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Ideas, Pop Culture

Magazines: Now With More Sucking

Time was I LOVED magazines. In high school I had two years’ subscription to Rolling Stone, in college I bought Spin and Alternative Press regularly, I’d pick up Magnet back when it used to have comic strips. And even as late as a year or two ago, I loved picking up WIRED or PopSci or one of the business mags at the airport. There was always something to learn, and I felt that somewhere on the rack there was a magazine that would match my tastes or my mood.

ROLLING STONE long ago descended into the thrall of rock publicists and Rogaine (now ED) ads. SPIN has basically been Tiger Beat for college students and aspirational high school music geeks for about a decade. I rarely buy them unless I’m about to get on a plane on two hours’ sleep.

Over the last year or so, magazines ON A WHOLE started to suck for me. The WIRED brand used to hold the promise of the future. Now the content/entertainment balance it used to handle so deftly seems to have tipped in the favor of ADD crowd. Even the business magazines don’t have the content they used to.

Has the advent of the Internet sent the industry scrambling that hard?

Or have I really fallen that far out of the magazine industry demographic?

Back when I first used to visit San Francisco, I loved visiting City Lights books–for the Beat history, sure, but also for their magazine racks. City Lights always had something I’d never heard of before, that promised culture that I’d never seen before. Views from the fringe.

I stopped by there for the first time in a while, and was impressed by the variety as always–but devastatingly underwhelmed by the content they offered. You know magazines are doing something wrong when I can’t even get past the covers. And it made me want to rant: To wit

BOMB

BOMB Magazine, which I used to have some respect for ’cause it was so “arty.” But the content choices lauded on the cover just seem to me as arbitrary and political as the art world itself. Since when do people still give a shit about The Boredoms? Also, while I’ve always loved the mag’s name and clean, potent logo, does anything say “we’re desperate for sales” than an eye-piercing flat orange-and-green color scheme and huge copy font?

As an aside, who could be so pretentious to take the last name Eno who’s first name isn’t “Brian?” Isn’t that the art-world equivalent of naming yourself “Jerry Presley” or “Buck Dylan” or “James Timberlake”? (oops, waitaimnute…)

WAXPOETICS

Who’s the audience for WAXPOETICS? People who think Zack De La Rocha was the talent in Rage Against The Machine? People who think Mos Def sold out when he started acting? This issue is The Rock Issue, which apparently has a two-years-since-the-documentary coverage of Bad Brains. And I’m guessing a Michael Franti centerfold.

THE BIG TAKEOVER

This issue of THE BIG TAKEOVER might have appealed to me five years ago. And its content choices do hold true to its tag line promise of “Music With Heart.” Hell, I even picked it up and got to the Table of Contents. But after that, I was just done.

I like most of these groups but I just don’t need to read about them…or in the case of R.E.M., think about them ever again.

Stephen Malkmus’ music is almost-but-not-quite interesting to me, Ray Davies had his comeback ten years ago so get over it, and as much as I want to like the New Porns I like lyrics that mean something even more. Nada Surf are good boys who make good music, but why would that make for compelling reading? And Johnny LydRot is for entertainment purposes only…something I imagine he’d tell you himself these days.

Plus, one bit of outright fraud: There as no such thing as The Top 50 Reggae Albums.

TEA PARTY

Turns out TEA PARTY is a local “creative” mag from my old commuter stomping grounds of Oakland. And I’m all for mags that promote diversity. And the design…well, I don’t hate it. Nice color combos playing off the photo. I appreciate that the cover is designed around the cover illo, right down to the the flush-right of the logo (even though that might cost them some rack recognition). And the inclusion of Maxine Hong Kingston is, I’m sure, quite a coups. Still, nothing about it really resonated for me. Pass.

PARANOIA

Fuck you, PARANOIA Magazine. Fuck you for juxtaposing Barak Obama and “Man-made AIDS” on your latest cover. Can’t you at least wait until after he gets elected? You’re the WEEKLY WORLD NEWS for tinfoil-hatted conspiracy shut-ins. Also, fuck you.

THE JOURNAL OF IRREPRODUCIBLE RESULTS

Now THE JOURNAL OF IRREPRODUCIBLE RESULTS I can get behind. Even the title is a scientist in-joke. There is something really charming to me about the idea of “Science Humor.” Humor that’s obscure not because it’s about old TV shows or political references, but because you need a freakin’ Masters’ degree to understand the references. Nothing wrong with that. Hey, nobody cared about old Megos before Twisted Toyfare Theater, and that begat “Robot Chicken.” But this stuff isn’t even accessible enough to be considered “geeky.” It’s clearly serving a need that a 128 glossy pages full of cigarette ads and fragrance strips can’t even begin to satiate. And if making our nation’s scientists chortle helps grease the way to curing cancer, I say bully.

HUNTERGATHERESS JOURNAL

I’m sorry, Joan d’Arc. I lost all tolerance for stuff like HUNTERGATHERESS JOURNAL after I graduated UC Santa Cruz and finally slept with a girl who shaved her pits. Although I’d rather read your periodical cover-to-cover than reading one more article on Panic! At The Disco.

I hope that each of these pubs find audiences, which means people are not only still reading print, but that once in a while, they want well-researched, well-written articles that take longer than one bathroom trip to read. I have some ideas on how to save magazines, but that’s another post.

And maybe next time I’ll actually read one or two of these. But we’ve got a four-month backlog of NEW YORKERs in the house, so I doubt it.

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About kengrobe

Both for work and for pleasure, I create. I'm a writer, a musician, a creative manager, a sketch comic, and a comics writer (don't get those last two twisted!). I've made rent with some or all of these. And for my next trick, I'm going to figure out which of them I want to do most.

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