Vanity Fair's Naked Landmark  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Columns :    THE BUSINESS OF JOURNALISM    
From AJR,   September 1991

Vanity Fair's Naked Landmark   

What sexual revolution revelation would grab us next?

By Bill Monroe
Bill Monroe is a former editor of AJR.     


Ladies and gentlemen, a toast of the purest apple juice to that elegant trio of females: Demi Moore, Annie Liebovitz and Tina Brown.

They conceived perhaps the most memorable magazine cover of all time. They livened up the dog days of 1991. They made a statement that sanctimonious grocery chain executives decided immediately would shock the kiddies. And they gave us a new visual landmark in the continuing flow of the sexual revolution.

The exuberance of Vanity Fair 's three-cheers-for-pregnancy cover triggered the memory of an astonishing scene that played out one morning in Rome in 1945. At an elegant "rest camp" hotel on the Via Veneto, GIs were strolling down a curving stairway for a leisurely breakfast, each with a young Italian woman on his arm. The name of the game was sex. At home in Kansas or Tennessee these same lotharios would have been slipping down back stairs and keeping out of sight. But here in sunny Italy the soldiers and the military itself, host to all this bliss, were in open, enthusiastic celebration of recreational sex. The subterranean movement of American sexual attitudes was on brazen display in a Roman showcase.

The postwar decades have all confirmed that sex in our time insists on its day in the sun.

First of all, the female form began emerging. One day in the pages of Playboy , voila, the nipple bounced out of the bra. The derriere escaped confinement. The pubic patch itself, long the profitable private property of pornographers, eventuallycame out on stage and all but sang a song.

The male of the species, though outclassed in bodily aesthetics, eventually overcame his becoming modesty and affected a visible bulge. What previously had been flaunted only in the licentious world of ballet became available to the public at large via blue jeans and swim trunks. Jim Palmer thrust his maleness at the camera under contract with an underwear company and was immediately voted into the Hall of Fame.

Pretty soon taboos were crashing right and left. Every single aspect of sex was agitating to get loose from the closet – not only the good, the true and the beautiful of the male-female ritual but, equally hungry for attention, the bad, the false and the oh-my-God.

Victims of incest hauled their sullen fathers and Uncle Alberts into court and off to jail.

Victims of child abuse found their voices and accused their startled elders.

Victims of rape called on their own anger and challenged the ancient stigma against them.

Prostitutes formed trade associations.

Grandma took to hurling four-letter imprecations.

Sadists and masochists sought happiness in the want ads.

Experts blessed masturbation, though not to the satisfaction of the Sarasota, Florida, M-squad.

Gays came out of the cellar one day – and the next day paraded down Main Street.

The once unmentionable condom took to the billboards as a pillar of public safety.

Where would it all end? When would the 68th shoe drop? What revelation would grab us next?

And suddenly there was the answer, the latest shocker, smack on the cover of Vanity Fair : motherhood . An historic moment. In July of 1991, Demi Moore, Annie Liebovitz and Tina Brown escorted motherhood out of the closet. (Mother was promptly banned on most newsstands, of course, or covered up to the eyeballs.)

But, someone is saying, motherhood was never in the closet. It was always right at the top of American iconography in fragrant cahoots with apple pie.

That's true, sort of – but only of one aspect of motherhood, the sainted mom business. It is not true of the physical, biological, pregnancy, fruits-of-sex side of motherhood. That has always been a bit embarrassing.

Despite a century of sexual revolution, this is still a country where many parents don't brief kids about sex and where pregnancy informs us undeniably, certifiably and smirkably that, aha, that woman has actually had sex.

The trio we honor today brought a proud, earthy, unembarrassed motherhood out of the dingy past and into a blaze of warm light. There she stood, serenely naked, gorgeous, one armed curved over child-ready breasts and the other under the great globe of belly.

And so our thanks to Annie for the lush pictures. To Tina for the adventurous journalism. And to Demi, who invites us to understand that pregnancy is the happy transition between the love of a man and the love of a child – here's looking at you, kid. l

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