Friday, 8 February 2008

A Postnominal Honorific

I bought the March edition of Esquire on my way home this afternoon. Seeing as I am not of the gender of the intended target audience, my excitement for men's magazines strikes friends of mine as slightly curious. But I tend to find that men's magazines are free of the catty, insulting, patronising 'wink-wink' knowingness which abounds in their female counterparts. Certainly I am not generalising about all men's magazines, of course. I wouldn't say the same about Nutz or Ladz or any other such nonsense, but Esquire (perhaps GQ as well?) has always held a special place in my hierarchy of magazine appreciation.

Perhaps it is because the style editors of men's magazines refuse to print such inane things as the 'importance of investing' in a £1,000 briefcase. When such an item is featured in their pages, it is recognised for what it is. A frivolity. A nice, gleaming, expensive frivolity, but a frivolity nonetheless. None of this, 'it will save your life and look after you in your old age' nonsense that permeates women's magazines, encouraging us to be more neurotic about fashion than we need to be or perhaps already are.

Another thing I particularly appreciate in men's magazines is that information is not dumbed down to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Curiously, this also seems to be something I'm lately noticing about men in general. My favourite professor at University had the curious habit of assuming everyone knew exactly what he was talking about when making references to obscure, French, sixteenth century literature. And though I of course had not the slightest idea what he was on about, I still found it gratifying and flattering that he spoke to me (and to everyone) as if I did. I am not certain why I haven't been more aware of this before, but men tend to treat me this way. They expect I know what they are talking about. If I do know, I appreciate the assumption. But even if I don't know, I still appreciate that the assumption is made. It is considerably more pleasant to ask for clarification of the unknown than to be treated like an infantile imbicile.

Women's magazines do not do this. And I am beginning to wonder if this isn't because women tend to assume you won't be familiar with what they are making reference to anyway. For example, in March's Esquire, page 46 introduces each of the month's contributors with a bit of relevant information. The first contributor is Ross Raisin whose debut novel, God's Own Country, is given an astounding six pages of space in the magazine for the printing of the first chapter of his novel. The whole first chapter (so what if it's only six pages, that's still six pages of lucrative advertising space) is printed in the middle of magazine. This in itself is absolutely astonishing. But more intriguing is that Raisin is introduced by a glowing recommendation from J.M. Coetzee ('this is what J.M. Coetzee has to say about Raisin's debut novel...'). Now if this were, say, Glamour or even Harper's Bazar, the recommendation would have said something like, 'this is what J.M. Coetzee, novelist and winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, had to say about Raisin's debut novel...' The assumption being that women who read women's magazines have no idea who J.M. Coetzee is and need a prompt to fill the gap in knowledge, whereas men are so attuned to modern culture (and if we take Esquire's word for it, business, politics, fashion, and sport as well) that they need no such helping hand.

The conceit of assumed knowledge doesn't end with the Contributors page though. It carries throughout the whole magazine. There is a brilliant section in Esquire (delineated from the rest of the magazine by its being printed on thicker, coloured paper) entitled 'Critics' which when compared to the films, books, etc. reviewed in women's magazines makes men appear to be the sex far more interested in and informed about modern literature, art house cinema, pop music, and art exhibitions around the world. Reviewed in March's Esquire: the film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, a future review/plug for the 80th Academy Awards, Nick Cave's Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, a Jasper Johns exhibition at The Met, and JG Ballard's Miracles of Life. And I should point out that these reviews are, at the minimum a full page, not the three sentence monstrosities which masquerade as reviews in women's magazines. In addition, Esquire has a regular section, 'The Brief,' which does reviews 'women's magazine style' for when you've had your fill of the proper reviews, but still want to know a bit more about what's going on in the month.

In the current issue of Elle on the other hand we have reviews of: Duffy (4 sentences), Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong (4 sentences, none have anything to do with music), Goldfrapp (5 sentences, one is four words long), Lenny Kravitz, Sebastian Teller, Jack Johnson, The Feeling (1 or 2 sentences each). Frankly I am bored already and I have yet to start on the books (Confessions of a Fallen Angel, Beginner's Greek, Silver Bay, The Point of Rescue, I Play the Drums in a Band Called Okay, The Clothes on Their Backs, His Illegal Self, Submarine) or films (Be Kind Rewind, Fool's Gold, Margot at the Wedding, There Will be Blood), but I can tell you it's much the same as the monstrosities detailed for the music 'reviews' above. The reviews are no more than two sentences long and for the book 'reviews' at least, the page appears more concerned with the aesthetic presentation of a pretty stack of books rather than telling us anything about them.

Elle is 410 pages. Esquire, 224. While I enjoy the fashion features of Elle, I get more enjoyment out of Esquire. There is something vapid and shallow about women's magazines. They take little to no effort and the only parts of the body which are engaged in their reading are the eyes ('look at all the pretty colours') and the fingers (mindless page turning). Men's magazines are interesting, compelling, informative, and pretty to look at, especially if you are as partial to tailoring as I am. Not that every page of Esquire is worth lauding; the feature detailing 'the rise and fall of an A&R man' holds little interest. But when all is said and done, my money is on men's magazines. Or at least it will be until the editors of women's magazines get it together and realise that when women say we want it all, we really mean we want it all. Fashion and intelligent features, reviews, and comments.

That, and we don't need to be told who J.M. Coetzee is.

3 comments:

Maximilian said...

You should really read something more... relevant. To life. In general. Why not take on De Finibus unto your hands, thrice a week and dust off the portfolio of your ancient languages?

Maximilian said...

DAMN! I thought I could do this anonymously! No such luck. Gosh darnit!

Jumani said...

wow. I never give mens magazines a second look (unless of course they have a beautiful nubile half naked thing on the cover). Perhaps I will give Esquire another look. I expect the same old consumerist ethos, however, with or without the briefcases.