Media Literacy Critical Paper 1







David Bowie: Covering TIME magazine after his death

Mada Harb

Lebanese American University










TIME magazine specialized an entire issue for David Bowie after his death in January. It seemed as though the cover picture was not fitting for the context and out of the typical Bowie character, appealing to the formulaic mourning public rather than the fans. The literature content of the issue did not shed light upon anything negative towards Bowie and remained admiring him as a legend. The entire issue tries to play on people’s emotions in times of death. Something more artistic could have captured a greater audience for portraying a more honest Bowie. Through the cover people could still imagine him as a higher god to look up to and worship, timeless still after his death.

Keywords: David Bowie, death, cover, TIME, tribute.











A few weeks after the death of David Bowie, Time released an edition of its monthly issue that’s Bowie centered as a tribute to his life and accomplishments (Guzmán, 2016). He covered the magazine for the second time. It had two covers that were previously shot and included photographs from the archives, different articles about his life and death, as well as an interview with him taken 19 years back (Guzmán, 2016). This edition is different than TIME’s usual releases, the articles are very fond and admiring of Bowie and the pictures spur about emotions and predictions.

Content and Cover

To begin with, TIME magazine usually covers events of utmost importance, the deaths of celebrities sometimes included, however, not preferably the approach that the magazine usually takes to reporting, especially seeing as they released an entire edition in his honor alone. The edition itself is not the only unusual part, the cover is slightly different and diverted from the standard stance they take. The typical TIME cover picture frame includes a close-up on the person’s face, showing flaws and a usually stern expression. Both of the covers did not fit this particular criteria. The reason for this might be that the original photograph was not taken for the intent of ending up on the cover of TIME magazine, but rather on the cover of Interview magazine (Guzmán, 2016). The photograph is black and white, and empty of details, the only details in the cover are in the outfit. Bowie is portrayed as very futuristic because of his outfit and posture. It brings about a variety of emotions ranging from envy, to love and admiration. This cover itself plays at the inner music and pop culture lover in readers, it reinforces that Bowie was dominating his field, how he predicted the future of music, fashion, and society, just as he is in this picture, dominating the frame. He seems slightly alien, different than anything seen before, void of colors, makeup, and over the top statements, this cover is soft in its aggression towards showing that he is different, different and apart from anyone before, iconic. The lighting of the photograph, focuses on him being center, bringing about mystery to his aura. As Susan Sontag said in her book titled “On Photography”, there are huge amount of pictures floating around us and trying to grasp our attention, people choose what they want to divert their attention to, not based on actual freedom of choice, but on which pictures set out to capture the attention of the viewers (Sontag, 1977). This cover pierces into people’s attention and manages to successfully capture it, playing on their emotions because Bowie’s death was so recent. If what she said was true, and photographs really are experience captured, then this photograph didn’t do the best job at capturing the entire Bowie experience, but rather captured his death.

At the time of Bowie’s death, allot of rape accusations were coming about and people were accusing him of statutory rape (Hains, 2016). This edition was full of his accomplishments and acknowledging, that he had a large number of fans and that they all loved him, while ignoring any wrongdoing he had done in his life. It was filled with loaded language, and very emotional language, appealing to the empathy of people, who feel bad for his family and everyone who adored him, once again ignoring everything else. As Susan Moeller discusses, when events take place, people are bombarded with “relentless images” and “emotional language” this brings about feelings for people, however it also covers up any buzzing noises around the topic (Moeller, 1999). When the accusations started, media critic Dr. Rebecca Hains reported it on her website and explained that the situation isn’t black and white, that people can still love his music and work, yet acknowledge what happened. This is something that TIME magazine didn’t do, but rather chose to ignore, either for the sake of the family, the fans, or just to avoid staining his image (Hains, 2016). But this all goes back to the beginning, when someone set a format for covering the death of someone, it is always in similar ways. Just as media outlets covered the death of Alan Rickman, Paul Walker, and many others. They’ve taken an empathetic approach, a formulaic flow of coverage, that everyone follows, and just like rolling stones, interview, and every other media outlet, TIME followed the format (Moeller, 1999).


The headline of that month was very simple and easy to get across: David Bowie his life on earth. It depicts the coverage exactly, with pictures and articles revolving around his life… on earth. It fit well with the theme of the event and I would personally not change it. However, an alternative picture would have suited Bowie himself better, he himself was not a dark murky person, he would not have wanted people to mourn in his death, but to be happy and celebrate him. The cover is too serious and appeals to nearly everyone, but a cover that would appeal to his fans would be something they recognize, not as in a specific photograph or photo shoot, but rather a Bowie they recognized, one who was breaking norms and creating new ones, creating art with his presence. Perhaps it could have been a closer picture to his face, with the iconic lightning bolt that his fans have been wired to recognize on hand, which would particularly appeal to his audience, and everyone updated with media. Nevertheless, the cover still maintained a spirit of Bowie, with his head held high and his stance demanding, and it represented David Bowie, rather than the creator of David Bowie, being David Robert Jones.

Although TIME was very fond of Bowie in this January issue, and not at all objective with reporting, the essence of the issue remains in the cover page, which depicts an image of Bowie that leaves fans mourning for him, but also admiring his persona and applauding everything he did when he was living his “life of earth”.


Guzmán, I. ( 2016, January 13). See David Bowie on the Cover of This Week’s TIME. TIME. Retrieved from

Hains, D. R. (2016, January 11). Reconciling David Bowie’s genius with rape. Retrieved from Dr. Rebecca Hains:

Moeller, S. D. (1999). Four Habits of News Reporting. Brandeis University. Waltham: Brandeis University.

Sontag, S. (1977). On Photography. New York: Picador.














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