The kids aren't Alt-Right: Teen Vogue's attack on Donald Trump is right on trend

Surprised by the mag's scathing op-ed on the President-elect? Teen Vogue's been going rogue for months...

The kids aren't Alt-Right: Teen Vogue's attack on Donald Trump is right on trend

Willow Smith on the cover of May's 'Teen Vogue' [Condé Nast]

Over the weekend, it’s highly likely that Teen Vogue, the sister magazine of America’s fashion bible aimed at a younger market of on-trend adolescents, entered your media echo chamber for the first time in 2016. At a point where fake news and journalistic integrity in the coverage of headline-grabbing political ideologies have been dogging the media zeitgeist, a scorching op-ed penned by Lauren Duca, one of Teen Vogue’s writers whose usual showbizzy fare includes news like Harry Potter’s ‘Neville Longbottom just got engaged’, but whose careful exploration of how obfuscation of facts by the President-elect is, in effect, “gaslighting America.”

“At the hands of Trump, facts have become interchangeable with opinions, blinding us into arguing amongst ourselves, as our very reality is called into question,” Duca writes, going on to compare Donald Trump’s actions to the plot of the 1938 play Gas Light.

That play, set in Victorian Britain, involves an emotionally abusive husband systematically hiding his wife Bella’s household objects in an attempt to make her question her grasp on reality. Bella ultimately holds onto her sanity after she realises that her husband’s duplicity coincides with the dimming of gas-burning lamps throughout the building they live in. In her Teen Vogue piece, Duca asserts that the new Republican president, whose war with the mainstream media has been dominated by his own attempts to control the narrative by inventing and ignoring facts to suit all situations, is “gas lighting” the US electorate by spinning any attempt to call out his fabrications as biased reporting.

Before lauding Lauren Duca and her publisher – and justified laurel wreaths will be coming – it’s worth noting that her well-reasoned argument is not some solitary piece of writing in the media making such a point about Trump. For all the whipping The Washington Post and The New York Times have been taken for their coverage of Trump during his shock announcement that he was running for president, shock selection as the Republican Party candidate, and shock victory over Hillary Clinton, there has been no shortage of pieces run by both publications, and hundreds of others, to attack Donald Trump and his guileful engineering of what genuine in a post-truth world. But Teen Vogue’s piece became a viral hit on Twitter, shared thousands of times by social media users somewhat baffled that a magazine so out of their realm of awareness as to be, at best, understood only as a glitzy gossip glossy interested in the actions of Kim Kardashian should be weighing in on what is the biggest and most newsworthy story of the year.

But for anyone with even a passing knowledge of how Teen Vogue operates, Duca’s blog post won’t have come as any surprise, with her scathing attack on the new leader of the free world as on-trend with the magazine’s reporting as a piece on the hottest looks for a globally-warmed winter. Since Elaine Welteroth was appointed as the editor-in-chief in May of this year, Teen Vogue – which is only published four times a year, but maintains a wide-reaching web presence – has confronted some of the most political stories to grip the American mediascape this year. A glance at the website’s front page today does show stories covering Kylie Jenner’s birthday party and 12 Instagram shots from the wedding of someone you’ve never heard of, but those are tucked under feature and news articles about mental health, college tuition fees, and what it was like to be a woman of colour at the protests against at Standing Rock in North Dakota.

The 29-year-old Welteroth, the youngest editor in Condé Nast’s history (and only its second ever African-American to helm one of its titles), has shown a game-changing astuteness in understanding her readership’s thirst for political news and thirsty baes – if a reality TV star can claim the Oval Office, it’s fair to imagine that Teen Vogue’s readers will be interested. And while other publications have been running dubiously worded pieces about Alt-Right hipsters and the ethnographic status of members of the Jewish faith, Teen Vogue has dedicated plenty of its resources during the election cycle towards pieces calling out upcoming Vice President Mike Pence for voting against an equal pay act in 2009 and  that he “longed for the day that Roe v Wade [the US Supreme Court case that paved the way for legal abortions] is sent to the ash heap of history.”

But surprise that Teen Vogue would publish such a blistering take-down of the 45th President of the United States, including his very public spat with the CIA over its determination that Russian officials pulled strings in the US election, represents a new facet of the editorial echo chamber, an assumption that a magazine about fashion must be frivolous.

Teen Vogue is staffed by predominantly young journalists, but college-educated Snowflakes who implicitly understand how to package and disseminate their message, and whose interests include and extend beyond floral patterns in spring. Furthermore, the magazine is pitched at an audience of ethnically diverse teenagers, neither specifically female nor ascribing to a defined gender identity, a group of readers not well served by Trump’s hard-line conservative values – and who are likely not to be voting Republican come 2020. Teen Vogue can also afford to go rogue and attack the President-elect, safe in the knowledge that he is highly unlikely to ever sit down for an interview with them – traditional political publications, like The Washington Post, saw journalists frozen out of rallies and denied access to the man or his team. For all her daring, and Duca’s piece does make for a brazen piece of ‘I-am-nasty-woman-hear-me-roar’ roasting, at no point does she mention reaching out to Trump’s team for a response.  

But it is worth noting that the same weekend when Teen Vogue nailed its political flag to its masthead, the editor-in-chief of its senior magazine found herself backing down from a Trump-related quip. Anna Wintour, the icy empress of what is à la mode, made a mealy-mouthed apology after been overheard saying the new President was “going to use his presidency to sell himself and his brand and profit personally for himself and his family.”

Telling the Sunday Mirror, “I immediately regretted my comments, and I apologise,” Wintour added, “I hope that President-elect Trump will be a successful president for us all.” It’s hard to imagine Elaine Welteroth – or any of her team – doing the same.

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