The New York Review of Magazines zaista je ono što mu govori ime - magazin o magazinima. Evo nekoliko njihovih recenzija magazina koji bi mogli biti zanimljivi i onima koji pate od roškofrenije.
Date of Birth: Spring 2007
Natural habitat: Ted Nugent's dreams, Pamela Anderson's nightmares
By Evan Lerner
Two aliens are deep in conversation. One has just visited Earth and is preparing his official report on the strange creatures that call it home. They’re made out of meat. And unlike the aliens, who have more refined ways of doing these things, the Earth creatures use their meat for talking, thinking, even dreaming. The aliens decide it would be best to just mark the planet “unoccupied.”
This is the crux of Terry Bisson’s 1991 short story “They’re Made out of Meat.” But it’s also the kind of thinking that animates the new magazine Meatpaper, as evidenced by the number of times it’s been referenced in reader mail. This “journal of meat culture” is more Durkheim than pork rind; it “likes metaphors more than marinating tips.” The image on the first issue’s cover, a mirror reflecting some heavily marbled muscle tissue, says it all: We are meat, but we also eat meat. Discuss.
The magazine is an examination of the “fleischgeist.” Sasha Wizansky, one of Meatpaper’s editors, came up with that sizzling combination of “zeitgeist” and the German word for “flesh” for a phenomenon she saw popping up in both highbrow and lowbrow culture. Determined to start an art project based on this concept, Wizansky enlisted her co-worker at Salon.com, Amy Standen. They began collecting articles, images and ideas, and in the spring of 2007, Meatpaper Issue Zero was born.
This 20-page prospectus was informally distributed among friends and foodies in San Francisco, racking up both pre-order subscriptions and a distribution deal through Ingram Periodicals. Those early successes were enough to pay for Meatpaper’s production and shipping costs. And because Wizansky and Standen compose the entirety of Meatpaper’s staff, work from home and rely on volunteer contributors, overhead is low. “We started out with pretty much zero,” says Wizansky. “Our strategy is to grow organically, not exponentially.”
Though Meatpaper hopes to be able to pay its writers soon, the fleischgeist alone has attracted a wide variety of articles, which run the gamut from investigative journalism to travelogues to poetry. There is also a dash of science, including a piece about umami, the mysterious “fifth taste” that is not sweet, salty, sour or bitter, but might be at the center of meat’s appeal.
Meatpaper’s editors insist it is not a food magazine, so the recipe presented in the second issue is not your ordinary fare. The dish is courtesy of Chris Cosentino, a chef and offal evangelist. His website, OffalGood.com, is dedicated to the less loved parts of the animal, including the lungs, tail, feet and brain. His creation, “Grilled Beef Heart with Roasted Golden Beets and Horseradish,” looks delicious. But it’s more than a meal; Cosentino’s accompanying article on the culinary merits of the heart touches on the industrialization of meat farming and the cognitive dissonance Americans engage in when they bite into a hot dog.
Though Wizansky and Standen admit that their topic of choice can be polarizing (“the Hillary Clinton of the freezer aisle”), they aren’t picking sides in the ideological war between carnivores and vegetarians. Meatpaper is ostensibly neutral territory for debating the nature of humanity’s relationship to meat.
It seems unlikely, however, that an animal rights activist could read through an entire issue of the magazine without crying, vomiting or calling the police. Meatpaper positively drips with the juice of its subject matter. Each issue opens with two full pages of sliced sopresseta that some butcher, somewhere, must have taped to the inside of his locker door by now. There’s meat-based art on display, including a woman in a bloody steak dress, as well as stunning, visceral photography of health inspectors, abattoirs and just plain ol’ meat in all its primal glory.
While some of Meatpaper’s articles only scratch the surface of the fleischgeist, inventive art and bold ideas make the magazine a page-turner. One is continually surprised at how thematically diverse a magazine entirely about meat can be. And while it is tempting to view as a gimmick, the kind of publication that might have resulted from a dare or lost bet, Meatpaper’s first two issues show it to be working with some lean muscle. It has the confidence and style that make a journal of meat culture seem like the most natural thing in the world.
BlurtBy Susie Poppick
Date of Birth: 2009
The very existence of year-old Blurt magazine is bold, and not just because of the recession.
Blurt dares, in the age of the Internet, to represent the ineffable auditory experience of music through words and photos, without any handy play buttons offering MP3 samples or video clips. The quarterly flips the traditional print-to-web formula — it is the new offspring of an existing website, Blurt-Online.com — and eschews top 40 pop hits in favor of the “indie”-prefixed genres. If those weren’t warning signs enough, founder Scott Crawford’s last print music magazine, Harp, folded in 2008.
These red flags suggest a novel challenge, to which Blurt’s response is surprisingly traditional. The magazine’s spirit (and most of its word count) is devoted to good old-fashioned music journalism, with intimate articles on rising artists and vivid curatorial music reviews that would seem right at home on the pages of Rolling Stone, were the artists less obscure. The writing is perceptive and often beautiful; a reviewer in the winter 2009 issue remarks that the electronic group Fuck Buttons’ newest album, Tarot Sport, “was gulped down by the press with a wince and a lemon slice; it had harsh waves of treble, oily swamp-hiccups of bass. … It is quite nearly the inverse of the former album, with the same shape, the same cracked teeth percussion … and the same cawing jungles of multilayered synth, but everything now bright as a body turned inside out, bleeding colour.” With descriptions like that, who needs streaming audio?
Features and interviews round out the content, providing indie music junkies — those who subsist on albums by Heartless Bastards, Of Montreal, Grizzly Bear, Deerhoof, My Morning Jacket, Lykki Li, Conor Oberst and TV on the Radio — with a feast of information that blurs the lines between the obscure, fascinating and trivial (e.g., did you know a groupie once stole Kings of Leon vocalist-guitarist Caleb Followill’s $1,200 jacket?).
But Blurt, for all its wordplay and insight, misses the mark when it comes to presentation. Many photos, including a centerfold spread of the Avett Brothers in the winter 2009 issue, are dimly lit and low-resolution. Some are even recycled from issue to issue. And writers of ransom letters may as well put down their scissors; Blurt’s text is often so tiny it has me reaching for the bifocals I don’t own and shouldn’t need.
In an interview with The Washington Post last year, founder Crawford explained that in order to limit overhead costs, the magazine is produced virtually, by staffers who e-mail each other from around the country and work out of their apartments. While such frugality is to be admired, it is no excuse for sloppy editing and poor photography, particularly at a time when print magazines must offer some added value beyond what online publications can provide. If Blurt is to graduate beyond the status of recycled web companion, it needs to push its production values up a notch.
To be fair, some sections of the magazine already have that needed gleam of professionalism. Chris Eichenseer’s photos from Lollapalooza 2009 are sassy and polished, skillfully framing musicians against the grass, trees and ambient sunlight. A clever fall fashion spread shot by Edward Smith shows various indie artists lounging in colorful vintage attire. Blurt would benefit greatly if such attention to aesthetics were more consistent throughout its pages.
Another area that is strong but could use more consistency is Blurt’s front section, which features short articles and columns. Inventive imaginings such as “Cover Songs We’d Like to See” (e.g., Alison Krauss and Robert Plant covering M.I.A.’s “Bamboo Banga”) and “What a Pair” (e.g., Quentin Tarantino directing a Katy Perry music video) are entertaining and show that Blurt writers know the industry well enough to lampoon it successfully. Articles like “Near-Life Experience,” in which a writer describes playing music for tips and working up to paid gigs in the online virtual world Second Life, offer an unusual perspective on the tactics aspiring rock stars must sometimes employ to get their names out. These pieces are all well executed but do not seem to fit into predictable slots at the magazine’s front. As Blurt matures, it would benefit from some regularity in this area, so that readers can grow attached to specific columns.
With a bit more consistency and attention to presentation, Blurt would be well positioned to stay in the print game. At its core, it is a solid, well-written magazine, with interviewers who ask the right questions and writers who find the right words to translate the verve of music into prose.
2600: The Hacker Quarterly
Date of Birth: 1984
Native Habitat: On a workbench—hidden from view—next to a modified Radio Shack frequency scanner and a laptop running Gentoo Linux.
by Asa Fitch
During the halcyon days of hacking in the late 1990s, corporate brass would often wake to find political screeds, pornography and d1g1Tal-speak shout-outs marring their homepages. It was in the era preceding and during this boom time, before the Feds started throwing hackers in jail and before Internet security was anything more than laughable, that 2600: The Hacker Quarterly found its audience.
