It’s rare, very rare, for me to buy a print magazine of any kind these days, but I totally got suckered into buying GQ last month because, uh, Zach Galifianakis was on the cover. Actually, it was worse than that: they were doing this collect-all-three-covers thing to trick me into buying three copies, and it almost worked except I never have impure thoughts about Tracy Morgan, and I couldn’t really justify buying two of the same thing just because Paul Rudd’s face was also available. I’m not calling this nonsense nonsense by way of claiming that I’m somehow above it; to the contrary, I’m letting you know that I considered it very strongly, because I’d really prefer it if all of you lost all respect for me right this second.
Where was I? Yeah, so I bought an issue of GQ. Now, I should explain that I used to really love GQ. For a couple of years in my early 20s, it was the only print magazine I subscribed to. It would be more accurate, actually, to say I was moderately obsessed with the gentleman’s !Quarterly. It started out innocently enough: I was on break during my last week of work at a bowling alley in a resort, had finished my book and as the alley was absolutely dead, decided I needed additional reading material. The gift shop upstairs lacked for any of the sorts of magazines preferred by upper-middle-class, latte-drinking, Saab-driving liberals (and also, people who work in bowling alleys but read the exact same magazines as those people). In the absence of Harper‘s, or the New Yorker, or even Vanity Fair or Vogue, I was growing a tad desperate. Then I noticed that the new issue of GQ — a special, fat anniversary issue — boasted pieces by James Ellroy, Michael Paterniti, and Jeffrey Euginedes. Of course, the cover also featured a photo of Heidi Klum wearing a whip cream bikini. It was sort of mortifying to haul the thing around, but these are the sacrifices we make in this life.
Of course, while there were almost always at least two or three unrepentantly gorgeously-written and -researched articles about, uh, Issues or whatever, I was also obsessed with the way the magazine presented the World of Men. It turned out I could read about bespoke suits and brush and soap shaves and how to win at craps all day long. I’m not sure why this is, really. I have a similar fascination with good sportswriting — the rhythm and voice of it rivets me even when I have no idea what the writer is going on about, or if I just don’t care. Granted, shaving and tailoring are actually things I do know a thing or two about, as a shaver of my own legs and a sewer of some of my own jackets. Still, these topics are never presented to women in the same way. Women’s magazines talk to you about bikini waxes or new blazers in a way that tries to make them sound exciting or just presents a new variation that’s cheaper or more convenient (or, you know, deconstructs that we have to bother with these things at all). Men’s magazines talk about these things as if they’re initiating the reader into a newer, classier, sexier way to live. They spoke to my own struggling, middle-class aspirations in a way that, oh, say, Vogue or Cosmo never could. And a brush and soap shave is just flat out sexy.
But like a lot of people my age, and maybe a lot of people in general, I sort of stopped buying print magazines years ago; I haven’t subcribed to a newspaper since I last wrote for one (in mid-2005). I’ve never been a “print is dead” person, since it’s my general observation that declaring things dead, or declaring other things The Future, is a great way to look like an idiot in two years. (People said “the future of content is online” a lot in 2000, and then look what happened to the Internet. I mean, right after that. Not in the long term. Shut up. You know what I mean. Also I had a friend in high school who was fond of saying that Apple was doing ti disappear within a year, and 10 bucks says that guy is seething through a Genius Bar appointment as I write these very words.) Still, I was a little surprised by the information presented in a, um, two-page advertorial spread extolling the virtues of Magazines, saying that Contrary to What You May Have Heard, magazine circulations are going up! Especially among 18-to-34-year-olds! They had a point! I’m 18-to-34 years old, and I was reading a magazine right that minute. However, the fact that this magazine felt the need to call my attention to the fact that I was doing this, and presumably also the reassure advertisers who might be thumbing through the magazine that, definitely, people like me were doing this…it felt a little sad and uncomfortable for everybody, really.
