Friday, December 30, 2016

Liston and Race

A Christmas story about a Christmas icon:

For its December 1963 issue, Esquire Magazine's managing editor Harold Hayes let his cover designer George Lois pick the cover. The cover became a close-up of boxer Sonny Liston in a Santa Claus hat.

Esquire's advertising director would eventually estimate that the magazine lost $750,000 due to the cover. According to Vanity Fair, "Hayes lit the fuse, and Sonny Liston exploded a ragged hole in the country's Norman Rockwell preconceptions of Christmas." An art-history professor at Hunter College proclaimed the cover "one of the greatest social statements of the plastic arts since Picasso's Guernica." For Hayes, Liston-as-Santa was "the perfect magazine cover," he wrote in a 1981 article in Adweek magazine, "a single, textless image that measured our lives and the time we lived them in quite precisely to the moment." Published in a national climate "thick with racial fear," he explained, "Lois' angry icon insisted on several things: the split in our culture was showing; the notion of racial equality was a bad joke; the felicitations of this season—goodwill to all men, etc.—carried irony more than sentiment."
"Norman Rockwell preconceptions?" "one of the greatest social statements..?" ".. image that measured our lives..?"

Wait a minute here. Race trumps everything in this culture but.....Liston was a criminal and was mob connected. He knocked out the extremely popular Floyd Patterson in 1962, a fight that was opposed by the NAACP because of damage they thought the fight would do to the Civil Rights Movement. And Liston threw a championship fight against Ali. Liston told a sports writer later, “That guy [Ali] was crazy. I didn’t want anything to do with him. And the Muslims were coming up. Who needed that? So I went down. I wasn’t hit.”
Liston was terribly unpopular for a lot of good reasons.
Can this race monster ever get sedated? And is it possible these media types might be taking themselves a little too seriously?

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