Clearly, the current climate is far less hospitable to hackers, and the hacking community—and 2600—now finds itself in something of an identity crisis. Some hackers have gone the turncoat route, taking jobs with Internet security firms. Others have moved on to new careers or found other hobbies. Still others are in jail. These changes presented 2600, the self-appointed voice of hacking, with a challenge: how to speak to the new hacker while not abandoning the edge-of-legality spirit that made it such a compelling read.
The magazine responded by attempting to redefine the hacker ethic. Once a digital miscreant of vaguely Robin Hoodesque sensibilities, the new hacker is a hobbyist who likes tinkering—harmlessly, we’re told—with telecommunications systems, the Internet, gadgets and, well, the world in general.
The redefinition is manifest in 2600’s pages. A writer known as “mirrorshades”—all writers in 2600 go by handles—complained in a recent issue that “the media tells you that ‘hackers’ are either unsupervised teenagers who break into computer systems and steal credit card numbers to use at pornographic websites, or scum-of-the-earth anarchist rebels who write viruses designed to destroy ATM networks and shut down the ‘evil corporate system.’ The truth is that ‘hacker,’ as a title, is dead.”
“Hacking” may indeed be dead, but 2600 is far from abandoning the term, or, for that matter, any of its questionable associations. Granted, many of the articles in 2600 these days are standard nerd-magazine fare (how to get rid of spyware, novel ways of programming your remote control), but the choicer bits still verge on the illegal. One recent article, for example, told readers how to navigate the touch-screen menus of an automatic DVD rental machine in such a way that you might—just might—be able to retrieve credit card numbers. Another article, “A Peek Inside a Simple ATM Machine” might be useful to thieves.
Yet another, helpfully titled “Forging an Identity,” gives out tips on how to fabricate birth certificates and Social Security cards to get photo IDs. To really do it right, “SistemRoot” tells us, forgers “would need to find information on a person who was born around the same time as they were and died under the age of six months or passed away in a different state from their birthplace. Because of this, there wouldn’t be any state or work records of them being deceased. This information can be found at the library’s newspaper archives under the obituary section.” Thanks, SistemRoot!
Eric Corley, a hacker whose specialty is phone systems, started 2600 in 1984 and runs it from Middle Island, N.Y. Corley is credited on the masthead as Editor-in-Chief “Emmanuel Goldstein,” a reference to the reactionary leader of that name in Orwell’s “1984.” The magazine’s name came from phreakers—telephone hackers, basically—who discovered in the 1970s that broadcasting a 2600-hertz tone over a special long-distance line gave the caller access to a powerful “operator mode.”
Under Corley’s direction, 2600 clings to a decidedly underground aesthetic: page after page of small print and an apparent ignorance of graphic design. The cover is glossy and in color, but the inside pages look as if they were composed by a math geek using a clunky open-source version of PrintShop. No ads grace 2600’s pages, but the magazine manages to stay afloat on a $5.50 cover price and the production economies of a smaller-than-usual size—about 5-by-8 inches.
One of the funniest parts of the magazine is its “Marketplace” section, in which people sell and ask for goods and services, some of which are probably illegal. “Need some assistance removing negative items off credit reports,” one ad says. “Will pay. All agencies.” “LEARN LOCK PICKING,” another begins. “It’s EASY with our book and new video.” Then there are the “personals,” most of which are pleas from hackers in jail for letters. “Known as Alphabits, busted for hacking a few banks and unauthorized wire transfers,” one reads. “I’m extremely bored and in desperate need for stimulation.”
The personals, not to mention the tone and content of the magazine, tell us that 2600 remains unwilling to disinfect the air of cool that still surrounds illegal hacking. There are caveats—in the article on DVD rental machines, the author piously pronounces that “Companies need to be more diligent in securing machines that process sensitive information before leaving them in a public place. ...” But such sentences ring a little hollow given what a hacker could do with the substance of the article.
If free speech is the main legacy of the American experiment, magazines like 2600 might be called its difficult stepchildren. Like the infamous Anarchist Cookbook of times past, 2600 occupies an uncertain ethical space—somewhere between recipe for crime and cry of freedom. The magazine revels in this limbo, and in doing so places itself in the chorus of fringe voices that Americans have tolerated, sometimes grudgingly, for centuries. Certainly, the magazine shouldn’t be ordered out of existence or sued for what readers do with its content, as Soldier of Fortune was in 1989 after it published an ad for a mercenary whom a reader hired to kill his wife. The magazine’s right to exist, however, does nothing to counter the moral argument against it. 2600 is an interesting read mainly because it deals in taboo subject matter, and arguably it will remain interesting only as long as it stays that way. As long as it does, though, there is little moral justification for it.
Date of Birth: November 2001
Natural Habitat: In the lobby of a Harvard research laboratory next to Wired and People
by Bree Nordenson
If you’ve ever browsed the science magazine rack, you may have noticed that most of the publications fall into one of two categories: science for scientists and science for dummies. With the tagline “Science is Culture,” Seed treads the middle ground between American Scientist and Popular Science, emphasizing the practical implications of the discipline without oversimplifying them. While it could be argued that Scientific American occupies a similar niche, Seed distinguishes itself by placing science at the center, rather than the periphery, of social discourse. “Science is driving so much of our culture these days,” says founder and Editor-in-Chief Adam Bly.
Reborn last fall after suspending publication for almost a year, Seed is owned by Seed Media Group, which also runs scienceblogs.com, a science news aggregator called phylotaxis.com and an online version of the magazine. After a year at McGill University, Bly, now 25, dropped out to start Seed, the realization of his passion for “communicating science to the public.” A science prodigy of sorts, Bly is the youngest research assistant to have worked for the National Research Council of Canada, where he studied cancer. He founded the magazine in 2001 and moved it from Montreal to New York City in 2002.
As might be expected of a science magazine created by a young entrepreneur, Seed is hip. The glossy advertisements for liquor, luxury cars and high-tech gadgets cater to a young, educated readership. The writing style also leans that way. For the most part, the approach works, but on unfortunate occasions it backfires. Examples of Seed’s gimmicky inclinations include comparing the speed of a star to a celebrity fleeing the paparazzi and likening the repulsion between matter and anti-matter to “a marriage teetering on divorce.” The magazine is as unlikely to earn a reputation for being cutting-edge as it is for being serious about science when it uses the phrase “like, duh” and abounds with pun-inspired headlines like “Pucker Up For Safety.” Such tabloid-style prose calls into question a central claim in the magazine’s mission statement—that it provides “thought-provoking content.”
With a sleek, modern look created by a recent winner of a National Design Award, Seed has achieved a successful aesthetic—not too sterile, not too flashy—that conveys the magazine’s merging of serious science with current culture.
Seed’s content is a mix of news, analytical essays and reported features on topics ranging from physicists’ philandering to breakthroughs in understanding prime numbers and Africa’s burgeoning scientific community. It is organized into a long front section called “notebook,” a smaller front section dedicated to the latest scientific findings, a series of longer features and a back section of reviews. With the exception of “notebook,” the sections fulfill their function of propelling the reader through the magazine. At more than 20 pages, the “notebook” section is too long to exist without an organizing principle. The use of separate categorical subheadings for its individual articles only adds to the reader’s confusion.
While Seed succeeds in covering a variety of interesting and scientifically relevant topics, some articles fall flat. In the February/March issue, the cover story addressed recent research in neurogenesis (the growth of new neurons) by neuroscientist Elizabeth Gould. Although informative, this article, like several others in the same issue, is presented amateurishly. Its organization is tentative, with awkward transitions between scientific explanations and descriptive reporting. When he characterizes Gould’s finding that stress inhibits neuronal growth as “startling,” writer Jonah Lehrer tends toward hyperbole. While the field of neurogenesis is relatively new, the nature-versus-nurture debate isn’t. Saying the “structure of our brain ... is incredibly influenced by our surroundings” is hardly a revelation.
Of the many writing formats found in Seed, the straight interviews are most effective. In the February/March issue, the magazine explores Literary Darwinism, an interpretive framework for literature that emphasizes evolutionary theory, by interviewing one of its foremost scholars, Jonathan Gottschall. The format allows Gottschall to explain his work casually, presenting the reader with a comprehensible account of a somewhat arcane theoretical framework. “Salon,” Seed’s designated interview section, presents lengthy conversations between scientists and experts in other disciplines. What makes the interviews successful is their ability to communicate the complicated ideas that emerge when science is examined through a cultural lens.
