S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 14 February 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 
 
 
 

Mouseburger Royale

 

[]

To the casual,

supermarket-checkout-line

observer, the February issue of

Cosmopolitan looks much like the

hundreds of issues that have

preceded it: headlines

trumpeting "Super Guys!" and a

plan to make you sexier; a

beautiful woman (in this case,

Claudia Schiffer) tricked out in

the kind of old-school hooker

drag that undoubtedly gets

testosterone roiling in the

desiccated loins of sybaritic

senior citizens everywhere. Its

routine appearance belies its

significance - it is the last

under the editorship of Helen

Gurley Brown, aka HGB, the

spindle-limbed septuagenarian

who engineered a publishing

makeover for the ages 32 years

ago when she transformed a

newsrack frump into one of the

world's most popular women's

magazine.

 

The Hearst Corporation has

attempted to position Brown's

departure as a mutual agreement

since they announced it in early

1996. Of course it isn't

anything like that at all. It's

corporate liposuction, plain and

simple, handled with all the

finesse of a prison-yard

stabbing. Just a few months

before news of the "agreement"

was released, Brown was assuring

old crony Liz Smith that her

place on the top of the Cosmo

masthead was as permanent as her

eyebrow tattoos. Alas, the

higher-ups at Hearst had other

plans - namely, the appointment

of rising superstar Bonnie

Fuller as Deputy Editor and

Brown's eventual successor.

 

[]

The press release detailing this

announcement described an

18-month transition period;

Hearst executives probably

figured they'd need that long to

pry the workaholic Brown from

her beloved office. In fact, it

only took about a year. (Maybe

the supply of Astro Glide Brown

reportedly kept in her desk

drawer facilitated the

disengagement.) But that doesn't

mean that Brown is going easily.

The February issue - with almost

twice as many pages as a regular

one, two centerfolds instead of

the usual one, and two goodbye

columns from Brown - is a

poignant document of her

reluctance to leave.

 

For the last three decades, the

secretary turned editor-in-chief

has spent her life getting a new

issue out every 22 days. All

that manic girltalk about skinny

hips (diet!), husband borrowing

(try it!), and zebra-print

lingerie (buy it!) has given her

security, celebrities, and power -

and the Hearst Corporation

hundreds of millions of dollars.

Unfortunately, Cosmo's

readership has been sinking

steadily for the last eight

years, from a high of three

million to its current two and a

half million - and for that,

Brown gets her walking papers,

and the consolation title of

international edition

editor-in-chief. Presumably this

is mostly honorary; Brown's

less-than-fab command of her own

native tongue makes it difficult

to imagine her exerting much

influence over foreign-language

editorial.

 

[]

A sad denouement to an

illustrious career, but it's

about time. Cosmo's

anachronistic approach to

women's issues was coyly

old-fashioned in the late '60s;

now it's just dated. The editor

is a museum piece as well:

Trying to remain Girly Brown

forever, the erstwhile editor

has resorted to rhinoplasty,

blepharoplasty, dermabrasion,

30,000-mile face lifts, 80

vitamin pills a day, and not a

little L'Oréal. This

regimen can claim some success -

Brown currently resembles a

rather stylish gargoyle - but

it's done little to keep her

cultural perspective up to date.

Cosmo's purported demographic is

18-to-34-year-old women, so why

was Brown assigning articles to

pre-Boomer artifacts like Joan

Rivers, Larry King, and George

Plimpton? Do young women really

want to hear about the time that

airport lounge lizard King

missed out on a tawdry preflight

tryst because he mistakenly took

a sleeping pill instead of his

heart medication?

 

Brown's dangerously passé

takes on promiscuity and sexual

harassment (one memorable Cosmo

headline from the '60s reads

"Pow! Bam! Splat! Men Who Punch

Girls") only accentuate how

prudish the magazine appears in

today's culture of egalitarian

paraphilia and clinical candor. With

Dan Savage detailing the

protocols of fisting in every

other alternative weekly and TV

talk shows introducing Middle

America to the arcane pleasures

of autoerotic asphyxiation and

nipple torture, Cosmo's advice

on "How To Be Very Good in Bed"

seems not only remarkably

remedial, but also about as

daring as a middle-aged

librarian on a Club Med

vacation: "Oral sex. The

official name is fellatio;

informally, it's called going

down on him. Even if the idea

makes you squeamish, at least

give it a try." In another article

on celebrities dick - "My brothers

call me Donk" - reveals the

hung-like-a-curtain David

Cassidy - the magazine can only

bring itself to use the word

"penis"; all other variants get

circumcised to the first letter

and a few discreet trailing

blanks.

 

[]

Brown's replacement, Bonnie

Fuller, may have the editorial

balls it takes to flesh out all

those "c---"s and "d---"s, and

the finesse to modernize Brown's

more egregiously archaic

sentiments, but one imagines she

won't tinker with the basic HGB

formula too much. All that

emphasis on multiple partners,

office grinding, and adultery

lite may not be politically

correct, but it does encourage

the sort of frantic consumerism

that advertisers can't help but

appreciate. After all, when

you're juggling simultaneous

affairs with your boss, your

husband's brother, your

boyfriend, and your personal

trainer, your need for the

products supplied by Cosmo's

most reliable advertisers -

makeup, perfume, shampoo,

contraceptives, fake breasts,

cigarettes - increases

dramatically.

 

What Cosmo will miss most,

ultimately, is Brown's charisma,

and the way she was able to play

both trusted confidante and

aspirational role model to her

audience. As with most lifestyle

magazines, the readers of

Cosmopolitan hardly enjoy the

glamorous existence the magazine

portrays; they're average young

women with boring jobs and

everyday lives, more apt to

drive Ford Escorts than BMWs.

And Brown was once one of them,

an acne-plagued secretary from

Arkansas trapped in a series of

dead-end jobs until, at the age

of 31, a woman's magazine

rescued her: She won a contest

sponsored by Glamour; an editor

there encouraged Brown's boss at

an advertising agency to promote

her to copywriter. Eventually,

Brown wrote a bestseller, Sex

and the Single Girl; the

correspondence that book

generated from women seeking

additional advice ultimately led

to her vision of Cosmo.

 

From its very inception, then,

Brown's magazine was an intimate

chat between herself and her

readers; one wonders if Fuller,

a former Canadian, has the

larger-than-life presence that's

necessary to keep that

conversation going. With

successful stints at YM and Marie

Claire, Fuller is undoubtedly a

skilled ladder-climber - but

does the efficient-looking

memo-writer in the PR photo

really have the charisma to

carry on Brown's despotic sexpot

legacy?

 

[]

If the Hearst Corporation truly

wants to win the loyalty of a

new generation of Cosmo Grrls,

it should let Fuller return to

the careful corporate irony and

attitude lite of Marie Claire, and

hire Lisa "Suckdog" Carver to run Cosmo.

As the publisher of Rollerderby

for the last eight years, Carver

has established herself as the

'90s version of Brown: a

"sneaky, sex-obsessed, bossy

Scorpio" whose megalomaniacal

Generation L manifesto - with

its focus on initiative,

ambition, sparkly blue

eyeshadow, and unequivocally

erect men - seems wholly

informed by years of reading

Cosmo. In addition, Carver's

readers love her. In one issue

of Rollerderby, they even sent

in photos of their pussy

coiffures at her request, a

truer evocation of Cosmo's

essential spirit - a peculiar

conflation of community,

grooming, and sex - would be

difficult to find.

 
 
 
courtesy of St. Huck

 
 
 





St. Huck