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Bipartisanship means being two-faced

 

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      For a brief moment, while looking at a magazine stand one mid-October day, I thought I had fallen into a wormhole that let me coexist in two parallel universes. 

     I saw Jimmy Kimmel urging me to vote Democrat – “so this damn thing can finally be over” – from the cover of GQ. He was grinning; smeared with lipstick marks, while a sultry Marilyn Monroesque model peeked over his shoulder. It must feel badass pretending to be John F. Kennedy.

     Then I saw (in a blink and a slight shift to the left of an eye) Jimmy Kimmel urging me to vote Republican – “so this damn thing can finally be over” – from the cover of GQ. His gelled hair was slicked back and his fingers were doing a V sign – that’s V for victory, Richard Nixon’s trademark “cool” move.

     The two separate November issues were GQ’s “unprecedented act of bipartisanship.” The cover photos were part of a series of Kimmel presidential impersonations that also included his rendition of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, and Lyndon B. Johnson.

     To my disappointment, the feature, titled “Inaugurate This!,” had nothing to do with presidents or the election. At best, it was a bland behind-the-scenes look at the comedian’s personal and professional life. Why the misleading art then?

     It’s understandable that GQ – like most other glossies – got swept away by the election fever. Who didn’t? But instead of going for a multi-page endorsement like The New Yorker, Atlantic, and Rolling Stone, it pulled a Switzerland and decided to stay on middle ground.

     Which brings me to my main point: how “bipartisan” can GQ be if it chooses Nixon as the poster child of the Republican Party? All that the cover was missing was a  bubble coming out of Kimmel’s mouth with the words, “I’m not a crook!” 

     At the risk of playing devil’s advocate, shouldn’t they have chosen a more traditional Republican hero? Perhaps Ronald Reagan in a Stetson or Teddy Roosevelt with a big stick?

     In the letter from the editor, Jim Nelson urges everyone to cast his or her emotions aside and vote. He warns about blind fanaticism, offering as an example his grandmother’s blind crush on Nixon (what a strange coincidence). But he himself admits to feeling the same sentiment for Obama. 

     So, maybe GQ is not that bipartisan after all. But why the subtle hint? Had I been the editor, I would have gone all out; a Nixon with horns, flaming eyes, piercing fangs, and a pitchfork.

– Cristina Luiggi

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The Cover Story

the Atlantic cover

This November, the Atlantic got the eighth thorough redesign of its 151 years. By returning to an image-free cover, at least for this first issue, the magazine continues its historic search for balance between visuals and its intelligent words.

When the Atlantic made its debut in 1857, known as the Atlantic Monthly then, the first issue came into the readers’ hands with a simply black and white cover and a small centered image of John Winthrop, the founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, inside an antique floral border.

It was an era that words ruled absolutely. Billing itself as a “journal of literature, politics, science, and the arts,” the Atlantic proved it was good at that game with an illustrious roster of writers including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and James Russell Lowell.

Images were ignored intentionally until November 1947 when the magazine’s 90th anniversary issue replaced the table of content they had used to put on the cover with a large illustration of Neptune and a unicorn. It was the first substantial redesign of the Atlantic, a sign of the magazine’s concession to images.

The Atlantic embraced the visual era, going on to win some 400 awards for illustration and design.

However, being a master in both fields also brought the editors new problems. During the seven redesigns, while the typefaces of the nameplate changed again and again, the trade-off between words and pictures on the covers continued throughout the years.

Now, the latest attempt of the magazine’s redesign, with a nameplate mimicking that of the 1930s and no picture but only bold yellow, black, and white words on a bright red background, seems to be an effort to recall the importance of its powerful words in a more modern way.

Frankly, I do not like the combination of the four colors. But the cover, very much like NewsMap, an experimental modern website that displays enormous amount of information in a “treemap” format, is a good balance between the old and new, bold and elegant.

As the most direct selling tool, covers sell magazines by tempting newsstand browsers to pick them up, and then open them, and then – we hope – buy.