Perhaps the strongest piece in the February/March issue is an essay by Chris Mooney calling for scientists to communicate more effectively with the public, especially given “science’s newly exposed political and cultural vulnerability” under the Bush administration. Mooney notes that “too many [scientists] have grown accustomed to the security of their labs and university communities, occasionally lamenting the American public’s poor understanding of science but doing little in a concerted way to improve it.” The article is well-written and inspiring, and it encapsulates the magazine’s mission—to bring science to the forefront of culture.
Bly succeeds in creating a science publication that is interdisciplinary and culturally relevant, but in his aim to make Seed “the fresh face” of science magazines, he overreaches. The stylish graphics and punchy headlines may have contributed to a newsstand sell-through (the percentage of distributed copies sold) that is well above average, but they also reflect the magazine’s central shortcoming: a lack of sophistication. Bly’s attempt to create a “gutsy” and “bold” publication has ultimately overshadowed his simultaneous effort to make it “authoritative.” As a magazine still in its infancy, Seed may well be on its way to balancing intrigue with intelligence, but it’s noticeably not there yet.
The Social Media Monthly
Date of Birth: 2011
By Jenny Rogers
If having a magazine devoted to a subject makes it legitimate, then social media has officially moved from being that thing we all do to that thing we all talk about. But then, we already knew that, even before The Social Media Monthly, the self-described first print magazine about the mobile and online phenomenon, launched last year.
Social Media claims to analyze and review the “social media evolution,” and it does just that with a clear-cut, no-frills concept that combines the “latest trends” stories you’d expect with features on the effects of social media on larger societal events or issues. Naturally, topics like Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring have made appearances. More surprisingly—and more interestingly—the Super Bowl has shown up, too, in an article about NFL players using social media.
Launched by the D.C.-based Cool Blue Company, the magazine went international in August and is currently distributed in twenty countries. Though at the time it was not yet widely available, I found it in my local Barnes and Noble near Wired and down the magazine rack from Forbes. For a new magazine in an economically uncertain publishing world, it seems to be doing fairly well. By its fifth issue, in January, Social Media had a circulation of 30,000 and had been named one of the fifteen “hottest” magazine launches of the previous year by Min Online, which reports on the publishing industry.
Packed with square barcode-like QR codes (for accessing websites) and iPhone screenshots—virtually the only illustrations that are not part of advertisements—Social Media is not a magazine for the technologically faint of heart. With articles written mostly by social media strategists or marketers, Social Media is filled with just enough jargon, such as “content curation” and “social e-commerce,” to make a casual tweeter like me feel out of her depth. Still, Social Media manages to merge all that tech-speak with a sometimes-nuanced view of social media’s larger societal ramifications. In a fifth-issue feature titled “The Social Side of Speed,” business marketer and strategist Mike Brown relates the installation of Google Fiber, an experimental network infrastructure in Kansas City, to the larger socioeconomic issue of the digital divide. He takes it further, quoting St. Louis technology consultant David Sandel: “As data speeds get close to replicating the speed with which the human mind functions, we’ll see more human-like functions online.”
Sounds a bit like the Jetsons, right?
In fact, the magazine itself launched with a kind of 1950s-era Space-Age feel, with a cartoonish cover drawing of an astronaut floating in space among a slew of social media logos. The magazine implies that this zone of geolocation, connectivity and IP addresses is the next frontier, and that kind of grandiose celebration of the social media “phenomenon” and “evolution” fills its pages.
Social Media is at its best when it moves beyond simply cataloguing the latest developments in the digital and mobile worlds and begins critiquing them—something it needs to do more often. In a funny article on the top social media stories of 2011, Tonia Ries, founder and CEO of Modern Media, spears social media “fails” of the year. If you missed Anthony Weiner, she quips, “You’ll see more of him than you ever wanted to see with some quick online searches.”
The magazine’s design begins with a cover illustration each month, and inside it’s simple, readable and oddly reminiscent of Google+; but it is not visually interesting. That is one of the challenges of this kind of content. How do you illustrate a topic like crowdsourcing? Social Media’s answer seems to be limited to screenshots and colorful pull quotes and that doesn’t cut it. With a lot of words and few photos, the design is static and sometimes boring. Screenshots and colorful headlines aren’t enough to illustrate the abstract social and technological concepts discussed in the articles. With an article on the importance of communicating with imagery leading the January issue, the magazine needs to take its own advice.
That said, for a newborn publication it manages to be informative and engaging even for someone not looking to improve a business’ social media brand. The world of networks and apps and curation sites has never felt so wide, and the irony of a social media magazine publishing in print is enough to make you wonder whether Social Media is a vote of confidence for the printed word. (Don’t get too excited—it has an app, too.) The Jetsons, I’m sure, would be subscribers.
Date of Birth: June 2001
Natural Habitat: On a history-major-turned-corporate-professional’s coffee table, chit-chatting with The New York Times, National Geographic and a library copy of “Exodus,” with an occasional glance toward “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” on the sizeable flat-screen TV.
by Dikla Kadosh
Even more than a brilliant smile, I’ve always wanted a shining intellect. I didn’t get braces until I was 22, but after two years of throbbing pain, food in liquid form and the embarrassment of being mistaken for a 14-year-old, I have accomplished the first goal. And, after four years of college and a year at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, I don’t think it’s terribly arrogant to say I have acquired a minty mind.
To keep my teeth, now worth $6,000, in great condition, I brush, floss and gargle regularly. Well, almost. To keep my brain, now worth $184,000, in equally good shape, I should read The New York Times, The Economist and The New Yorker, watch “Jeopardy!” and the History Channel, and read a novel a week. But who the hell has time to do all that? I certainly don’t, and apparently there are 80,000 other people in 17 countries with the same dilemma, because they are all subscribing to or regularly buying mental_floss, which is like continuing your liberal arts education in convenient monthly installments.
The January/February issue touches on European history like no professor I’ve ever had, with an article about France’s King Henry IV’s powerful mistress. It transports you back to Friday morning literature classes with a review of a beloved and scandalous book, “Portnoy’s Complaint,” by Philip Roth. A history of Jasper Johns’ revolutionary artistic movement leaves you feeling like you’ve just walked out of a lecture on modern art. And a discourse on free trade rounds out your condensed education with a bit of economics.
In true instructional fashion, mental_floss includes a quiz in every issue, with questions such as “Hydra, from Greek mythology, sported how many heads?” and “Fort Orange is the former name of what U.S. capital city?” (If you’re anything like the trivia-crazed author of this review, you won’t be able to go on reading until you know the answers: nine and Albany.)
Packed with quirky facts, historical anecdotes and obscure trivia, a smart-ass magazine like mental_floss could get irritating, or as boring as an encyclopedia. And with subject matter that ranges from the Spam Museum in Minnesota to the burgeoning tourist industry in Dubai, it also runs the risk of feeling disjointed. But mental_floss craftily avoids these pitfalls.
It strikes a balance between several key elements. The data-heavy content is spiced with just enough sixth-grade humor and clever turns of phrase, such as titling a section about historical figures who fell from grace “Humpty Dumpties,” that you find yourself enjoying an item about bladderwort (which I would have thought is a painful obstacle to peeing had I not read that it is a rootless, carnivorous plant that floats in large bodies of water and preys on tiny helpless creatures).
In its 72 pages, the magazine also successfully sandwiches well-written and intelligent longer features in the middle with snappier items in the front and back of the book. A five-page article explaining the complex conflicts raging between East Timor and Indonesia, Israel and Palestine, and Rwanda’s Hutus and Tutsis is balanced by a one-page article about the greatest moments in competitive eating (the world record for raw oysters is 552 in 10 minutes).
The page designs are as colorful and all-over-the-place as the topics, but what ties everything together into a neat little bundle is the spirit of amusement and genuine delight in knowledge. Current events, trivia, history and pop culture are all dealt with in the same giddy breath, although the magazine also shows its maturity by treating serious subjects, well, seriously. The team behind mental_floss can produce sober work, but they’ve made humor their niche. Co-founder Mangesh Hattikudur’s biography on the website says, “When he’s not dreaming and scheming for the floss, Mangesh loves movies, comic strips, PEZ dispensers, doodling, cooking puppies and leaving out commas wherever inappropriate.” Hattikudur is one of the five Duke University graduates who started the magazine while still in school. With support from their alma mater, advice from magazine consultant Samir Husni and partnerships with HowStuffWorks.com and UselessKnowledge.com, the quirky magazine was launched in 2001.
