The 2015 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue with the risqué image of model Hannah Davis on the cover might have been the closest her supposed boyfriend Derek Jeter has come to seeing her naked.
But that’s another cover story.
This story isn’t a story, but a controversy about how far a falling entity like Sports Illustrated has to go to keep itself relevant. Showing supermodels in minuscule bikinis or covering up their breasts with their arms as they wear a skimpy thong was once enough to keep the public purchasing the magazine and ordering subscriptions. But the nature in which sports news is disseminated in real time and the availability of images of any model, actress, singer or famous person who’s famous for nothing other than being famous wearing almost nothing has rendered the Swimsuit Issue as a minor distraction for a day or two and nothing more. Because of that reality, they have to garner attention somehow.
Destined to disappear into irrelevancy, the magazine has gone from having actual editors and photographers determine which model should be on the cover based on aesthetics to focus groups, market researchers, webhits, search engines and pop culture predicating who’s placed on the cover. That’s how Kate Upton wound up as the “rising star” in 2012 and 2013 when, in years past, she wouldn’t even have been one of the models at all, let alone the one getting the cover shot. That’s nothing against Upton, but she’s not a prototypical model in that she’s not skinny; she’s pretty in the “hot co-ed” way and not in the SI, Victoria’s Secret way; and she hasn’t exactly done anything other than accrue fame from a few heavily viewed YouTube clips and by some talentless acting.
So now there’s Davis on the cover because there’s an interest in her supposed boyfriend and that she’s almost showing her vagina. Is this worthy of the shock and outrage or should it be accepted for what it is: a faltering magazine with declining circulation using an ancient business model trying to grasp at its final vestiges of salability with nudity euphemistically covered by the validation of being SI and not Playboy, Penthouse or Hustler? The models who pose in SI wouldn’t willingly appear in Penthouse or Hustler; they might go to Playboy if their careers are spiraling to the point where they need that boost, but it’s acceptable to pose nearly naked in SI as a form of art, visibility, class and self-promotion rather than be affiliated with the sordid image of the other skin magazines.
Today if you’d like to see naked images of Kate Upton, Jennifer Lawrence, Angelina Jolie and any famous woman you can think of, you need only perform a websearch and you’ll find what you want. The SI Swimsuit Issue is no longer an event due to that ease of availability and the saturation of skin that is prevalent in today’s world. That won’t change. In fact, it’s going to get worse. SI, out of necessity, is getting worse too.
What SI will do to combat this is squeeze every ounce of sales and promotion from the Swimsuit Issue by doing what its done in the last few years by pushing envelopes and bowing to expediency with Jeter’s “girlfriend” Davis and non-prototypical-SI models like Upton. Don’t be surprised to see two lesbian supermodels – recently married – canoodling on a cover in the next few years and coming close to being portrayed in images in the interior of the magazine similar to what got Larry Flynt thrown into jail and shot almost four decades ago.
Eventually SI will stop printing a regular issue altogether because it’s simply not financially viable or practical to have sports news and analysis presented on a Friday when the stories were told and forgotten about by Tuesday. They might keep up with the Swimsuit Issue for a few years after the print edition of the magazine is ceased, but that too will disappear because there’s no novelty in it anymore and short of going the truly extreme route, there’s not much they can do to enliven it after pushing beyond the boundaries they’ve already entered to try and save the dying franchise.