized simply by virtue of its placement in a fashion magazine. Even within an aesthetic realm, the cultural insensitivity of his conceptual choices is very much present and alarming. Lara Stone in blackface is causing a stir—and rightly so—but the major issue that is not being fully addressed is Western Vogue’s seemingly “white” standards of beauty. They may not be reluctant to showcase a blonde in dark body paint, but they are hesitant to prominently feature models of different races and ethnicities.

Meanwhile, editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, Amy Astley, is working to showcase all the colors of gorgeous. Chanel Iman and Jourdan Dunn, both young black models, grace the cover and share a spread in the magazine’s upcoming November issue. Earlier this year, Teen Vogue featured an Asian model in an editorial, and in 2008, there was a multi-page spread with two multiracial models. The pages of Teen Vogue do not resemble a Benetton ad, but perhaps Astley could give her fellow cohorts a tip or two on the real definition of beauty.