It was received with warmth and amusement by the media. The Washington Post called it “delightfully eccentric and eclectic.” Newsweek declared it was “a smart(-alecky) read” and The Chicago Tribune said, “For the discerning intellect, mental_floss cleans out the cobwebs.”
Apparently readers like it, too. Media experts say that on average, a new magazine sells 20 to 30 percent of its newsstand copies. But in interviews, Will Pearson—the magazine’s co-founder, president and publisher, who eats M&Ms two at a time, one on each side of the mouth—said mental_floss sold 72 percent of its first issue and about 70 percent of its second issue.
Maloney expects circulation to hit the 100,000 mark in 2006. And though the advertising revenue isn’t anything to brag about (I counted nine lonely ads in the January/February issue), he said the magazine is doing well financially, thanks to a combination of spin-off products—three published books, with four more on the way; syndicated content; a weekly segment on “CNN Headline News”; a board game; and lots of geeky-cool paraphernalia, such as logo T-shirts and an Einstein relativity watch. Einstein, just so you know, makes an appearance on every cover because, as the editors explain on the website, “he is the wind beneath our wings.”
With my chaotic schedule, I don’t think I will have time to read the mental_floss books or play the game, but I will tell you one thing: I don’t need any doctor to guilt trip me into making this magazine a part of my routine. From now on, I’m (mental) flossing every day.
Date of Birth: September 2003
Price: $5.95 (Canada)
Natural Habitat: On a glass coffee table in your upscale Toronto flat next to an anthology of great Canadian poetry.
by Ari Paul
There are many cultural icons that help our neighbor to the north define Canadian identity, such as ice hockey, “The Kids in the Hall” and mounted policemen. The Walrus is one more.
This monthly magazine aims to give Canada a place to put its collective pen to good use. Ken Alexander, a Canadian writer and literary aficionado, had a love for American magazines like The New Yorker and Harper’s but saw no equivalent in his home country.
“I was interested in a magazine that would exist as part of something larger. At the time, there were numerous stories about Canadian media concentration and consolidation,” Alexander says on the magazine’s website. In prose less elegant than he might find in the magazines he admires, he adds: “It is true, whereas in some areas of the world there are a plethora of voices, it seems that here there are fewer and fewer. So I envisioned a magazine functioning as part of a multi-pronged approach at getting divergent views out there.”
He launched the magazine in 2003 with David Berlin. The front of the book features small stories from around the globe and columns on sports and politics. The lengthy features in the middle are followed by fiction, poetry, and an arts and culture section. Based in Toronto, the small staff produces a glossy, erudite monthly, and in its history The Walrus has been nominated for several (Canadian) National Magazine Awards.
The Walrus frequently features an up-and-coming fiction writer. Much of the foreign correspondence is written by Canadian nationals. The magazine also examines the less pleasant aspects of Canada we Americans might not otherwise see. Julian Sher has a story in the February issue about Thomas Sophonow, who is “one of the disturbing number of wrongly convicted people in Canada—a victim of police and prosecutorial misconduct.”
The Walrus’ views on politics are nuanced but undeniably left-leaning. The February issue profiles and critiques one of Canada’s most prominent public intellectuals, Michael Ignatieff, the Harvard professor and The New York Times Magazine contributor who, at the time, was poised to become a new member of parliament representing the Liberal Party. The writer, Alex Mazer, a Canadian law student, questions his devotion to Canadian liberalism by citing his support for the war in Iraq and “his willingness to countenance coercive interrogation practices in terrorism-related emergencies.” The subtitle of the piece says: “The New York Observer wrote that Michael Ignatieff left Harvard ‘to save the Canadians.’ Why have his writings led some to wonder if we need saving from him instead?”
The Walrus’ adherence to a political ideology has caused the magazine to miss the mark in some of its political commentary. In the coverage leading up to Canada’s January elections, political writer Joan Bryden speculates that discontent with the Liberal government in Quebec would mean that the separatist party would gain votes. Although it turned out that she was right, she went on to predict that the Bloc Quebecois’ increased presence in the race would make it harder for the Conservatives to win than for the Liberals—and the Conservatives won in the end. But beyond coverage of Canadian politics and culture, does The Walrus offer anything new to the North American reader in the rest of its pages, which cover foreign news and reviews of books that can be purchased in the United States? A look at the February issue suggests that the answer is yes. It contains reports on Latin America’s political move to the left and a town in Iraq made up solely of women because all the men have left.
Such reports could easily fit into an American general-interest magazine, but their placement in The Walrus allows them to have a fresh viewpoint. After all, had either of these stories been featured in The New Yorker, Harper’s or The Atlantic, they would have had to comment on how the United States is affected by such developments or to what extent they are a consequence of United States policies. This is not the case with The Walrus. Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales are not fighting off the yoke of free trade and economic policies imposed by Ottawa. Nor is that town in contemporary Iraq living under a Canadian military occupation. Because Canada is seen as relatively benign to the international community, foreign news can be covered and analyzed in a detached way that is not possible in American periodicals.
The Warus’ residency on American newsstands thus gives readers here a new perspective on foreign events as well as a glimpse into the nuanced culture and politics of our often-ignored neighbor.
Date of Birth: 1979
By Travis Irvine
When I first thought about making a feature- length satirical horror movie about killer raccoons eight years ago, many of my friends said, “oh! You should submit it to troma!” They were referring to troma entertainment, the independent production company that is famous for The Toxic Avenger and other low-budget, schlocky horror flicks. even more friends said, “You should send it to Fangoria so they can review it!” Fangoria? what was that?
Soon enough, I found out. Fangoria magazine has been the horror movie fan’s ultimate publication since 1979. Issues are purely dedicated to all things horror—films, shows, special effects and more. It really doesn’t matter if the films Fangoria reviews and writes about are independent, cult or mainstream. Anything from big-budget hollywood horror blockbusters to low-budget flicks made by inde- pendent filmmakers may grace the cover of this reliably offbeat publication.
In fact, Fangoria actually started out much like an inde- pendent horror film—with a small budget and a hint of con- troversy. according to Fangoria’s website, the magazine was origi- nally supposed to be dedicated to fantasy films and called Fantastica. It was produced by the publishers of Starlog, a magazine entirely devoted to science fiction films and aimed at teenage au- diences. However, Starlog’s competitor, Fantastic Films magazine, filed a suit saying the two names would be confusing to the publications’ primarily young audiences. after Fantastic Films won the case, the Fantastica staff chose the name Fangoria instead.
But Fangoria wasn’t out of trouble yet. The fan- tasy focus was a giant flop, and the magazine was losing around $20,000 an issue. So the editors focused on the one article from their first issue that had received an “immensely positive audience response”—a piece about the special makeup ef- fects of tom savini in the 1978 movie Dawn of the Dead. With its seventh issue, Fangoria featured a cover story on stanley kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining and dedicated the issue entirely to horror films. It became the first issue of Fangoria to earn a profit, and by issue twelve, the formula for Fangoria was set.
So what is this distinctive formula? Imagine a comic book, mix it with a 1950s sci-fi flick poster and the back of a cereal box, then add some splat- tered blood. Lots and lots of splattered blood. And explosions. And pictures of fake corpses, fangs and zombies!
Fangoria’s February 2012 issue featured a cover story on Nicolas Cage and his sequel film Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, with a large picture of Cage’s character screaming at readers with a flaming skull. Such is Fangoria’s world. It’s been pretty successful and, frankly, it’s pretty cool.
Every issue carries interviews with high-profile figures like Cage, but also has articles about people like horror actress Barbara Crampton, who is famous for a movie in which she almost receives oral sex from a severed head. There’s also interviews with actors like Michael Biehn, who played the protagonist in The Terminator and is now directing and acting in his own independent horror movies. Zombies, psycho killers and vampires—all not real, of course— are the subjects of other articles, and are all surrounded by advertisements for bloody video games, horror conventions and the like.
The magazine also reviews hollywood’s horror blockbusters, like the recently released Underworld: Awakening and The Woman in Black, starring Daniel Radcliffe. There are also horror films that one would never hear of otherwise, like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil or actor-turned-director Vincent D’onofrio’s Don’t Go in the Woods. With these and articles focused on similar independent projects, Fangoria maintains its circulation base. Obviously, this is a niche market, but it is a niche that is filled with frightfully dedicated fans who will likely keep horror movies—and Fangoria— undead for years to come.