Overwhelmed by tons of flamboyant cover images these days, I feel it more intriguing to pick up a magazine with a cover like this, which immediately arouses my curiosity of the stories inside.

As James Bennet, editor-in-chief, wrote in the November Editor’s Note, “The core of the Atlantic remains its wide-ranging feature stories. The redesign is intended to bring the rest of the magazine more in line with what the features have long been doing. ”

A magazine’s cover is more than simple decoration or packaging. It reflects the magazine’s very character. As for the Atlantic, I believe what the founders called “the American idea” exists in the power of words.

-Frances Wang

The Death of the Dollar in T+L

   

When the economy’s demise has people choosing between food, gas, or medication, spending on travel is almost unthinkable. So what should travel glossies do to keep from closing up shop? Travel + Leisure’s October issue is hopeful. Coverlines say it all: “25 Emerging Destinations Where the Dollar Still Goes Far.”

 T+L editors took a break from the usual $400 a night hotels and scoured the globe for cheaper retreats. The focus on Mexico, Asia, and—surprisingly—the Mediterranean, plays up the exotic, omits the humdrum, and even manages to squeeze Europe into the picture.  

A little troubling and almost too sneaky was the way the story was cut up. The destinations occupied 10 and a half pages in all, interrupted by huge features on Los Angeles and New Delhi (and a half-page ad on Shanghai). Now I don’t know if this was a cheap trick to make readers think L.A. and India wLLere part of the list, or if it was just poor pagination, but it was quite unsettling (or brilliant, for the advertising executive). Surely those pages could have been put somewhere—anywhere—else!

The feature opens with Mazatlan, Mexico, a not-so-forgotten town on the Pacific Coast “experiencing a renaissance.” Writer Jeff Spurrier plays diplomat and mentions two hotels at opposite ends of the spectrum; a traditional one that goes for $78 a night and a boutique hotel that costs $185. Not bad for a tourist-y spot. At least he gives you options. 

Among the more costly escapes on the list are Marquesas, Brazil, and Cyprus. The Hanakee Pearl Lodge in Marquesas—the only hotel in the island, they say—charges $267 a night. A night in Sao Miguel Dos Milagres, Brazil, can amount to $327 at Pousado de Toque. The Thalassa Boutique Hotel in Cyprus has doubles from $453. Apparently, my dollar doesn’t go too far in these places.

Still, the feature makes up for a few off-the-radar prices with more affordable stops in Europe and Africa. Gozo, Malta, has doubles from $44, while a night in a boutique hotel in Larache, Morocco, starts at $78.

 

Pranburi Coast, a three-hour drive south of Bangkok, is a nice break from the spotlighted beaches of Thailand. Forget Hua Hin or Phuket (the latter made famous and just a tad exploited by the Leonardo DiCaprio flick The Beach). Boutique hotels cost $117 – $135 for doubles but seaside meals (think stalls of yummy street food) can go as low as $5. Mind you, that’s lunch for two.

On a side note, what is up with all the boutique hotels in this piece? There are bound to be even c even heaper alternatives for lodging.

This doesn’t quite have me reaching for my passport, but it’s comforting to know the people at T+L are not totally oblivious to these trying times.

– Kris Alcantara

 

Taiwan Travel, Without the Basics

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The October issue of the Condé Nast Traveler includes a series of features about Asian countries. One of them catches my eye immediately, because it covers my home country—Taiwan.

Surprise is my first reaction to this story. Since Taiwan is not a typical tourist spot, I rarely read articles about it in travel magazines, not to mention such a popular magazine as CNTraveler. I hope this article can successfully make readers plan a trip to Taiwan, but after reading the whole article, I feel it will not be a stimulus for tourists.

From the title “The Other China,” the story shows a clear angle in politics, which I think is not the most attractive point to tourists. Another confusing point is, the writer, Dorinda Elliott, almost omits all the tourist information, which makes the story impractical.

