Mags to Riches

Where I work, I don’t tend to go out at lunchtime, preferring to relax in air-conditioned comfort instead of sweating through the City fug. But people tend to assume that if you are at your desk, you should be working, so it’s necessary to adopt an elaborate set of rituals to convince people that this is actually your break that is being disturbed, and would they please go away and find someone else to do it. Icons used in the process may, for example, include an open pack of sandwiches,  to indicate that You Are Not Available. Another possibility is some form of reading material: a newspaper, book or magazine, obviously not work-related. The ideal publication would, I suppose, be ‘Doggie Love’ but failing this (I like my job. No, actually I don’t. But the pay-packet is curiously appealing), the next most viable is one of the plethora of ‘male interest’ magazines now on the shelves. In the interests of research, I stacked up on a pile of these, thereby turning my desk into the office reading room. When I eventually prised them from the hands of my colleagues, I was able to read and review ’em…

Arena #59 – “The original men’s magazine”, it calls itself. S’funny then how it’s managed fewer issues than most of the competition. Maybe it refers to their writing? Not going by the relentlessly Anglophile footie piece (tenuously linked to the European football championships), a feature of every magazine surveyed. Ah, I guess what it means is the term “New Lad” was first used here in ’91. Zzzz. Gets the Best Pictures award for a gross portrayal of the effects of a land-mine (another reason not to want to live in Bosnia, should you be considering it) and some striking pictures of Demi Moore as a bloke. The articles lack the same punch, though there’s occasionally a well-written paragraph which salvages things by hitting the nail squarely on the head. Slightly interesting, and certainly makes an attempt at intelligence, even if it sometimes ends up so wide of the mark you wish they hadn’t bothered.

  • Highlight: the I-Spy guide to anti-personnel mines.
  • Lowlight: Sean O’Hagan’s whining, complete with excessive use of the word “ironic”, or rather “”ironic””, complaining that “New Lad” doesn’t mean what he wants it to mean. So what? Is he going to hand back the money he’s made from pontificating on the topic?

Esquire Vol.6 No.5 – For quality writing, this one is probably the winner, with a huge range of pieces on everything from Nelson Mandela to jungle survival and corruption in the Yemenese British embassy. This variety is the stand-out feature, there seems no editorial philosophy, though this does mean it feels like “Reader’s Digest” occasionally and it does come over as being dry, like a hard-copy version of Radio 4. Subdued babe-count makes it a safe bet to leave around at home. One interesting sidelight is the lack of any real review material; while most of the others delight in telling you what they think about the latest book, film, CD or whatever.  Esquire avoids this, demonstrating either a commendable desire to avoid freebie whoring, or a complete lack of personality. It says something about Esquire thatI’m not sure which is true. Like a bottle of Evian, it’s good, but ultimately bland and tasteless.

  • Highlight: a piece on dominatrixes, in which for once the reporter doesn’t make his excuses and leave. And regrets it.
  • Lowlight: four pages of Tarantino’s latest screenplay. Oh, joy.

FHM #77 – Hadn’t realised this one has been around for over six years, but even after so long, there appears to be a ferocious internal struggle for control happening. Half the magazine is terribly earnest – there are two female columnists and readers’ problems include tooth discolouration and shaving rash (the free gift is a sample tube of face lotion) – yet the picture editor is clearly trying to compete with Sports Illustrated, given the number of bikini shots. Nary a nipple in sight, but undeniably chauvinist, this side of the magazine reached a glorious high in October ’95, with their “100 Sexiest Women” supplement, which my girlfriend rapidly reduced to confetti. [It therefore joined the ‘Tokyo Decadence’ laser-disk, two posters of Nastassja Kinski — eyes gouged out — and an issue of Cameron Scholes’ She magazine, all of which have met similar fates. A higher compliment is hard to imagine.] However, overall, the useable content of the mag is too diluted to be of regular interest.  Browse carefully.

  • Highlight: “Annoy that customs officer: strap your midriff with six sandwiches wrapped in tin foil. Imagine how pleased the man at the Blue Exit will be when you reveal the novel way in which you chose, quite legally, to transport a packed lunch”.
  • Lowlight: an article where women discuss what they don’t like about their men — the correct response being, of course, “Who cares?”.