Dazed and ConfusedCirculation: 89,600
Date of Birth: 1992
By Danielle Ziri
Dazed and Confused is a magazine for people who are looking for something beyond the main-stream fashion publications, something edgier. In its pages, beauty is portrayed in a very nontraditional way, with tattoos and piercings proudly exposed in photographs. But calling Dazed and Confused a fashion magazine does not do it justice. it also covers art, music, literature and film.
The publication takes its name from the classic Led Zeppelin song “Dazed and Confused,” and as you flip through the pages, you find that its aesthetic feel pairs quite well with that of the english rock band, particularly in its visual approach—the magazine’s photography resembles shots taken with one of the Polaroid cameras that were popular in the 1980s. Dazed and Confused began in the early Nine- ties in the U.k., founded by a British photographer, John rankin waddell (known as rankin), and a culture writer, Jefferson hack. It was born as a limited-run foldout poster and then turned into a monthly publication, which is now distributed in more than forty countries. The magazine is known for having, throughout the years, kept a standard of high quality in the areas it covers, particularly in its photography. Photos are dispersed all through its pages, from small shots between columns of text to vivid two- page spreads. This pictorial emphasis proves to be advantageous when it is adapted to the digital version, available by subscription on the iPad.
For its July 2011 issue, the magazine exhibits a bold cover starring the singer Beyoncé knowles dressed in bright colors, holding a dripping ice cream cone. inside, twelve pages are ded- icated to an article about the star. This feature exemplifies what Dazed and Confused does best: marrying fash- ion photography to detailed narrative articles and demonstrating expertise in the fields of both music and fashion.
Big names like Beyoncé are in the minority in the magazine’s music coverage. Dazed and Confused likes to promote up-and-coming performers, or others rarely mentioned in the mainstream media. In that July 2011 issue, for instance, two pages are dedicated to vybz kartel, a Jamaican singer-songwriter, displaying tattoos and gold jewelry in his portrait. The magazine also organizes an event called the emerging artists award, in which, partnered with the shoe brand Converse, Dazed searches for “the best new U.k. artist.” This focus on unknown artists carries over to the magazine’s website, Dazed Digital, in its section called “rise.” The website is a busier version of the print maga- zine, so densely packed with article blurbs and pictures that it leaves online visitors not just dazed but also very confused by the overload. The print magazine, too, can leave the readers dazed and confused. The things the editors choose to cover and the tone they use make it appear as though a deep knowledge of the arts is needed to understand the publication’s content. This magazine’s avowed aim is to challenge its readers and create a “new generation of switched-on, intelligent, aware and influential individuals.”
That makes it stand out amid the crowd of culture magazines available in the international market, but catering to a narrow niche of people who are familiar with the style and content, and won’t be dazed and confused by it, seems like a risky way to achieve long-lasting success in the highly competitive magazine marketplace.
Date of Birth: 1992
Natural Habitat: To the left of your Mythbusters! DVD collection
Date of Birth: 1976
Natural Habitat: To the right of your Mythbusters! DVD collection
By Callie Enlow
Come one, come all! Step right up and buyourmiracle snake oil!Communicate with the dearly departed!Teach your schoolchildrenIntelligent Design!
In a world where UFOs are sighted daily, where The Secret books and DVDs go platinum, and where reality television shows center on haunted houses, Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer exist to bring us back to earth.
According to both publications, the skeptic is less a know-it-all bubble-burster than the Lone Ranger of reason battling against an onslaught of misinformation. Even Lone Rangers need some support, and modern skeptics find solace in two organizations: The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, which funds Skeptical Inquirer, and the Skeptics Society, which publishes Skeptic. Furtherance of science and the scientific method are the main goals of both groups; exposing hokum and phonies is just a perk. Members of both organizations—primarily doctors, journalists and scientists—contribute the bulk of the magazines’ features.
The two publications are the only magazines for skeptics in the country, and, given their small readerships, one wonders whether the movement might benefit from producing only one. Both Dr. Paul Kurtz, founder of The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and Dr. Michael Shermer, co-founder of The Skeptics Society (both are de facto publishers of their organizations’ respective magazines) seem skeptical of the idea, though neither criticized the other organization or publication. When asked about the necessity for two skeptic publications, Dr. Shermer replied, “There’s a market for it and plenty of articles to publish, topics to cover [and] controversies to investigate.” Dr. Kurtz said of Skeptic, “They do good work and we’re similar in many senses, but we have a much broader base,” pointing out that The Committee of Skeptical Inquiry has many international Centers of Inquiry.
Like two scientists racing to reach the same conclusion first, both Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer state their claims in a similar way. The magazines mainly publish stories centered on scientific controversy; predictably they are sourced to the highest standard. Talking chimps? Bogus. The data collection was flawed, according to Dr. Clive Wynn’s assessment in Skeptic. The dating website eHarmony.com’s “scientific” romantic successes? Not so amazing if you consider the company’s unpublicized failure rate, says Skeptical Inquirer editor Benjamin Radford, in his monthly column.
Surprisingly, both reviewed issues have lengthy articles featuring respected biologists taking aim at Richard Dawkins’ skeptical atheist book The God Delusion. The ubiquitous Dawkins is on both Skeptic’s editorial board and part of The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Pet topics of the magazines include alien theories, creationism and historical myths. Both also semi-frequently debunk popular conspiracy theories, such as those involving John F. Kennedy’s assassination, denial of the Holocaust and The Da Vinci Code.
The editors of Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer have so much fun disproving trendy science and cultural myths that it seems they have forgotten their art departments. Photography is of the stock variety in Skeptical Inquirer and totally absent from the matte inside pages of Skeptic. The stately Skeptical Inquirer displays an odd orange and gray color scheme on its glossy pages. The nonprofit magazine, which switched from quarterly to bimonthly eight years ago, is considerably lighter than the quarterly Skeptic. The costs of the slicker cover and better binding of Skeptic may be funded by its scant advertisements, many for books authored by well-known members of the skeptic community.
Several of those familiar names crop up in both magazines’ editorial and committee boards, and lists of contributors. Skeptic positively reviews Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World’s Most Elusive Creatures, a book written by Benjamin Radford and Joe Nickell, both on the masthead at Skeptical Inquirer. Social psychologist Carol Tavris is a longtime contributor to Skeptical Inquirer and also is on the Editorial Board at Skeptic. Dr. Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic, even contributed an article to the more established Skeptical Inquirer in 1993, the year after his magazine launched.
Despite the similarities, there is one marked difference. For the questioning family, Skeptic includes a regular back-of-book section called “Junior Skeptic,” essentially a 12-page magazine for young adults. According to Dr. Shermer, “[Junior Skeptic] is a way of teaching how science works by exploring how it doesn’t work.” Separately edited by Daniel Loxton and Pat Linse, the section has a more graphics-oriented layout and ample exploration of a single topic (like a claim that aliens built the Wonders of the World) in each issue. Of the two magazines, this is the one element that goes furthest in reaching out to a new audience.
The biggest fault of both magazines may be that, like many partisan political publications, they know their audience a little too well. Most subscribers are members of The Skeptics Society or have ties to The Center of Skeptical Inquiry. Newsstand sales are estimated to make up only 20 percent of Skeptical Inquirer’s circulation. Though the magazines employ a tone meant for the lay reader, both preach to the choir of the unbeliever.
It might make sense for the Lone Rangers of reason to join forces. Could one magazine be produced by two separate organizations? Would the cause they share benefit from one solid print presence? True skeptics know that only a carefully controlled experiment will yield a believable answer.
Date Of Birth: 1992
By Alex Contratto
Filmmaker magazine is aimed at independent filmmakers, but it also has a lot to offer those who simply love watching indies. I appreciate Filmmaker primarily for its interviews, which give readers a level of detail that dives beneath the surface of films to uncover the thoughts and insights of independent filmmakers.
The magazine was founded in 1992 by three filmmakers—Holly Willis, Karol Martesko-Fenster and current editor-in-chief Scott Macaulay. The opening pages of Filmmaker carry brief reports and columns, such as pieces about filmmakers studying at UCLA and the state-of-the-art film-viewing experience at Lincoln Center, followed by news items from the industry and buzz on upcoming festivals, video games and newly released DVDs. This DVD section is particularly interesting because it provides filmmakers’ recommendations of the releases they admire and find noteworthy. I can utilize their insights to add to the lengthy list of films I never seem to get around to watching.
