S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 20 November 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 

 
Get A Lifestyle

 

[Danny Boy]

Iron John rusted out, and The

Bridges of Madison County now

span a dry revenue stream. Since

literature's two Roberts

oversaturated themselves into

irrelevance, "men" have all but

disappeared from the national

landscape. In their place, a

legion of snowboard-toting,

cigar-puffing, stripper-tipping

creatures has arisen: They golf,

they moisturize, they are the

spawn of Dan Cortese. In the

lexicon of daily life, they're

known as "guys."

 

[Style]

Biologically identical to their

forebears, these creatures have

two main distinguishing

psychological characteristics.

The first is the veneer of

irony with which they coat their

traditionally male behavior.

Guys know it's not PC to treat

women as sex objects - they've

seen the talk shows, they've

maybe even read an article or

two. And, you know, they're cool

with that - after all, women are

people too. But show them a rack

like Yasmine Bleeth's, and

doctrine goes out the fucking

window; they'll hoot and slobber

like purebred pre-Steinem

construction workers. They don't

really mean it, but, hey,

they're guys...

 

Their other defining

characteristic - as evinced by

major role models Steve Young

and Jerry Seinfeld - is a deep

reluctance to marry. Men commit

adultery; guys simply won't

commit. Instead of assuming the

responsibilities of family life

and the diminishing privileges

of patriarchal tyranny, they

prefer to rule over a small

fiefdom of shiny exercise

machines, mostly compliant

electronic equipment, premium

liquor, a minor dictator's stash

of Sancho Panzas, an even bigger

stash of baseball caps, and more

clothes and cosmetics than their

moms owned at their age.

 

[Details]

Such sexy spending habits haven't

gone unnoticed; the burgeoning

guy demographic has the nation's

magazine publishers behaving

even more coquettishly than

usual. It started a few years

ago with the strange

metamorphosis of Details from

clever downtown gossip rag to

lame crib sheet for guy

wannabes. Now, on an almost

monthly basis, some glossy new

title hits the racks, brashly

trying to snare guys' fickle

attention spans with an

infomercial barker's patter of

take-charge, live-large, the

brothers-are-doing-it-for-

themselves headlines:

 

 

[Ulysses]

While old-school, hopelessly

recherché titles like Esquire and

GQ still think they can

manufacture a general atmosphere

of male mystique and have it rub

off on their readers like so

many perfume-strip inserts,

today's new publishers know that

more explicit instructions are

called for - this is, after all,

the "For Dummies" age. Guys

don't look to Hemingway short

stories or Liebling-like

disquisitions on the finer

points of French cuisine to

guide them; they want plain

advice, the simpler the better.

As a consequence, new-style user

manuals of guydom like Men's

Perspective cut right to the

chase. Instead of reviewing some

dull novel nobody's ever going

to read anyway, its book column

features helpful tips on the

financial aspects of collecting

first editions.

 

[Taylor]

Despite its unrelenting devotion

to utility and consumption,

however, Men's Perspective is

merely guy magazines' Daryl

Hannah. The potential Carolyn

Bessette of the genre is P.O.V.,

which bills itself as the "Guy's

Survival Guide." This latest bit

of Zeitgeist documentation is

the vision of one Drew Massey,

whose business-expense hedonism,

teleslick charlatanism, and

highly entertaining megalomania

make him come off as nothing

less than the miracle offspring

of a Hugh Hefner-Anthony

Robbins-Madonna threeway. On

P.O.V.'s masthead he's listed as

the Founder as well as the

President & Publisher, but if

his upbeat, declamatory prose

style is any indication, deep in

his heart of hearts, he really

wants to be a whole

demographic's aerobics

instructor:

 

"P.O.V. is about taking control. 
Thinking big. Making some cash.  
Being your own boss. Starting a  
business. Investing wisely.      
Staying in shape. Traveling      
cheap. Getting it right. And     
getting it often. Living large." 

