Is the Times Travel Section Tone Deaf?

The “Travel Winter 2008” issue of the New York Times Style Magazine features imagery of our rapidly melting polar caps. The photospread of the grand scenery is juxtaposed with luxury items such as $6845 black and white pelt of a mammal formerly known as endangered or a $3195 Chanel bag.

Am I overreacting?


I just picked up the “Travel Winter 2008” issue of the New York Times Style Magazine. You know, that freebie treebie that slides out of the Sunday edition with a thud on the coffee table, its glossy pages demanding a sniff and flick before your brain can handle the real news.

On the front cover is a stunning image of a glacier. In the foreground, a piece of carry-on luggage floats, corpse-like, in water. I say corpse-like because it’s white, and instantly made me think of the Mt Erebus airline tragedy. It’s actually a Ferragamo rollaway for $2500, no doubt now worth a water-damaged $20 on Craigslist.

The cover is part of a photo spread within called Frozen Assets, which features more scenery not uncommon in the news these days – our rapidly melting polar caps.

The grand scenery is juxtaposed with more accoutrements of what must be some rich airline tragedy victims, like the $6845 black and white pelt of a mammal formerly known as endangered.

Another page shows a $3195 Chanel bag on a shard of melting ice that a small polar bear would long have fallen sideways off of.

Served on the rocks are two pairs of $2000+ towering stiletto boots made for doing something other than walking. An abandoned GM executive’s briefcase glitters on the tundra.


In short, I am utterly amazed at the inappropriateness of this spread. If it was done by Millionaire Monthly and captioned “Sorry, Green Doesn’t Go with My Loafers” or “Sod the planet, I’m here for a good time, not a long time,” I’d understand it. If it was done by the Onion with the headline “To Hell with Global Warming” I’d applaud it. But the New York Times?

Someone in that glassy, “no bikes allowed” building needs to stop hanging out with the stylists and all their freebie props and do time in the local Salvation Army Thrift Store.

Am I sounding “greener than thou”? As someone who is a militant opponent of rampant political correctness, I don’t think so.

“Burberry did a similarly tasteless spread for some magazine recently,” said a friend who works in the luxury goods business – but still has a conscience. “They went to India plucking hapless souls from the slums of Delhi or Mumbai to use as models. They photogaphed one holding one of their beyond-pricey umbrellas and others with obscenely expensive articles of their clothes. It just shows out out of touch some people are, that they don’t recognize how offensive they are.”

Perhaps they flew to the photoshoot in a GM-style corporate jet.

And did they, like GM, either fail to consult, or completely ignore, their PR department before um, letting ‘er rip, as we say downunder?


“I don’t think they even think about that,” said Andrew Metcalfe, a top strategist. “Zero strategy – they probably just take pictures of products on cool backgrounds and that’s that.”

“But did you read the accompanying article?” said a literary friend.

“Why should I?” I respond. “Those images have gotten me so riled up I don’t want to waste my rods and cones on it.”

My friend took the magazine off me and read the article.

“Hm. Strange. Kind of part travelogue, slight environmental statement, but mostly seems like it’s there to justify the photo shoot.”

I took the mag off him read the article, scanning for clues.


The ice in Greenland is of course, the global talking point of environmental degradation.

Yup – just look at how fast that ice floe is melting under that hot $2200 Louis Vuitton suitcase …

As the ice melts, the world waits to see how many billions of barrels lie beneath the frost …

AHA! Why did I ever doubt?

Oil money and ostrich feather luggage – I knew the Times’ famous reputation for timeliness and relevance would never let me down.

SOMEWHAT RELATED MULTIMEDIA: On not getting into the Zaha Hadid/Chanel Mobile Art Pavilion: perhaps if you read this article it’s just as well I didn’t.


The Galfromdownunder is supposed to be blogging about Work/Life. She apologizes for her many lapses into the category of Social Responsibility.

About the author

Lynette Chiang is an award-winning copywriter, brand evangelist, social media community manager, filmmaker, solo world bicycle adventurer and inventor of useful things. Her work has been featured in Forbes, Harvard University curriculums, the New York Times Book Review, FastCompany and the relationship marketing business press.