The centerpiece of Filmmaker is its detailed interviews, which are accompanied by behind-the-scenes facts set apart from the interviews in little rectangular boxes. These sidebars include a section called “How They Did It,” explaining how filmmakers shot their work (the production format, type of camera, film stock, editing system and color correction), which gives aspiring filmmakers insights into how professionals in the industry are taking images and transforming them into stories. Another sidebar, “Go Back and Watch,” is a list of films to view and compare with the interview subject’s work. Visually, Filmmaker uses large photos to introduce the main subject of each interview, as well as still screenshots from the film. The interviews themselves are in question-and-answer form, but the questions have a depth of educated inquisitiveness that elicits revealing and insightful responses.
The subject of the featured interview from the Fall 2011 issue was David Cronenberg. He talked about his most recent film, A Dangerous Method, a period piece centered on psychoanalysis that chronicles the relationship between Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley).
“For me,” says Cronenberg, “the project was really one of resurrection. I wanted to bring them back to life as accurately as I could, and that means being very neutral and objective. These were very detail-obsessed people … they were very precise in recounting meetings, conversations, incidents, dream realizations. … So I felt that it was necessary to really try to resurrect [them], revive them, bring them back to life.” The interview is personal and captivating, highlighting the talents of Cronenberg while also allowing the reader to enter the filmmaker’s psyche.
Also in that fall issue was a Q&A with Jessica Chastain, the busy young actress who has appeared in a string of big-budget movies recently. Here, however, the topic was an indie, Jeff Nichols’ film Take Shelter, in which she co-stars with Michael Shannon. In the course of the interview, the reader discovers the woman behind the actress. She explained how she became uneasy when first reading the script and seeing her character’s description as “the wife.” “I’m an actor first. I’m not a model,” she says. “I won’t be the eye candy in a movie. I’m not that kind of actress.”
Based in Brooklyn, this quarterly serves more than 60,000 subscribers as well as readers who pick it up on newsstands and in bookstores. For nine dollars per year, the website allows full access to the print edition in an online format and also offers additional features not found in the print edition. These online features include sections devoted to the “Best of 2011,” and the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. The website also holds an extensive archive cataloguing every issue dating back to the magazine’s founding in the early 1990s.
There’s no shortage of magazines that dote on the world of blockbuster films and A-list Hollywood celebrities, but in the indie film niche, Filmmaker shines as a unique, invaluable periodical.
Date of Birth: Spring 2002
Price: $6.95 Canadian, eh
Natural habitat: On the coffee table next to your mug of organic coffee and the Wayfarers you bought to wear while riding your vintage Harley across the Canadian countryside
By David Riedel
Maisonneuve is a thought-provoking magazine before you even open it to look at the contents page. It’s an English-language publication with a French title. Its head office is located in Montreal, a town with a decidedly anti-English bent. And the cover of the Winter 2007 issue features little firemen running across a crème brulee.
When you do open it, you can find articles on Nigerian film culture in one issue and the relationship between sex and death in another. In a third, there’s a story about the Canadian military and its efforts to appeal to young Muslims.
The words “Eclectic Curiosity” beneath the Maisonneuve logo say it all. This is a magazine of disparate stories that wouldn’t normally fit together in the same publication. And they might not even fit in Maisonneuve, except that they’re united under one theme that changes each issue. They have covered good and evil, money and power, and rites of passage. In Winter 2007, the theme is food.
Using food as a starting point for each story (we all gotta eat), Maisonneuve’s writers explore how different religions in the United States shape the way their members eat. They also look at the role science plays in the kitchen and the way land conflicts are resolved over seasonal feasts.
The theme format was a decision that editor and publisher Derek Webster and the editorial staff came to soon after the first few issues came and went. “It helped us organize the editorial content that was coming in and it helped us shape an issue,” he said. In other words, the first issues were unfocused. These days, there’s a bouncy idiosyncrasy pulsing through the pages, tied together by the common themes.
A piece in the Winter 2007 issue, “Catch and Release,” pulls you in effectively, as the writer, Taras Grescoe, describes a goofy tourist struggling to stretch a too-small T-shirt over his paunch. The story swiftly turns into a well-reported article detailing the struggles of the natives of the Haida Nation, who depend on fishing for their survival. Catch-and-release tourists inadvertently kill fish in Haida waters, and the Haida want the Canadian government to do something about it. The article is a good example of what Maisonneuve does best; its writers combine memoir and reporting with a social agenda, which produces stories on subjects you may not have known you cared about.
Mona Awad’s “Dining Among the Saints,” which describes the author’s experiences with her in-laws at Mormon-friendly restaurants and Mormon family feasts, goes a long way toward explaining why Mitt Romney comes off as Ward Cleaver. In Diana Wilson’s “My Vegetarian Affair,” the writer explains her reasons for picking up meat after a 17-year break. (“What we put in our mouths is not a matter of logic, but of ego and emotion.”) And Rina Palta’s “Kitchen Scientists” is a study of the link between molecular gastronomy and a trend sweeping restaurants across the world: the kitchen as laboratory, with chefs tinkering with the atomic makeup of food so that they can offer new tastes.
Less successful is Maisonneuve’s foray into food as fine art, with an article by Meredith Erickson covering the marginal work of artist Nicholas Kashian’s pride-centric series of paintings, “New American Gothic.” Kashian’s work isn’t nearly as important as he and the editors seem to think it is.
And there may be some people who will enjoy a two-page photo spread detailing the tastes and textures of insects. I’m not one of them.
Maisonneuve, which translates to “new house,” strives to be quirky. It publishes poetry and fiction alongside the fact-based articles in an effort to get different types of writers under one roof. Despite the occasional misstep, it works. In an era when so many magazines for people in their 20s and 30s pander to their readership by dumbing down their content or streamlining it to conform to one particular point of view, it’s refreshing to read a thoughtful magazine that invites its readers along on a journey through content that takes some unusual twists.
Guilt & Pleasure
Date of Birth: 2006
Natural Habitat: A pricey Williamsburg loft, next to a half-eaten lox bagel and crumbling dog-eared books by Nick Hornby, Jonathan Safran Foer and Chuck Klosterman
Date of Birth: 2001
Natural Habitat: Jeremy Piven’s and Jared Kushner’s master bathrooms
By Adam Weinstein
It’s hard to underestimate hip America’s recent burning desire to join the tribe. Between Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman, Sacha Baron Cohen and that rabbi on The Learning Channel’s Shalom in the Home, hip Jewish role models have rarely been more chic. They emphasize a shared culture, not theology—and what a culture: nagging parents; a groovy, mysterious language; big gatherings on Friday nights; and an obsession with coffee and pastries. By those criteria, nearly every successful hipster is a child of Zion. And now the magazine industry is gunning for those young Jewish city-dwellers, with a pair of complementary quarterlies, Guilt & Pleasure and Heeb.
Guilt & Pleasure aspires to be the young urban Jew’s literary staple, a sort of The Believer or McSweeney’s for descendants of the Catskills set. It certainly bears a superficial resemblance to these lit mags: square, sturdy and thick, its many pages offer bright colors and print-heavy layouts in neat, logical packets that campily suggest socialist propaganda. A product of Reboot, a 4-year-old New York-based nonprofit that promotes Jewish cultural dialogue, G&P uses wit and introspection to prod its readership to “grapple with the questions of Jewish identity, community and meaning on its own terms.” With editorial advisors like Esquire editor-at-large A.J. Jacobs and the novelists Jonathan Safran Foer and Gary Shteyngart, G&P boasts a lot of cultural muscle.
And yet, like their more gentile Believer brethren, G&P’s too-hip contributors navigate hazardous syntactical waters. Too hard to port, and their wit slips into showiness; too hard to starboard, and their introspection runs into solipsism. Take the magazine’s fall 2007 “Sound Issue,” which is stuffed silly with navel-gazing retrospectives on the music young Jews once loved. Aside from fascinating historical pieces on Tito Puente’s Hebrew colleagues—known as mamboniks—and the Jewish love affair with the Italian-American songstress Connie Francis, the entire issue indulges in a hipster first-person sensibility that restates the obvious as though Moses just brought it down the mountain. Successive contributors explain how they realized Frank Zappa wasn’t a god, Paul Simon’s Graceland wasn’t cool and Joni Mitchell’s music wasn’t good for a pick-me-up.
Between pages crammed with campy old posters and album covers, G&P spills much ink credulously accepting Bob Dylan’s self-professed role as the slayer of Tin Pan Alley pop music. Perhaps that story is meant to compensate for the inclusion of a ghastly offensive Seventies graphic novella titled The Ventures of Zimmerman, which portrays Dylan as a Shylock-like money-grubber. We get it, Guilt & Pleasure: You’re post-ideological, and you want to appropriate previous generations’ anti-Semitism with your snark, irony and celebration of aesthetic artifice. Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner did it first, and by erring on the side of entertainment, they managed to enlighten.