 

[Drew]

Perhaps Massey hopes the 120

heartbeats-per-minute pace of

his staccato exhortations will

distract P.O.V.'s readers from

the magazine's central

contradiction - but, really, it

doesn't take a defense attorney

to see that articles which teach

you how to score $10 discounts

on hotel rooms appeal mostly to

those pitiable unfortunates who

are actually getting by in

slightly-less-than-medium

fashion. Indeed, if you were

truly living large, you'd have

no need for remedial

dress-for-success tips or

small-change financial advice.

In fact, you'd be pretty hard

pressed to find a few spare

moments to even glance at

P.O.V. - you'd be too busy

slam-dunking business deals,

free-climbing exotic dancers,

and spending quality cigar time

with your buds.

 

[Middle]

That a chasm exists between the

actual lives of P.O.V.'s readers

and the money-dusted,

testosterone-on-a-stick guy-life

it portrays is no knock on the

magazine: That chasm represents

P.O.V.'s great profit

opportunity. The better P.O.V.

can bridge it, the more

successful the magazine will be.

Hugh Hefner was a master of

building such metaphorical

viaducts; with less than $8,000,

he founded an international,

cross-media empire simply by

making family-bound tract-house

dwellers think they were

actually swinging urban

sophisticates.

 

And Massey is blessed with more

than a little Hef-style acumen:

He knows that in order to sell

the P.O.V. vision, he must

provide proof that it does

indeed translate into tangible

benefits. Thus, P.O.V. mostly

forsakes the retro cheesecake

spreads its competitors indulge

in for a more potent form of

lifestyle porn: snappy

featurettes on guys who've

already reached for the brass

nose-ring of post-slacker

capitalism and scored big.

There's the million-dollar chef.

The college president who could

pass for a student. The

freestyle stunt cyclist who owns

his own bicycle manufacturing

company. All of them are

enviously young. (Not even

Barely Legal trumpets the youth of its

subjects as much as P.O.V.) All

of them are hardcore guys - even

the potentially wimpy gourmet

chef, who in fact is a "hardass

in the kitchen." And all of them

are firmly committed to the

dream of living even larger;

every profile invariably ends

with some propulsive,

I-have-a-dream quote: "I can't

become stagnant," huffs the

hardass chef, "I've got to

innovate."

 

[Compelling]

As compelling as they are, such

testimonials are just part of

Massey's overall proof of

concept. Like the televised

cocktail parties, the

members-only nightclubs, and the

10,000-square-foot bimbo

humidors in Chicago and L.A.

that Hef enjoyed in his heyday,

Massey's got his own props to

more viscerally demonstrate the

P.O.V. lifestyle. There's the

Great American Brew Crawl, where

guys from all over the country

gather in upscale urban

neighborhoods to get hammered

for hunger. There's the, uh...

well, there's that "styling oak

pool table."

 

Right. Hef's smoking-jacket

legacy does not, actually, leave

Massey much in the way of

coattails to ride on. The

Playboy genius was in marrying

escapist fantasies with their

more attainable accessories. The

Playboy reader had a wife, kids,

and (most importantly) money in

the bank. He may not have been

able to swing, but he could

spend as if he did. If P.O.V.

readers, on the other hand, are

actually more worried about

networking than working it,

well, one wonders if they

constitute the kind of

demographic that can support a

single magazine, much less a

whole woodpile of them.

 

[Bunny]

Further, one wonders if the

treats P.O.V. holds out are

enough to make guys turn the

tricks needed if they are to

become the men P.O.V. wants them

to be. The more general efficacy

of lifestyle porn

notwithstanding, a pool table is

not quite as convincing as 50

cornfed party favors in bunny

suits. Sure, Massey seems the

most likely candidate to create

the next multimillion-dollar guy

empire, but you have to wonder

how P.O.V. - or any guy

magazine, really - will do in

the long run. Wham-bam newsstand

sales are not a problem, I

imagine, but what about

subscriptions, which are

essentially a kind of consumer

nuptials?

 

Is any guy really ready to make

that kind of commitment?

 
 
 
courtesy of St. Huck