GQ #84 – The thickest of ’em all, thanks to paper carved from mahogany slabs, and a massive triumph of style over content. More ads than anywhere else, including a 20-page property supplement of Belgravia flats and country estates (anyone got £2.75m?), and lacking a single article of any interest.  Not one. An interview with Burt Bacharach? Nein, danke. They did get rapped by their publishers a while ago for getting too sexy, and certainly this issue lives up to it’s ‘Gay Quarterly’ nickname by having few babes, beyond four pages of “Nicole” from the Renault adverts in a push-up bra. Had a free gift: a teeny paperback of short stories which I lost inside 24 hours. I’m not heartbroken. The target audience for this issue appears to be millionaire homosexuals with no sense of humour.

  • Highlight: Er…a page on sporting alternatives to the European championships?
  • Lowlight: Most of it. Particularly dire “single lad’s diary” was neither plausible nor amusing.

Loaded #26 – This is the upstart which blew the Y-fronts off the competition, pioneering the New Lab spirit of beers, steers and leers.  It still remains the most politically incorrect of all the mags, with more actual breasts than any of its competitors. It’s all a bit relentlessly drunken though, an attitude which pales eventually and you yearn for a slightly more intelligent approach to life. There is more to New Laddism than alcohol induced vomiting, and boasting about it after.  Half the articles seem to be “We went to Sydney/South Africa/a Scottish island, and drank till we puked”. Perhaps the closest in spirit to TC, and mercifully free of articles on skin care, though still with too much fashion i.e. any. In terms of volume, the pick of the bunch, you’re looking at three lunch-hours minimum to get through it all.

  • Highlight: the ongoing comic adaptation of ‘Get Carter’, done in true 70’s fashion. “Your eyes are still the same, Eric. Piss ‘oles in the snow.” Anyone remember ‘Hook Jaw’?
  • Lowlight: A pointless article on Demi Moore illustrated by blurry screen shots from a David Letterman appearance. Arena did it much better.

Maxim #14 – New kid on the block, barely a year old, and nearly missed from this survey since the July issue turned up before I got round to buying the June one (a tip of the TC hat to Pascale at work, who supplied the missing link). A slim creature, at a mere 160 pages, yet it fights back with a lot of good, solid content. The interest in health is worrying – the only mag to give more space to it than to clothes. Yet here there is a nicely ironic approach which helps defuse the tedium: the main fashion item is a selection of Greek statues in shorts. Sleaze factor moderate: gratuitous swimwear and women talking about masturbation – the former with lots of pictures, the latter regrettably without. Steers a difficult path with some skill, managing on the whole to be intelligent and entertaining and on this month’s showing, the best read.

  • Highlight: Probably the blackline racing piece, about the real speed kings, but lots of good stuff.
  • Lowlight: A well-intentioned but pointless article on sexual harassment.

Conclusions: So, after £15.30 and 1140 pages, what have we learned? I know more about overpriced clothes than before. I am aware that the European Football Championships are on, featuring England and a load of foreigners. I own a Danni Minogue poster, some facial scrub and enough scratch-and-sniff after-shave ads to stock a Turkish whorehouse for years. And ‘Fargo’ is a good movie, apparently (actually, didn’t like it much myself). I detect hints of a New Lad backlash, which is odd, given the whole thing is pretty much a backlash anyway. Some questions remain, such as why Arena has a large ‘E’ on the spine. But what was perhaps surprising was the differences rather than the similarities; while undoubtedly male, each had a personality and could be matched to, say, movie stars. The following chart does this, in order of TC appeal, shows the pages each gives to various areas, and provides other useful statistics:

 PagesAdsFashionHealthUsefulBabesPriceCover StarPersonality
1. Maxim1604961194172.50Elle McPhersonPierce Brosnan
2. Loaded236103111*   121472.40Chris TarrantCharlie Sheen
3. FHM18073301265282.50Gena Lee NolinTom Cruise
4. Esquire1947815398112.70Salma HayekDustin Hoffman
5. Arena17235238108142.50Demi Moore     Kevin Costner
6. GQ198118271142102.70Andy GarciaRichard Gere
– And that’s a not-exactly-serious piece on, er, constipation.

My overwhelming feeling is relief. I’ve stared into the drunken, impeccably well-coutured face of New Laddism, and will not be taking out a subscription. While they all had their merits, the last thing I’m in need of is a magazine to tell me what to wear, watch and do. That’s what girlfriends are for, isn’t it?