If G&P is the urban Jew’s McSweeney’s, Heeb is his Esquire. The brainchild of Jennifer Bleyer, a Columbia graduate and New York Times freelancer, Heeb humbly fancies itself as “a take-no-prisoners zine for the plugged-in and preached-out…a multi-media magnet to the young, urban and influential.” Unlike Guilt & Pleasure, Heeb is unapologetically slick in its presentation: thin and glossy, with proper front- and back-of-book sections that sport numerous photos and plenty of air around the text. Still, the magazine appreciates its own irony and delivers a surprising amount of substance that’s far more accessible than Guilt & Pleasure. Heeb’s winter 2007 “Goy Issue” puts a Semitic spin on the consumer-mag formula, interspersing punchy front-of-book recipes (“Nosh Pit”) and language lessons (“Heebonics”) with fashion spreads (“Aryans Have More Fun!”); a profile of actress Cheryl Hines (“The Accidental Shiksa”), who plays Larry David’s non-Jewish ex-wife on Curb Your Enthusiasm; and ads for games that Jewish frat boys didn’t know they needed, like “No-Limit Texas Dreidel.”
But look closer: There’s a serious discussion of faith and gender with Camille Paglia. A “SHeeb” profile of Mad Men’s Maggie Siff explores her television character’s manifold challenges as a Jewish woman in a macho Sixties ad agency. Don’t miss the explication of the “Shabbos goy,” the (usually paid) gentile who performs favors for observant Jews on the Sabbath. (But as you leaf through the stories, avert your gaze from the interceding “Heeb Guide to Strip Dreidel.”)
Heeb’s dual strengths are an overt irreverence—a “borscht-belt schtickiness,” as publisher Josh Neuman puts it (take the magazine’s title, an epithet that drew ire from the Anti-Defamation League)—and its focus on what Neuman calls “the inadvertently Jewish, the tangentially Jewish, the Jewish by side glance.” The magazine smartly uses gloss and glamour to slay the shibboleths of Jewish identity and wrest laughs from its readers. By contrast, Guilt & Pleasure—whose name is also a tip-off—is constrained by a pedantic fealty to traditional Jewish and hipster pretenses, a sort of “This American Diaspora Life.” Its diaspora barely reaches beyond the 212 area code.
Date of Birth: 1993
Natural Habitat: In a Whole Foods canvas bag next to the organic kale and a pint of Chunky Monkey ice cream
By Zeb Esselstyn
As with meditation, don’t expect to get much out of Shambhala Sun instantaneously. The heart of the publication is in the articles by respected Buddhist teachers, thinkers and authors. When I picked up a copy of the March issue, I hesitated. It had been years since I had looked at the magazine. For me, turning inward is easily postponed. But when I flipped past the cover and read, I felt wonder and sometimes revelation, and I also felt impatient and restless—a lot like meditation.
In that issue, Diane Ackerman writes about the meditation and mysticism of two heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto; Natalie Goldberg has an excerpt from her new book, Old Friend from Far Away, on the writing of memoirs; and the editor in chief, Melvin McCleod, interviews k.d. lang on her Buddhist practice and its influence on her new album, Watershed. The Dalai Lama is featured in two articles, and Brad Warner, the ex-punk rocker turned Zen Buddhist teacher, has a piece on how he responds to the comment “That’s not very Buddhist of you.” Warner, a fresh voice in the Buddhist world, was referred to as one of the “young Turks” among teachers in a recent book review in the magazine.
The publication does not cater to the uninitiated. Articles mention ideas like “Your enemy can teach you tolerance whereas your teacher and your parents cannot” and “There is no present moment that we can locate (try it) and therefore no future or past” and “We don’t exist for the sake of ourselves but for the sake of those we serve”—all provocative notions for those new to Buddhism. However, the issues are not presented in a heavy-handed way, with dharma terms, and most articles can be understood without knowledge of the Buddhist path. For the committed practitioner, Shambhala Sun publishes Buddhadharma: A Practitioner’s Quarterly, tailored to those with an existing Buddhist practice.
Shambhala Sun has existed in its current incarnation since 1993. Founded by the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1978, and known then as Vajradhata Sun, it served as the in-house newspaper for members of his organization, Shambhala International. Trungpa Rinpoche was one of the first lamas to bring Tibetan Buddhism to the West, and his influence is still present in the magazine—his students compose much of the staff.
“We hold a broad, open and respectful view of all schools of Buddhism,” said McCleod, when I asked how the magazine relates to other Buddhist traditions. The magazine publishes articles on the other traditions, but skews toward the Tibetan lineages.
It has the widest circulation of the several Buddhist magazines, with the nearest competition being Tricycle. The layout is elegant, spacious and calming, although the inescapable peace and serenity aesthetic might make you sleepy. Like a city with no garbage, crime or edge—it’s refreshing, but a little monotonous. The wide two-column text demands a slow drinking of the prose rather than a gulping speed-read, and the articles come with color photographs and art that make the pages feel generous and uncluttered.
In the back of the book, sandwiched between pages of ads, the magazine briefly plays with today’s cult of celebrity and material insanity in a section titled “From the Worst Horse’s Mouth.” There’s a picture of Sharon Stone on YouTube hawking the Dalai Lama’s 1966 Land Rover (the winning bid of $82,100 includes attendance at a teaching by the Dalai Lama and a meeting with Ms. Stone), and a brief snippet on a Buddhist-inspired line of ladies’ underwear—Dharmagrrl.com, which also sells “girlieboy-shorts.” The layout of the section is plain and nondescript. The editors seem unsure of whether it’s acceptable to visually poke fun at the absurdity of today’s market-driven contradictions in a Buddhist magazine.
The advertisers promote personal transformation in the form of books, dates (Dharmamatch.com), products and retreats. There is also the Shambhala Sun Network at the back of the book, a paid classified section listing retreat centers by region. Unsurprisingly, California gets its own listing.
I asked McCleod about the apparent tension between an ad-based magazine and Buddhism, a non-proselytizing religion, ideally taught and propagated for free. “Buddhism doesn’t deny the necessity of the material world,” he responded. “In fact, the material world is good. Materialism is the problem.”
The magazine effectively delivers its editorial content. Recognizing that Buddhism is not part of the fabric of American culture, it is devoted to helping its readers stay committed to practicing Buddhism.
Date of Birth: 1914
Price: $39.00 per year
Natural Habitat: Lying between a corpse and a viscera bag
By Anna King
Apparently, necrophilia is legal in Wisconsin. The state’s Court of Appeals ruled recently that having sex with a corpse isn’t a violation of the state’s sexual-assault laws. This is just one of the many tidbits that readers can glean from recent issues of Mortuary Management, published by Abbott and Hast Publications, for those who work with the dead: funeral directors, embalmers and the manufacturers who provide coffins, furnaces, eyelid holders and other assorted products and props for the deceased.
Given its subject matter, and the fact that it’s a trade publication that doesn’t have to vie for attention at newsstands, Mortuary Management isn’t flashy looking. The layout and fonts are probably not dissimilar from the ones used for the first issue back in 1914. It runs around 50 pages per issue, and its articles generally appear without accompanying photos or illustrations, except for a thumbnail-sized picture of the author. Instead, the text is broken up by advertisements—editorial content accounts for only about half of the pages of a typical issue. Each month, the cover features a benign shot of a scene from nature, captured in the relevant season, making it look more like a lifestyle magazine for the Berkshires than a publication about death.
Mortuary Management is, like its readership, skilled in the arts of euphemism and understatement. The advertisements show photos of the latest cremation furnaces and bright lines of cosmetics for the deceased, but the dead themselves are nowhere in sight. Morticians are referred to as “restorative artists,” while “pre-need clients” means “not dead yet.” “Pre-arranged death care” refers to the art of persuading those among the living to think about their funerals years ahead of their actual, inevitable demise.
The most exciting part of the magazine is the “News Briefs” section, a roundup of funereal crimes and misdemeanors. In Pittsburgh, a funeral director was tried for abusing a corpse after the remains of 19 fetuses were found in his garage. A funeral director in Newport, Ark., was accused of plotting to kill the town’s mayor. In Orlando, a man punched and attacked a body in an open casket at a funeral. The corpse of a Philadelphian was plundered at a funeral home for bone-and-tissue transplant material, without the consent of her family.
