Esquire Story on White Teen Stokes Social Media Ire

Social Media

Esquire's March cover story isn't sitting well with the social media public.

The core men’s title of Hearst Magazines on Tuesday released its March issue. Monthly magazine issues are normally teased early to drum up interest and capitalize on an appetite for “new content,” be it for a feature or a cover star. Esquire got the interest part down, but its cover star — being a white, Republican, male teenager — isn’t sitting well with many people, who are taking issue with the cover showing up during Black History Month in the U.S.

Soledad O’Brien, a broadcast journalist and media executive whose show is actually owned by Hearst Television, tweeted the cover image captioned simply: “Happy Black History Month, everybody.”

Karamo Brown, a host of the “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” reboot, took particular issue with the thesis of the cover profile, which is tagged as an exploration of “What it’s like growing up white, middle class and male in the era of social media, school shootings, toxic masculinity, #MeToo and a divided country.”

“How idiotic!” Brown wrote. “It’s the same as it’s always been…full of privilege that women, people of color, LGTBQ people and immigrants don’t have.”

Will Sommer, a reporter covering tech and Internet media for the Daily Beast, admitted to being “Totally baffled by this 7,000-plus word cover story about a run-of-the-mill Republican teen who likes ‘cool sneakers.’”

Comedy Central, from its corporate account, tweeted that the story was “Just in time for White Middle Class American Boy History Month.”

Plenty of posts also made sure to point out that it was only two weeks ago that Esquire was publicly accused by two freelance contributors of refusing to run a story on accusations of sexual misconduct against the director Bryan Singer, who has long been trailed by stories of impropriety, which he has denied. Instead, The Atlantic picked up the piece on Singer.

Meanwhile, the Esquire piece, which reads like the author Jennifer Percy, a freelancer, attempted to write it in the subject’s teenage voice (another point of derision for the thousands of Twittercommenters) is actually the launch of what’s supposed to be “a new series” at the magazine on “growing up now,” with future subjects set to be more diverse.

Releasing a cover (which definitely went through editor in chief Jay Fielden and almost certainly was approved by still-new chief content officer Kate Lewis) of a white, self-proclaimed Republican teen during Black History Month seems an easily avoidable mistake (feature stories are regularly pushed back and it’s always possible to switch out a cover before it goes to print), especially if you have other more diverse subjects lined up. But there is plenty that rankles about the profile beyond awful timing, namely a lack of outside context from Percy. She could not be contacted for comment and her Twitter account has just been suspended for an unspecified reason.

As for that lack of context, her feature includes an account by the subject, called Ryan throughout, of a physical fight he got into with a female classmate who slapped him and he slapped back and proceeded to tussle with. Showing up at home with some facial cuts, his mom told him to “take pictures” because the girl could “slit the whole side of her cheek with a knife and come to school Monday and say, ‘Hey, look what he did to me.’” All the reader gets after this account is a verbal shrug from Ryan: “I guess girls sometimes just do that.” Suddenly the story jumps to Ryan getting a municipal ticket and getting comments from other classmates on being a “wife beater,” which eventually died down.

After this anecdote there’s a segment on Ryan’s support of President Trump, left unexplained, and the issues that has created for him at school with students who support progressive causes, like feminism, LGTBQ rights and Black Lives Matter; a mention that he doesn’t know what #MeToo is; trouble with comments dismissing his opinions on Instagram, the one social media platform he uses, based on his color and gender; a long section on his hunting hobby and his football watching.

Fielden, who wasn’t made available by Hearst for further comment, also released a new editor’s letter along with the March cover. He has a teenage son of his own and said the question of “what it’s like to be a kid these days” has been on his mind and that of others among his (mostly male) senior edit team. So he decided to do a repeat of a “day in the life” of a 10-year-old boy that was written by Susan Orlean for Esquire in 1992.

“What we asked Jen to do — and she did brilliantly — was to look at our divided country through the eyes of one kid,” Fielden wrote.