September 14, 2005

Men's Vogue: Friend or Foe?

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I love reading magazines. From trashy to retarded to shameful, there’s just something completely compelling about those glossy pages that tugs at my aspartame-laden heartstrings. I like to think it’s because they are essentially the adult world’s answer to that void vacated by picture books the magical year we all turned 10. Magazines, like picture books possess the same overall dependency on visual aids but manage to work in a slightly more sophisticated vocabulary so you don’t feel like total, uncultured pond scum. Keep in mind, of course, that a few exceptions to the general rule exist here and there (I mean you, Cosmopolitan!).

My love affair with the glossies has spanned multiple genres thanks to my always-judge-a-magazine-by-its-cover philosophy but this was not always the case. I started out as any 15-year-old future English major would, by claiming that my favorite magazine was Time and that being on top of current affairs made my heart beat faster. It wasn’t until I realized the only thing in Time that could affect my pulse in any way was the entertainment section or Joel Stein’s column, that I thought about abandoning my unmotivated snobbery.

The next few years were filled with exploration ranging from the indie pretentious (Flaunt, i-D) to the hilariously raunchy (Jane, Stuff) to the blatantly nerdy (PC, Gamer) to the fashionista supreme (Vogue, Arena Homme) and of course, the shamelessly trashy (Us Weekly, People). As with most things in life, the words “target audience” usually mean nothing to me as long as the magazine in my hand is entertaining and of course, filled to the brim with pictures.

So this brings us to now. And when I say “now,” I really mean last weekend as I was completing the final round of my weekly shopping trip to Target (always a deathtrap for directionless browsing). That’s when I saw it. Nestled neatly between Details and that annoying shallow-yet-masquerading-as-a-publication-with-substance poser known as Vanity Fair, was the face of George Clooney in one of his more Cary Grant-ish moods beneath the word Vogue. Hmm that’s weird, a guy on the cover of Vogue. A second look confirmed what I already knew was true. This wasn’t just regular, nuclear-Wintour-status Vogue or even overpriced British Vogue. This was the premiere issue of Men’s Vogue.

Obviously, this was a sign that I had to purchase said magazine immediately. So how was it exactly? Sandwiched between a Ralph Lauren ad with the unnaturally tanned designer himself smugly posing next to trees, cars and women and a Calvin Klein ad with a typically androgynous model staring intensely at nothing in particular while propped against a wooden board, I would say that Men’s Vogue is being quite ambitious.

The editor’s note was slightly less ambitious and included a stylized story involving some crickets as a segue way into how worldly and broad the magazine aimed to be. Don’t ask me how that was supposed to work. Anyway, the usual Vogue fare was there; lengthy essays about fashion, inside peeks into exclusive underground high culture guaranteed to make you feel like a peasant and the occasional pouty model or two. In other words, this was a magazine for the fine wines, tailored suit, history of horse breeding sort of man, the kind of man that you hope Jake Gyllenhaal will age into (provided that he has to age at all), the kind of man that Al Pacino (unfortunately) did not age into. Essentially, it’s that salt-and-peppered hair guy tucked in the patriarch position of all those oddly all-American Tommy Hilfiger ads.

My point is that I was disappointed, but not in the way that you think. Not supremely fantastic but not ridiculously suck-tastic either, Men’s Vogue had actually managed to create something that occupied that middle ground of conventional acceptability. Think of it as Details’ conservative older brother (if such a thing is desirable), think of it as vanilla ice cream with a side of mediocre, think of it as blah but perhaps its best if you don’t think of it at all.

Archived article by Tracy Zhang