Lance Armstrong’s tiff with Outside magazine
The editors of Outside magazine have posted a reply on-line to Lance Armstrong’s Twitter critique, last week, of the July cover image — an image that he referred to as “lame bullshit” — depicting him wearing a blue t-shirt emblazoned with the words “38. BFD.” That’s a reference to his age, not his shirt-size, and it was Photoshopped atop a plain t-shirt.
We can probably guess that the “lameness” to which Armstrong refers doesn’t have to do with a profane acronym, given his profane statement on Twitter, but with image control. Lance, perhaps, would prefer to call no attention to his age at all.
The editors say:
We understand that our July newsstand cover, featuring Lance Armstrong, has caused a bit of a ruckus. (Thanks, Twitter!). Yes, it’s true that, following our cover shoot with Lance, we had some Photoshop fun on the T-shirt he was wearing. BFD. We cop to it right there on the cover—see the line reading, “Note: Not Armstrong’s real T-shirt”. We wanted to create a provocative image and make a bold statement about the fact that, because of Armstrong’s age, many cycling fans are skeptical of his chances in this year’s Tour de France. Read what we think his odds are.
For about the past decade, Outside has maintained a deep, abiding, clothes-yanking love for Armstrong. If Armstrong and Bear Grylls married, Outside would run a special edition entirely about the wedding, Grylls being their No. 2 mega-crush object (he’s on the June cover, smeared with mud).
So, Outside’s intentions are entirely benevolent, Armstrong’s dislike aside. However, is such an action — Photoshopping an editorialization onto a subject’s body — a legit maneuver? Does the little tag line, “Note: Not Armstrong’s real T-shirt,” in small type nearby, clarify the image completely?
The July issue isn’t out yet, but Outside ran an excerpt on-line, and Armstrong’s age is a central topic, although Armstrong is not quoted in the excerpt.
If at some point in the story, Armstrong says something like, “Really, who cares about age — what is important is performance,” then the Photoshopped text on his shirt does keep in the spirit of his quoted words. The text might be a bit of a liberty, but it does not make Armstrong appear to believe something differing from what he says in the interview. Or, does he have to specifically reference his numerical age to make the t-shirt work?
This might seem like small potatoes, but it speaks to the larger issue of photo-manipulation. Armstrong is also something of a national hero, so any misstatements around him will raise the ire of his ardent fans and the cyclist himself if, as I suspect, image-control is a big deal for him. From a wholly commercial standpoint, Outside’s editors would surely never want to anger the cyclist.
Might the text cause Armstrong some problems with one of his endorsements? Does he have language in one of his contracts that states that if he appears on a magazine cover wearing any clothing with letters or words, those letters and words must be those of his sponsors? That, surely, could anger him, if he had to explain to a major sponsor why he appears to violate a contractual agreement in his appearance on the cover of a national mag.
Even if this proves to be too much of a editorial liberty, once the full text of the story comes out (you can pay for an advance digital copy, if you like), will the cover additionally portray Armstrong in a negative light, or posit a damaging falsity about him in the public’s mind? No, it won’t. Some 10-year-old Armstrong fan might ask his mom, “What does BFD mean?” and Outside will have forced mom to get creative: “It means ‘Bicycling for Fun and Donuts’, Johnny.”
Armstrong surely won’t lose a single fan or reader of his Twitter feed. Most likely, he will gain a few.
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Addendum: My July issue of Outside came today, 6/23, but the guy on the cover is Arctic swimmer Lewis Gordon Pugh, not Lance Armstrong with his fake-o t-shirt. I suppose LA’s image was used to nab newsstand buyers, and subscribers get the other guy.
How much LA does the issue contain? A B&W photo for the TOC on p. 8. He’s in an Oakley sunglasses ad on p. 11. The upfront “Dispatches” section story on LA, “Who You Callin’ Yellow?” by John Bradley, runs pp. 18-29, with a photo on every page, including two of LA wearing a for-real black t-shirt with a for-real red star on the chest (Sovietism?). LA is also in a RadioShack ad sandwiched into the story, on p. 23. The “Rules of the Road: No. 5″ sidebar on p. 29 is slugged, “The Best Source for Tour Information Is. . .Twitter.” Ha, yeah.
A one-page piece on Floyd Landis follows the story, on p. 30. If I were LA, I’d be more miffed about that, and the possibility that in every magazine story for the rest of my life, the editors might stick in ol’ Floyd anywhere they can.
The guy on the cover, Pugh? He gets four pages of dedicated copy, from p. 60 to 66, compared to LA’s eight pages of dedicated copy.
The real meat in this issue? The feature story on killer whales.