In the first paragraph, Elliott writes “Taiwan was once an affront to the mainland, a repository of everything that Mao wanted to wipe out.” She then describes lots of details about Taiwan’s political history, such as the civil war, early authoritarianism and the long-term relation with mainland China.

It is even too trivial for me, a Taiwanese who had learned a lot about the history of Taiwan. I can’t imagine it interesting a reader who barely knows these complicated events

What good is a travel article that doesn’t entice travelers to a destination based on its attractions? Elliott mentions a few – Dharma Drum Monastery, and the famous restaurant Dintaifung – but she skips Lungshan Temple, the most popular religious site in Taiwan, and ignores the delicious fares of Taipei Raohe Street Night Market.

CNTraveler’s principle is “Truth in Travel,” requiring writers to travel anonymously and pay their own way. The writers travel the way real people do, no matter good and bad. This kind of style might create original stories on countries that have been reported many times. But Taiwan does not suffer from over-exposure. Readers need basic information.

Unfortunately, Elliott’s story is more like an abstruse travel diary. It includes too many trifling observations and historical detours, and overlooks the key to attract visitors. The story succeeded at making me homesick, but it might never be a hook for Taiwan tourism. 

-Amy Su

Aren’t We Adults Here?

Try as they might, sometimes even the coolest of magazines can’t escape awkwardness on occasion. When it happens, it’s as though the pre-pubescent kid inside rears its greasy, pimply face and secretes its childishness all over the pages. 

 

GQ’s November issue suffered from just that fate, with the suave magazine hitting gawky patches throughout. I suppose when you have white dudes writing about placing Craigslist ads to find black friends or your movie critic idolizing Angelina Jolie excessively instead of actually behaving like a critic, ineptness is to be expected.  However, you still go in hoping they avoided that groan-inducing bullet. Guess they should have dodged more to the left…

 

While none of the articles was horrible, some writers tried too hard to make their pieces Hip, Pertinent, and Sophisticated. However, many just came off as immature and irrelevant.

 

In “Million-Dollar Babe,” a piece about Jolie and her new movie “Changeling,” movie critic Tom Carson spends so much time kissing Jolie’s ass that it made me wonder if he had a permanent hard-on while writing this. To be fair, he warned this was a tribute piece, but after Carson’s droning on about how she’s the “Unstoppable Force” and absolutely “Magnetic!” onscreen, I started to despise the overrated and overexposed star. If Carson had actually critiqued her performance in “Changeling” (he is a critic, after all) rather than just saying he thinks her hotness outweighs her inability to act, maybe this would be a juicier read.

 

Another article that screamed “juvenile” was “Will You Be My Black Friend?” In this piece, author Devin Friedman searches for a new black friend to help diversify his very white life. I expected this to be sarcastic and goofy, but on some levels, it was a bit disturbing. While you can tell Friedman is truly fascinated with black culture, he comes off as stereotyping all black people because he feels having a new black friend will add flavor to his life. He’s so preoccupied with trying to make sure people don’t think he’s a racist that he actually comes off as way too obsessed with people’s skin color. Finally, though, Friedman realizes that friendship is all about two people connecting with each other and not because you think their racial background is awesome. 

 

Well no shit… 

 

Even though Friedman does grow by the end, I was hoping for a snarkier and more complex commentary on the need for diversity in our lives. All Friedman does is spoon-feed us the obvious. 

 

While these two pieces were a bit of a bust, other articles were strong – Michael Hastings’ piece about giving up his life as a presidential campaign reporter was particularly vivid and introspective. So I suppose articles like that gives GQ some leeway to have a dud or two in the mix. But when you stop to think about it, the magazine’s been around since 1931 – a long time to still be in your awkward phase. So I have to ask GQ – is adolescence almost over?

 

 – Jennifer Brown

Jann says he wants an evolution

Young Me says:

 

Rolling Stone is pop.  It is glossy, clean, perfect, and so not rock ‘n’ roll.

 

The October 30 issue with Barack Obama on the cover starts a new era for the magazine.  It is now standard-sized.  But it is better to say, it’s just standard.

