George Magazine, Cindy Crawford and Herb Ritts.
The first issue of George Magazine had a striking cover, shot by Herb Ritts. In it, Cindy Crawford, the “super model” of her day, was photographed dressed in the 18th Century costume of George Washington, in the context of a modern magazine about the intersection of politics and celebrity lifestyle – if there is any such intersection.
Apparently, the “idea” for this cover, that is, dressing a modern person up in 18th century costume, for a 20th century magazine cover, is attributed to Matt Berman, the “creative director” on the magazine project. The first issue launched in September 1995.
Now, I would like you to consider some background to that year. In late 1994, I appeared on CNN, across the world, including the United States in my performance art piece, Lord Valentine the Misplaced. For those of you who don’t know, Lord Valentine was, as you may have guessed, an 18th Century dandy, attired in 18th Century clothes (the same era as George Washington) – yet, in the context of the 20th Century world. Not only that, but in February 1995, I appeared again as Lord Valentine the Misplaced, on NBC News. On February 14th of that year, I was covered by the Reuters News Agency, with a topical story on the day.
Given this background, of my having created and performed an 18th Century dandy, in the modern context, in America (I was visiting New York, as Lord Valentine the Misplaced, at the time of the NBC news story) what do you think gave Matt Berman “his” idea? Can you think of a more likely background reason for why the George Magazine adopted the idea of dressing 20th Century people in 18th Century clothing? It seems to me that William of Ockham would have something to say about this.
The simplest explanation possible, for why George Magazine adopted the idea of 18th Century dress on its front covers, in the context of a 20th Century magazine, is that they were ripping the idea off from my prior work, as Lord Valentine the Misplaced. It is impossible that the “creators” of the covers of this magazine had not heard of my work: I had been on CNN, NBC and Reuters, as Lord Valentine the Misplaced. The total audience for these networks runs into hundreds of millions of people. It is simply impossible that they would not have heard of it. Indeed, everywhere I went in New York, at that time, people were constantly recognizing me.
What gets me about this, is that this kind of “inspiration” never involves giving credit to the source. It is very doubtful that the magazine covers of George Magazine would ever have been of 18th Century images, had it not been for my prior work as Lord Valentine the Misplaced: yet this influence was never acknowledged (though, of course, smart people would make the connection themselves, if they were half-awake).
I have the impression that most people imagine that if you do something creative, that the credit for the after effects of that work, are generally credited to the original creator. However, my experience is that this is not so. What, in fact, happens, is that many people are “influenced” by a work – that is they steal its core ideas – but that they try to win the credit for themselves. They never – and I mean NEVER – credit their source. There is a word for this, of course: it is called plagiarism. However, when a high profile person is involved – such as Herb Ritts who took the images of Cindy Crawford – it is very difficult for the original creator, if of lower profile – as I was and am – to get the credit deserved.
All I can do, in my position, is to point out the remarkable “coincidence” whereby I create an 18th Century character, in a 20th century context, which is covered in the American media – and hey presto, an American subsequently decides to “create” an 18th Century character, in a 20th Century context and stick it on a magazine cover.
It is proven that Matt Berman’s “idea” was not original. If you want proof you just have to check the news records in the year prior to George’s first issue. The essence of what he was doing, had already been done, very publicly by me. I puzzle therefore that he caused so much of a stir, with his cover. It is a bit sad, really…for no-one, at the time – no-one in the media, for instance, who had covered my work – pointed out the remarkable similarity in conception between what Matt Berman was doing and what I had already done. Perhaps there is too much fawning over people in a position of influence, and not enough of actually speaking the truth about them, going on.
After John F. Kennedy Jr. died after a rash decision to fly in bad weather, the magazine soon failed and closed in 2001. Part of the reason, I think, is that only in the context of John F. Kennedy Jr’s life was there truly an “intersection between politics and celebrity lifestyle”. For other politicians, this relationship does not really hold, since few of them are celebrities in the film star mould of one, unlike John F. Kennedy Jr. who was, most definitely, in that mould.
I should have spoken out at the time, about the George Magazine covers – but I was just too saddened to watch such unattributed imitation going on. I also did not know how to make redress. I hope that by writing these words, it might one day be known, how I influenced the image of George magazine – even if that influence was never owned up to by the “creative” Matt Berman, John F. Kennedy Jr and Michael J. Berman his co-founder.
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