Is it unkind to describe the media industry as a pack of sheep? Take Parade magazine, the weekly insert found in most Sunday newspapers, which in its July 21 issue tackles the sizzling hot topic of barbecue. Yay, barbecue. We can never get enough of this subject.
The magazine does it up big: BBQ photo essay, video and a roundup of BBQ places from "top restaurant critics" across the country, including Dallas BBQ authority Leslie Brenner, so you know it's a good list. (Her pick: Lockhart Smokehouse.)
And look who's on the cover: none other than Austin's iconic Franklin Barbecue. The issue does a "day in the life," following godlike Aaron Franklin like he's never been followed (100 times) before. Wonderful publicity for a place that doesn't get enough. Finally, someone takes notice of this undiscovered gem.
But it's Parade's approach that raises eyebrows. If you compare the cover side-by-side with the much ballyhooed May issue of Texas Monthly, the two bear a remarkable resemblance. Both covers show a blue tray piled to the brim with Franklin's menu offerings: sausage, brisket, ribs, baked beans, onions, pickles, potato salad and coleslaw in brown cardboard containers. The two photos are, for all intents and purposes, identical.
Would you call that reverential and homage-like, or derivative and copycat?
The resemblance is significant enough that Parade posted a disclaimer on July 20 at 7:53 pm, denying that it had cloned the Texas Monthly layout.
Great barbecue clearly makes creative teams think alike. To illustrate this Sunday’s Parade cover heralding the golden age of barbecue — a story in the works for months — we spent a day shooting at Franklin Barbecue. When we asked Franklin pitmaster Aaron Franklin to put together a tray of the offerings available at his restaurant that day, he presented us with this beautiful display — and we shot it as he presented it. We didn’t have a food stylist or a prop stylist on the shoot. The similarity to a recent Texas Monthly cover is purely coincidental.
To give the benefit of the doubt, maybe it's true that "creative teams" think alike. Maybe Parade was operating in a vacuum where its "creative" team never saw the Texas Monthly issue. Maybe Aaron Franklin put one over on them, cackling diabolically over the lack of imagination displayed by magazine creative teams as he composed the identical tray.
But maybe the problem isn't the visuals. Maybe Parade could tackle a different topic. Maybe, just maybe, we've had enough stories about barbecue for now.