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Heaven Is Real; Is God Dead? 5 Controversial and Ridiculous Magazine Covers

Using controversial images about race, gender and religion helps sell copies. But does it help readers?

Last week Newsweek created yet another stir with a cloud-bedecked magazine cover screaming “HEAVEN IS REAL.”

Inside the magazine’s pages lay a doctor’s account of going into a coma and having a hallucinatory experience which he interpreted as a little holiday in heaven, whose delights included riding on butterfly wings, having a mysterious female companion who communicated unconditional love, and entering a dark void that was the home of God.

Bizarre and amusing as this particular cover is, it hearkens back to an old-school tradition of using major questions about theology to worship another deity entirely: the god of sales.

In 1966, Time magazine asked “Is God Dead?” and created a memorable stir.  Since then a qucik Google search reveals that Time has run the following covers: “God vs. Science” “Is God Coming Back to Life?” “What Does Science Tell Us About God?”, “Does God Want You to Be Rich?” “Fait,h God, and the Oval Office” “Where Did God Go?” “God and Women,” “The God Gene,” and more. Seriously, search for the above headlines. The stories exist.

So besides the “big statements about God” category, which we’ll put at number one, here are a few more of the most sensational magazine cover stories and types of cover stories that stir the pot to stir up sales. Let;s be clear--some of the stories, whether serious probings of a massive sociopolitical issue or even a plain old celebrity Q+A were and are perfectly standard, even above-average or excellent, magazine journalism.

It’s the incendiary words and images used to get buyers to open that magazine and peer inside we’re discussing here. As the New York Times reported this year, we’re in an era of the “provocative cover” reborn, celebrate or denigrate it as you will:

...Newsweek featured President Obama wearing a rainbow-colored halo with “The First Gay President” as the headline. Bloomberg Businessweek attracted attention in February with a cover featuring two mating Continental and United planes with the headline “Let’s Get It On.”

“In a nonstop news cycle, it’s their best vehicle to say ‘Hey wait a minute. Look at me,’ ” said Josh Tyrangiel, the editor of Bloomberg Businessweek. “We’re seeing a really interesting moment where weekly magazines have awakened to the possibility of that real estate.”

2-The“Muslim Rage” cover run by Newsweek earlier this autumn was, as many immediately noted, clearly looking for a reaction and also to exploit fear and cultural tensions.

But Twitter had the last laugh when people began responding with great irony using the hashtag #muslimrage about the everyday temptations of pork, the hassles of the hijab, and the pain of reading Thomas Friedman columns.
Two of the most popular tweets were:

Lost your kid Jihad at the airport. Can't yell for him. #MuslimRage — Leila

"I'm having such a good hair day. No one even knows. #MuslimRage" — Hend

At Salon, Alex Pareene slammed the piece as being the worst kind of “trolling”  “This is related to the “news” of the “week.” But it’s also a much more dickish and counterproductive bit of trolling, because it is shamelessly exploiting a sensitive situation with idiotic “provocative” fear-mongering.”

Here’s the irony: Newsweek’s online, site, the Daily Beast, has already published its own fairly comprehensive list of controversial and racist magazine covers, not including its own. Want to see more magazines with covers that employ problematic racial and cultural tropes? Click through.

3-Are You Mom Enough? Time entered the cover war fray last spring with a picture of a toddler standing on a chair while he breastfed under the headline “Are You Mom Enough?”

The, erm, arresting, image promoted an article about the already-controversial “attachment parenting” movement--but became a topic of many an article itself.

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