And that wasn’t the only thing that felt sad and uncomfortable about that experience. I really ennjoyed a lot of the magazine, really. The piece about Garry Shandling (who I’ve adored since I was about six) was both fascinating and off-putting; I enjoyed learning that Bill Murray is just as brilliant and just as much of a dick as I always imagined (and also a little bit of a dirty old man!), and because I’ve always been a sucker for the Interview magazine, circle-jerk style of article where a pair or group of famous people talk to each other about stuff I may or may not care about, I enjoyed the article where the three cover boys talked about the future of comedy. I just realized that I sound like I’m being sarcastic here. No. I really do like Bill Murray being a jerk, and celebrities being gross with each other. I told you. I’m an idiot.
Still. This goddamn magazine. As I said, I always got and liked that GQ was about the world of men, and that that world seemed so exotic and strange compared to the world I lived in! I loved it! And either I’ve outgrown my fascination with brush and soap shaves, or GQ — and other men’s magazines, I’m surmising — haven’t really caught up to the world around them. I’d say something snotty about the three-month lead time, except that really isn’t it. Even Vanity Fair, after running that stupid piece wherein Christopher Hitchens ripped off something John Belushi said 30 goddamn years ago , decided that actually, quite a few women these days are pretty funny! And ran a cover story about them. There were valid criticisms to be made of that; first, that some really fascinating high-profile comedy ladies were omitted; second, the way all the cover ladies were sexualized (and I get that, because comedy ladies used to be so desexualized based only on their funniness, even if they were actually pretty good-looking); third, that, OK, you get it. It was all still way better than the stupid Hitchens piece or the time VF decided Maureen Dowd should get to write 10,000 words about how Tina Fey used to be fat. (And hairy! And also fat! But men found her attractive. Even though she was fat! And hairy! And also fat! There, I just saved you the chore of actually Googling and reading this thing.) It all felt a little like 1992 being the year of the woman or whenever the hell that was. A little token.
But GQ’s comedy issue, on the other hand? You want tokenism? Try a half-page feature on five up-and-coming female comics, with about ten sentences devoted to each. While it’s I guess a little annoying that Olivia Munn is described as a “bro with breasts” (even though I’ve been described in similar terms by many a man-friend) and Rashida Jones is so pretty-yet-nonthreatening that “your girlfriend wants to make out with her” (zzzzZZZZzzz), I’m not even quite irritated at the reductiveness and the oh-yeah-guess-we-should-talk-about-female-comicsness of the feature. For the same reason that when I stumbled upon a one-page, front-of-the-book feature from a woman explaining that it’s actually totally OK to make dirty jokes in front of us, and in fact some of us get really peeved if you don’t. Not because I disagreed; it’s just that, in a world where everyone who can afford a GQ subscription can also afford an Internet connection, torrent all the Sarah Silverman routines they like and read countless potty-mouthed blogs by potty-mouthed ladybloggers, the idea that women can, in fact, actually deal with dick jokes is…um, not front-page news.
Might this be the reason that expressions like “front-page news” are merely metaphor? I mean, it’s entirely possible that I’ve become so cool that these magazines have nothing to teach me anymore. Or that I’m not really as much of a bro as I might have imagined. Granted, Judd Apatow himself has yet to figure out that there’s no legal injunction against assigning more than five funny lines per movie to a female character — nor does he realize that while there are plenty of men and boys like the ones his movies portray out in the real world, a lot of those men and boys have women friends, not all of whom they’re trying to sleep with, who can be just as weird and irresponsible and insecure as their male counterparts.
I mean, maybe I’m too deep in my own self-selected Internet universe here, with all its feministy blogs and Garfunkel & Oates videos, but it hardly seems that anyone with half a brain these days is really unaware of the fact that women can be quite funny! Oh, it’s true, many people I know who have more than half a brain are wildly dismissive of books written by ladies about lady stuff, or of music made by ladies, but I really thought we had this whole funny-ladies business thing down. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe GQ‘s not wildly out of touch. I hope I’m wrong. But if I’m not, I guess there’s something I can clip out and hand to the next gentleman who stops himself from making a fart joke just because I’m in the room.
Though it would be so much easier to send him a link…