Magazine | March 20, 2017, Issue

Adolescent Politics

(Luba Myts)
Teen Vogue’s newfound inanity

‘Rise. Resist. Raise Your Voice.” If you had to guess which publication boasts these lines on its Twitter page — the “resistance” in question, of course, is to the presidency of Donald Trump — which would it be? Jacobin? The Nation? Perhaps The New Republic on one of its saltier days?

Guess again: It’s Teen Vogue, newly heralded as a brave and important voice in the heady world of Trumpian politics. In December, various sectors of the Internet set themselves ablaze while applauding a self-proclaimed “scorched-earth” essay by the magazine’s weekend editor, Lauren Duca. The title: “Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America.”

The story was nothing terribly new or groundbreaking — pieces on Trump’s problems with the truth, and even some that used the phrase “gaslighting,” had run consistently throughout the presidential campaign — but the unusual, mascara-streaked source made the article an instant sensation. Flooding through the Twitterverse, it earned a mix of gentle mockery, general eye-rolling, approving nods, and occasional wide-eyed delight.

Duca shot to Internet stardom and television stardom as well, culminating in what would become a viral visit to Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show. Boy, oh boy: What a time to be alive.

As Duca spoke, Carlson’s face flitted between a baffled glower and the expression of a lost man trying to decode a subway map in Sanskrit. Something about Teen Vogue, it seemed, had blown his gasket. Yells and interruptions ensued. Over the course of ten minutes, each taught a master class in theatrical, over-the-top exasperated looks. Carlson jabbed Teen Vogue for its enthusiastic coverage of thigh-high boots. At one point, Duca, apparently mistaking herself for a southern small-town waitress, called Carlson “honey.” As a viewer, I marked this moment with an involuntary cringe.

It was a largely disastrous and highly entertaining affair, and quite good television, I suppose, even if it did make one feel vaguely mortified. And while Teen Vogue’s foray into politics began months before l’affaire Duca, the magazine has since then giddily ramped up its political coverage. In the process, it has enjoyed a great deal of applause.

Teen Vogue is “finally gaining recognition among adults for its thoughtful, nuanced coverage of topical issues,” wrote The Atlantic’s Sophie Gilbert in December. While Gilbert’s characterization of the magazine’s coverage as “thoughtful” and “nuanced” is, shall we say, questionable, the “recognition” part is right on. As they say in the fashion business, or at least as they would say in Zoolander, “Teen Vogue is so hot right now.”

In May 2016, 29-year-old Elaine Welteroth took the helm as Teen Vogue’s editor; soon after, 25-year-old Phillip Picardi became the publication’s new digital editorial director. Together, they’re on a mission: more coverage of news, politics, and current affairs. Well, let’s be accurate: more leftist coverage of news, politics, and current affairs.

On February 13, Welteroth and Picardi took a triumphant star turn on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, a Comedy Central production that is supposed to be funny but completely fails at this core competency because of its obsession with leftist politics. (Hmm. Perhaps there’s a trend afoot.) Welteroth wore a snappy white blazer, a David Bowie T-shirt, and a “Resist the Gaslight” button. Picardi, somewhat mystifyingly for a fashion specialist, showed up in a baby pink sweatshirt that said “Beyoncé” across the chest. Perhaps this was meant to be ironic. (I do not think it was meant to be ironic.)

“People say, ‘You’re Teen Vogue,’” Noah said to the pair. “‘You’re known for fashion. What the hell do you guys know about politics anyway?’” How, he went on, did they manage to deal with the haters?

“To tell a teenager that she should stick to lip gloss — when she’s being directly impacted by the policies, and they’re directly affecting her lifestyle and the lifestyle of those around her — is frankly irresponsible,” Picardi declared, adding that Teen Vogue wanted to “show young women that they can be interested in politics, that they should be interested in politics, and that they should have a firm opinion of what’s going on.”

The audience erupted into wild, ecstatic cheers, as Daily Show audiences tend to do no matter what is said, as long as it is signaled that what is said should garner wild, ecstatic cheers. Picardi wasn’t wrong, of course, that teenagers should cultivate opinions on important issues. Alas, Teen Vogue’s core mission appears to be cultivating opinions of only one kind.

In February, the magazine’s website raised eyebrows with “What to Get a Friend Post-Abortion,” a chipper slideshow that was also downright barking mad. Suggested gifts included an “Angry Uterus Heating Pad by Lady Bits Design,” an “F-Uterus Pin,” an “Abortion Clinic Escort Sign-Up,” and a Ruth Bader Ginsburg coloring book.

“Abortion,” the slideshow’s introduction intones, “is something that many women feel like they can’t talk about, even amongst themselves, which creates a false stigma. The more we hide something, the more confusing it becomes. But she shouldn’t have to feel ashamed, because she made the right choice for her situation. She is not ready to carry a pregnancy to term — and that’s OK.”

Well, I’m glad we got that cleared up! Other recent Teen Vogue stories that I am not making up include “Why Repealing Obamacare Could Be a Total Disaster for Women and LGBTQ People,” “Watch This Urgent Message from Standing Rock Protesters,” “What Troian Bellisario Wants You to Know about This Troubling Gun Loophole,” “Tom Price’s Confirmation Hearing Is Exactly Why We’re Concerned about Birth Control Access,” and “This 8-Year-Old Transgender Boy Thinks Trump’s Transgender Action Is ‘Ridiculous.’”

But the best pieces churning out of the new and politicized Teen Vogue, at least in my humble opinion, have to do with “the resistance,” that vague yet self-important anti–Donald Trump movement that is dedicated to fighting the most important fight in the midst of history’s darkest, most desperate time and yet doesn’t require you ever to skip your manicure or miss brunch. As a matter of fact, word on the street — and on signs, and in podcasts, and in a recent article in The Week — is that protesting just might be the next hot trend. It’s the new brunch!

“At this point in Donald Trump’s presidency (more than a month down), we’re already in the thick of the resistance,” reads the lead of a February 23 Teen Vogue online piece, which might be news to a 13-year-old girl waiting for her orthodontist appointment before going home to dinner in Laguna Beach. “Each day brings a fresh crop of horrors,” notes another piece, by, yes, Lauren Duca, “and the deluge is part of the strategy.” It’s all so breathless, isn’t it? So dramatic? Isn’t it all so — well — adolescent?

By all means, disagree with Donald Trump if you like, and engage in politics how you see fit. But don’t write hyperbole such as “Each day brings a fresh crop of horrors” and then recommend fighting those horrors by sending “personalized pencils to ‘make a point’ with secretary of education Betsy DeVos,” because nobody’s going to be able to maintain a straight face. (The great pencil bombing, along with donating to Trans Lifeline and the Immigration Law Center and bookmarking Michael Moore’s new website, Resistance Calendar, is the entirety of “resistance”-action advice in Duca’s newest piece. More, apparently, is forthcoming.)

In our hyper-politicized culture, I suppose it’s unsurprising that a leading teenage fashion magazine fell victim to the trend and embraced a one-sided, panicked, partisan-leftist approach. Teen Vogue might get clicks and subscriptions out of this, but it won’t leave its readers any smarter.

– Heather Wilhelm is a National Review Online columnist and a senior contributor to the Federalist.

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