S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 11 October 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 
 
 



Dr. Know

 

[Grumble, Grumble]

Ever since we predicted his

unlikely rise to power, we've

openly admired Governor Jesse

Ventura. Naturally, his

interview in this month's issue of

Playboy magazine ought to have

been his crowning glory, a

moment of harmonic convergence

all red-blooded Americans could

appreciate. But it was not to

be. Alas, the public is hopping

mad, and we are too. Not because

he expressed his desire to be

reincarnated as a gigantic bra;

not because he urged the

legalization of pot and

prostitution; not because he did

it all between the covers of

Hugh Hefner's dusty old wack

mag. No, what really cheapens

the man and his office is that

he actually uttered the words

"organized religion." Elected on

the strength of his candid

know-nothingism, The Body now

sounds as pretentious as some

pantywaist libertarian think

tank.

 

Americans love many things, but

we do not love a know-it-all.

This explains both why Governor

Ventura is treading on thin ice

and why his bête noire,

Susan Faludi, is also on the

brink of public excommunication.

Just when we'd recovered from

her exhaustive and exhausting

postfeminist tractate

Backlash, she offers her

unsolicited apology for men. While

Stiffed: The Betrayal of the

American Man may seem

well-intentioned to the most

softheaded, someone could have

told Sue that an etiology of

Maxim magazine is kind of

missing the point. Is it really

such a surprise that most male

reviewers needed nothing more

than a page count to critique

Faludi's much-unanticipated

sequel?

 

[What are you? afradi cat?]

More than any oversexed pro

wrestler or prudish pedant,

though, it's the publishing

industry itself that presently

reflects the time-honored,

kid-tested truth that

know-it-alls blow. Leonard

Stern, publisher of the

venerable Village Voice and a

half-dozen other free weekly

alternatives (including a few

that are somewhat less venerable

and consequently much better),

recently announced his intention

to sell all his media holdings.

While the alt.weekly racket has

been lucrative during the three

years of Stern's empire, the

signs were all there that the

traditional voice of the

overeducated and disenfranchised

was growing weak. Traditionally

the first, best, and only home

for the nation's otherwise

unpublishable know-it-alls, the

papers were growing unstable

under the nascent monopoly and

the demands of its bankers. In

recent months, Stern began to

jigger with things, pressing a

redesign on the Voice. The most

refreshing effect of the sleek

new look was that it cut back

Mike Musto's and Bob Christgau's

copy to a length someone with a

job, a life, and a modern

vocabulary would actually read.

 

It's not just the weaklies.

Other great vehicles of

know-it-allism are in similar

straits. Just last week, the

Miller Publishing group

announced plans to sell Vibe,

Blaze, and most painful of all, Spin,

the organ of Gen-X cynicism that, to

nobody's surprise, failed to

live up to Miller's high-growth

hopes. Spin never made a serious

dent in Rolling Stone's market

share for the same reason

Harper's (or for that matter, Spy or

Might) never did: Most regular

folks tend not to buy magazines

that don't have nude movie stars

on the cover, no matter how

whip-smart they may be on page

two and beyond.

 

[leavin' on a jet plane]

Which is precisely why Rolling

Stone Übermensch Jann

Wenner is betting all his

cabbage on Us rather than

ponying up for Spin or Vibe. And

why he'll win. The most

celebrated publisher, editor,

and switch-hitter of his

generation must use his own

money to turn Us into a weekly

because everyone else in the

magazine business thinks he's

fucking nuts. But it's more than

a business plan to storm the

People's palace. It's an

editorial vision: Realizing much

too late that the Stone has

become the Gray Lady of the

boomer generation, Wenner has no

comfortable way to do the

fawning, sycophantic, weekly

biopics he and the American

public crave. Indeed, Wenner

Media can't survive much longer

on Rolling Stone's brilliantly

puerile, biweekly covers. One or

two nudies per issue barely

distracts readers from that

sassily senile "All the news

that fits" tag or, more

important, from the tedious

expertise regularly trotted out

by the blowhards in the RS

editorial bored room. People's

official readership of 35 million may

prove only that magazine publishers

lie about their statistics even more

brazenly than Web publishers. But it

indicates strongly that, in the

collective dentist's office where the

magazine industry's really important

decisions are made, People makes

Rolling Stone look about as important

as Beanie Baby Monthly.

 

When it comes to glossy

know-it-alls, though, the

knowingest is surely Tina Brown,

whose ambitious new magazine

Talk would surely tank if not

for the editor's reputation for

having a reputation. Though

audited surveys have

demonstrated that this

reputation extends to exactly 42

people around the world, numbers

don't tell the whole story. Tina

is the Love Boat of the magazine

business, attracting all kinds

of has-beens and never-weres who

are mostly famous for being

famous, a clan consisting of

equal parts postmenopausal

writers and prepubescent

advertisers. At the same time,

though, she wisely insisted on a

title that militates against the

know-it-all backlash currently

in progress. (Talk is two-sided.

Conversation, dialog, equity

— get it?) She has said on

numerous occasions that her

magazine would be built on the

backs of young, emerging,

non-know-it-all writers. But

after just two issues, the kill

fees to no-names are coming fast

and furious, while the table of

contents is bloated with

legendary know-it-alls like Paul

Theroux, Joe Queenan, Steve

Martin, Erica Jong, and James

Atlas. To be sure, most

Americans couldn't care less

about bylines and mastheads in a

general-interest magazine. As

Tina can tell you, though, most

Americans aren't buying

full-page ads in Hearst-Miramax

magazines.

 

[going, going, gone]

There's the rub. In the rarefied

air of New York City publishing,

there's a widespread delusion

— shared equally among

editors and advertisers —

that everyone west of the Hudson

gives a shit. Nice work, if you

can get it. Still, that doesn't

answer today's most pressing

question: Why are so many

general-interest periodicals

simultaneously sucking and for

sale? And why will someone

inevitably buy them, in spite of

the demonstrated market cap on

the public's interest? As

nouveau media mogul David

Bradley recently proved, there

are just enough know-it-alls

left in this country to keep a

crusty old general interest

alive. After all, it only takes

two to tango: One to bankroll

it, the other to edit it. But as

their friends back on Broadway

can readily attest, the general-

interest titles of the

meritocracy are increasingly a

not-for-profit proposition. The

know-it-alls are being pushed

out of the market by the

show-it-alls.

 

Which brings us full circle.

Whether or not the great

American people can forgive

Jesse Ventura for his lapse into

multiple syllables is beside the

point. The poor schmuck has

unwittingly illustrated one of

the great truths of 20th-century

publishing: Public tastes come

and go, but Hef is forever.

 
courtesy ofE. L. Skinner
 
 






[Purchase the Suck Book here]