 

In the Editor’s Notes, Jann S. Wenner writes, “Not change for the sake of change, but change as evolution and growth and renewal….”

 

Change as evolution is appropriate.  Rolling Stone evolved into every other magazine on the rack.  To fix its flaws it converted to the common model of Blender, Spin, Maxim, Esquire, GQ, Cosmo, and hundreds of other magazines.  It is a reversion to the typical.

 

Wenner mentions the only reason not to change was nostalgia.  I disagree.  Looking and feeling different from other magazines has value.  Before, it was its own unique entity.  Now, it is normalized. 

 

When paging through the newly formatted magazine, I thought of Roger Waters:  All in all, it’s just another brick in the wall.

 

The magazine is following the path of rock ‘n’ roll. 

It is not about rebellion anymore.  It is about conforming to appeal, and appealing to sell to the largest audience possible.

 

Old Me says:

 

The change is warranted.

 

The magazine had been in a large format for my entire life, so I am familiar with some of the problems that accompanied the old magazine. 

 

It didn’t travel well because of its size.  It was easy to tear because of the thin pages.  After a week, the cover would fall off.  It was not compatible with gym ellipticals because the pages were too big and floppy. 

 

And changing the dimensions will not mess with the mystique of the cover.  The photographic style of rocker portraits and singer-songwriter close-ups is too unique and the reputation of the magazine is too massive.  The Barack Obama cover continues the established look that the magazine has crafted over its lifespan. 

 

The paper quality is better and there are more pages for articles.  Rolling Stone will still set the music magazine standard with its in-depth features like “The Lost Years & Last Days of David Foster Wallace,” and its obscure rock reporting, like what is in Ryan Adams’ music collection.  It has the same soul and the same purpose of exposing and promoting rock ‘n’ roll to a mass audience.  It is just packaged in a different, standardized way now.

 

David Bowie warns:

 

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Turn and face the strange changes

Ch-ch-changes

Oh, look out you rock ‘n’ rollers

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Turn and face the strange changes

Ch-ch-ch-changes

Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older

 

He was right.  Change happens, maturing is inevitable.

 

Roll with it. 

 

–Justin Cox

 

Hipster Paradise

293i-D Magazine is an anomaly.

And apart from that it’s completely worth the 11 dollars I paid for it at a New York City newsstand on the side of the street. Unlike the other magazines offering the usual jumble of coverlines that are meant to entice readers, i-D stood out with a simple cover that had about three lines of text. If you are wondering why model Lara Stone is squinting on the cover—it’s not some mistake—it’s done on purpose to emulate the logo. Anyone who has the privilege of being on the cover must squint because it’s i-D, because it’s kind of like an insider’s club for New York City’s hipster subculture. 

Behind the cover there are pages of artistically inspired photographs of beautiful people wearing fashionable clothes. There are profiles of designers and models, there are men wearing skirts, there is lots of white space, there are references to Brigitte Bardot, Andy Warhol, and the Smiths. The table of contents has almost no design with big black text against a photograph of some residential neighborhood. There are ads for Gucci and Cavalli but also for Converse and Dr. Martens shoes.

Even though i-D is printed in England, it’s definitely intended for a New York City audience. The magazine has music, art, film and print reviews for London as well as New York—New York’s hottest indie rockers, fashion royalty, and guys who state their occupation as “cool ass motherfucker,” pervade the pages. The magazine is successful because it’s a luxury, it’s a piece of art, it’s cool, and—like any self-respecting hipster—it makes you want to be seen with it.

Or maybe it’s because i-D is printed in England. Perhaps the success of its simplicity is not because it’s an anomaly but because it’s for an audience that is not enticed by excessive design and promises and advice with exclamation points on the cover. i-D is for the sophisticated European, or in this case, the sophisticated Greenwich Village resident, the NYU intellectual. Whatever it is, the magazine definitely has enough money to produce eight feature stories along with eight separate fashion spreads. Awesome.

-Feride Yalav