Martha Stewart resurrects bloody nurse image for Halloween
In October 2021, Martha Stewart Living reprinted an image of a Halloween costume Stewart had created in 2016. She wore an old-timey nurse outfit and was covered in blood, as a tribute to Richard Prince’s nurse paintings. This image isn’t very naughty, with limited cleavage. Nor is it very battle-axey, as Stewart looks more terrified than terrifying. Still, after a while, and without the cultural backstory of the paintings, continuing this antiquated imagery isn’t great for a modern profession.
October 2021 – In this month’s Martha Stewart Living, the lifestyle guru resurrected an image of a scary Halloween costume she had first created in 2016 for an exclusive New York “Prince on Prince” party. That party honored both the recently-deceased pop music icon Prince Rogers Nelson and visual artist Richard Prince, whose “nurse paintings” were themselves homages of a sort to pulp novels of prior decades. Stewart has brought the imagery back before, at least as recently as 2019. Explaining the original look, Stewart specifically referenced Richard Prince’s 2002 “Park Avenue Nurse.” An apparent extrapolation of such paintings, Stewart’s outfit and make-up create an image of a blood-stained nurse who seems to be more a zombie victim than a perpetrator. Although some of the original imagery did include some cleavage, it was not very naughty either. Our take on Richard Prince’s paintings, probably a minority view among nursing advocates, was that they were a provocative and arguably helpful commentary on the distressed, constricted state of the profession, both in media and on the ground. However, as with the paintings, we can certainly see how some could react differently to Stewart’s costume. And while Richard Prince seems to have ended his series of nurse paintings around 2008, today we continue to see naughty nurse and naughty-axe imagery. The latter combines the sexuality of the former with the malevolence of “battle-axes,” nurses wielding scary authority that those traditionally seen as meek, submissive females really should not have. At this point, it seems likely that some damage flows simply from continuing to present nurses in antiquated female uniforms, something that is not part of the standard media narrative for most modern professions. So on balance, while Stewart’s costume is not all that damaging as such images go, at this point it’s not very helpful either.
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Thank you to Jennifer Harp and Carol Wahl for letting us know about this.