"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 11 November 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Dream Girl



Thomas Pynchon's Lotion interview

convinced us that Esquire isn't

really all that picky about who

it profiles, so at first the

sight of an unknown actress on

the cover didn't seem so

unusual. Equally ordinary was

the story itself - on Hollywood

"It Girl" Allegra Coleman,

nestled in the feature well

along with an article naming the

year's best new restaurants and

another celebrating the Baldwin

brothers' political

consciousness. Not only is

Coleman the object of David

Schwimmer's affections and the

star of Woody Allen's

forthcoming film, writer Martha

Sherrill reports in the

hype-heavy prose typical of such

puff pieces - the rising star is

actually emblematic of Hollywood

today. Or as the magazine puts

it on the contributors' page:

"If Allegra Coleman did not

exist, someone would have to

invent her."



By now you probably know the

punchline: She didn't, so

Sherrill did. In a press release

sent out over the newswires,

Esquire revealed that the

profile is a hoax - "a parody of

the celebrity journalism that's

run wild in the '90s." While we

await forthcoming releases

revealing that the magazine's

similarly featherweight pieces

on Oscar De La Hoya and the

up-and-coming actress Tilda

Swinton are actually artfully

skewering the conventions of

their respective genres, it's

hard to tell how anyone who

didn't read the original would

know the Coleman story is bogus.

Especially in a magazine that's

been known to publish the

occasional puff profile itself.



Not only does an unironic read of

the story fit in all too well

with the rest of the magazine,

there's nothing in the feature

itself that invites suspicion -

especially in an age when plenty

of celebrities we've barely

heard of land a magazine cover

before their second major role.

Editor-in-Chief Edward Kosner

says in the press release that

"sophisticated readers will get

the joke," but we wonder if he's

actually referring to Esquire

readers; after all, he was the

one who reintroduced the cartoon

mascot Esky into a magazine once

known for publishing some of the

most sophisticated journalism in

America. Besides, it's one thing

to expect media savvy, quite

another to expect subscribers to

thumb through press releases as

supplementary reading.


[Another Cover]

Provided anyone in the intended

audience actually does get the

joke, who exactly is it pointed

toward? Mocking the likes of US and

Entertainment Weekly certainly

allows Esquire to occupy the

moral high ground, but the

piece's just-us-guys point of

view (it mentions Coleman's

"triumphant breasts" in a way we

kinda think People wouldn't)

pegs it as a definite men's mag

piece. Sure, rival GQ will

probably blush a little, but the

Coleman satire seems more like

self-parody than anything

directed outward. It's as if

Spin ran an enthusiastic article

about a (bogus) hot new band or

Wired printed a positive piece

on a (fictional) cool young

venture capitalist. Sometimes

even playful parody hits a

little too close to the bone.


[Yet Another Cover]

Any self-parody aspect was all

but ignored by media reporters

eager to see the once-proud

magazine rack up some relevance

points. A few began their pieces

with typically breathless prose

about the hot new actress - then

revealed in the second or third

graf that she was invented.

Others chuckled over what the

Associated Press called "the

real joke": The woman who

portrayed Coleman, Ali Larter,

is reportedly talking to an

agent and has already appeared

on "Good Morning America" - no

doubt to talk about her

demanding role.


It should come as no surprise

that Larter's star is rising -

Esquire's parody is intended to

poke fun at the speed of

celebrity as well as its

vapidity. But the real joke is

how quickly journalists turned a

magazine's publicity ploy into a

creative coup. Even more

formulaic than the celebrity

journalism Sherrill mocks, their

pieces give Esquire a veneer of

hip it lost long ago. Even the

somewhat more sober Salon calls

the profile "a stunt reminiscent

of Esquire's glory days in the

'60s." Facile as this may be, we

doubt Kosner and crew will pull

out their pens to parody such

puffery. It's even more

important to read your press

than weigh it, especially when

your own magazine has been

getting thinner by the year.

courtesy of Dr. Dreidel