Look, I’m a New Yorker reader, and generally enjoy film critic Anthony Lane’s clever turns of phrases, but this new Scarlett Johansson profile. Yeesh.
Katy Waldman at Slate deftly culled some of the most cringeworthy phrases from the profile:
“Would it be construed as trespass, therefore, to state that Johansson looks tellingly radiant in the flesh? Mind you, she rarely looks unradiant, so it’s hard to say whether her condition [pregnancy] has made a difference”
“Johansson was, indeed, gilded to behold. She seemed to be made from champagne”
“Then came the laugh: dry and dirty, as if this were a drama class and her task was to play a Martini”
“Johansson’s backside, barely veiled in peach-colored underwear”
“using nothing but the honey of her voice”
“She is evidently, and profitably, aware of her sultriness, and of how much, down to the last inch, it contributes to the contours of her reputation”
Pardon me, but this is gross. The “inappropriate-uncle creepiness,” as Waldman calls it, is a little hard to stomach.
There’s been much made of the statistics VIDA Count puts out every year that counts the bylines of women writers at major national literary publications. (The New Yorker published 436 men and 176 women in 2013 — about 28.7 percent.) But to me, the Lane profile points to a deeper problem: editors. It’s hard to say who edited this piece of writing, but I think it’s a decently safe bet that it wasn’t an editor who saw a problem with objectifying Johansson this way.
Yes, I get it. Johansson has a certain … appeal. It’s part of her schtick. (Actually, that would have been a great question to ask her if given the opportunity.) But it’s important to note that the way you describe your subject matters. The language you use to talk about her (it’s much rarer to see men profiled in this way, though it does happen — for example this Edith Zimmerman profile of Chris Evans) affects the way the reader perceives the subject of your piece. Johansson, like her or not, is a human person. It’d be nice if Lane and his editors had treated her that way.
Correction: This piece originally said the New Yorker’s bylines were about 40 percent women. The reality is much worse.