The magazine generally contains seven or eight feature pieces, written by a mix of staff writers, freelancers and the occasional industry specialist. Recent topics include a list of best embalming techniques, legal issues for crematorium operators, funereal flowers, tips to get money in advance from grieving relatives before funeral services commence and, somewhat strangely, a how-to guide about Google. It’s hard not to imagine funeral directors, in top hats and tails, being stuck in some pre-internet age, inhabiting as they do the land of the dead and the past, not the future. The writer, Robin Heppell, welcomes them into the land of the living. He refers to himself as a “Funeral Futurist,” and he even explains some of that tricky web jargon: “People type in the company’s URL (website address) into the Search Bar instead of the Address bar.”
There’s also a “Recent Deaths” column, showing that even the servants of the Grim Reaper get called to account eventually. Most of them seem to make it into their 70s or 80s, and some into their 90s, suggesting that perhaps they entered into Faustian pacts.
At the Death Care Web Store, a company advertised in Mortuary Management and owned by its publisher, the interested consumer can buy small die-cast toy hearses and ambulances. These offers run alongside paid advertisements for “viscera bags” (in which to store soft internal organs during the embalming process) and keepsake pennants that hold “a small portion of cremated remains, a lock of hair or dried ceremonial flowers.” A company called Ink After Life offers portraits of deceased loved ones, with some of their cremation ashes mixed into the ink.
Mortuary Management offers a peek into a world whose inhabitants are so absorbed by death that they have a strange relationship with the living. I used a family-run funeral home to bury three relatives in recent years. By now, I’m on first-name terms with everyone in the office. When I told Keith, a fourth-generation undertaker, that my father had died, he said “Congratulations,” and shook my hand.
Date of Birth: 1996
By Marie-Sophie Schwarzer
Nothing about Yes! magazine is normal, which may be why it is thriving in today’s bleak media landscape. Yes! may not be glossy and glamorous, but it stands out nonetheless. it is a magazine dedicated to making a difference in the world, and it recently celebrated its fifteenth anniversary.
In contrast to magazines with headlines that shout things like “Be afraid,” “Update Your style for spring” and “apocalypse Now,” Yes! has a re- freshingly positive message: we can do it. recent issues have covered cultural and racial diversity, new livelihoods, climate action and sustainable happiness. Last year’s anniversary issue saluted “15 extraordinary People transforming the way we Live.” But isn’t all of that too idealistic?
Apparently not for the readership Yes! caters to: a consciously green, open-minded audience of all ages that is aspiring to effect positive change. Yes! aims to give ordinary citizens a push to take a stand, speak up and ultimately make a difference at the local, national or even international level, as ex- pressed by the magazine’s slogan: “Powerful ideas, Practical actions.”
Every aspect of Yes! is dedicated to creating a better world. Cover to cover, the smiling faces, laudatory profiles and quotes such as “Believe that the world can change, and commit to your part of the solution” paint a rosy and oftentimes one-sided picture of the possibilities. even the reviews are ultrapositive: “it’s hard to read Urban Homestead- ing without feeling the itch to grab a sledgeham- mer and replace some pavement with parsnips” and “ry Cooder’s song ‘No Banker Left Behind’ offers wall street protesters an anthem.” This optimism is infectious, and you can feel good about having bought a magazine printed on 100-percent post-con- sumer waste, chlorine- free paper “that will help you change the world” one page and tree at a time.
Ultimately, however, you may be disappointed by the quality of the journalism. The writing is zealous but often flat, especially in the front-of-the-book section, “small stories about Big Change,” a series of short pieces on various current is- sues, which resembles the lifelessness of wiki- pedia and does not harmonize with the longer, livelier features.
But journalistic excellence is not what Yes! aspires to have. according to the website, its goal is to empower “people with the vision and tools to create a healthy planet and vibrant communities,” and it does this most effectively through its profiles of people and accounts of their achievements.
The fifteenth-anniversary issue featured one profile for every year of Yes!’s existence, ranging from ai-jen Poo, founder of the Domestic work- ers United, dedicated to ending exploitation and oppression for all; to Deepak Bhargava, who is working on the movement “take Back the american Dream” to promote jobs, education funding and Medicare for all americans; to alison smith, a stay-at-home mom turned activist who revolutionized election financing in Maine.
These profiles intend to inspire readers by giving them a success model to follow, and they generally succeed. Yet this approach sometimes makes their subjects sound superficial, portray- ing the people, their ideas and their projects with insufficient depth.
Unlike the complex vision of Yes!, its design is simple but effective. articles are embellished with color photographs and quotes, and the layout is reader-friendly. in the anniversary issue, quotes from readers decorated the pages, demonstrating that the readers’ input is valued at Yes!. The con- nection between editors and readers is an impor- tant reason for its success. for a magazine that has no advertising, readership loyalty is vital.
As a nonprofit magazine determined to remain liberated from the influence of advertisers, Yes! depends on subscriptions for one-third of its revenue, and on tax-deductible donations and foundation grants for the remaining two- thirds. it also uses its donations to fund outreach to teachers, journalists, grassroots organizations, faith groups and policymakers, which is another way to promote the publication. according to the publisher, fran korten, “Yes! magazine has dra- matically expanded its reach and influence.” web traffic increased by fifty-eight percent in 2010 and email lists multiplied. Moreover, Yes! derives income from an online shop that sells everything from Yes! canteens to a recently published book about the occupy wall street movement. to ensure that Yes! will continue to prosper, house ads invite readers to name Yes! in their wills, so that it “will be around for many years to come.”
The current sociopolitical situation, which gave rise to the “99 percent” move- ment, has lent Yes! momentum. Still, even though Yes! is widely available in the United states and Canada, it has a long way to go to reach a truly wide audience. although its journalistic quality does not com- pare to magazines such as The Economist and The New Yorker, it is uplifting to see that a publication, conceived fifteen years ago in the basement of a house by a small group of people with a vision, now celebrates “the work of people who are making a difference” with 150,000 readers.
It’s encouraging to read positive news every once in a while, and four times a year you can find it in this eco-friendly cheerleader of a magazine.
Date of Birth: 2005
Price: $14.99(!) Or you can view a digital edition for free at www.makezine.com.
Natural Habitat: On the workbenches of playful geeks.
by Nicole Oncina
Attention all alpha nerds, male and female alike: If circuit boards, hacking and soldering get your fuses blowing, then you might want to check your local newsstand for the latest do-it-yourself bible for artistic technophiles who like to get their hands dirty. It’s Make, which calls itself “a hybrid magazine/book (known as a mook in Japan).”
With the dimensions of a large paperback, this new quarterly is thick with “recipes” for building everything from cigar-box guitars and espresso-machine temperature regulators to tandem dogcarts and electric marimbas. In refreshing contrast to its nerdy content, the publication’s design is bright and clean. Make is for smarties with good aesthetic sense—and enough disposable income to pay $14.99 per “volume” or $34.95 for a four-issue subscription.
Though do-it-yourself projects may be the mettle of Make, this mook also features profiles of crafty geniuses the likes of Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, an ultra-safe electric scooter for pedestrian areas; reviews of new products; guides to DIY kits for such things as robots, lawn mowers and homemade cheese; and musings on the cultural implications of technologies.
Make is smart but doesn’t take itself too seriously. With a tone that takes cues from the political and artistic movements that reacted to industrialization at the turn of the century, Make starts off with a “Crafter Manifesto.” If Marx worried that technology was separating the artisan from his craft, Make suggests that the artisan should create the technology.
Make is subversive in the way it gets people to repurpose things the high-tech industry has produced. The maker capitalizes on corporate investments in the research and development of low-cost, high-tech products. Because technology keeps getting cheaper, the maker’s components are more accessible than they’ve ever been. So why not take a chance, hack into some electronics, and make them your own?
For example, if you don’t like the way your java tastes, Make tells you how to alter that stock espresso filter to get delicious “crema” on top of your cup. Want more from your Game Boy than sexy graphics? Make can help you turn it into a musical instrument. In short, the crafter uses technology on his or her terms, not on those set by corporate engineers.
Artists tend to be people who question the motives and implications of big business, of politicians and of cultural mores, so it’s not surprising that the people who contribute to Make—and those who edit it—come from arts, rather than engineering, backgrounds. They’re photographers, illustrators, fine artists, welders, carpenters, novelists and “aging punks” with a penchant for technology. The publisher, Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media, who is known for his books on computers, reveled in the arts while an undergraduate at Harvard; he majored in classics and wrote his thesis on Plato.
Today, it’s easy to cross over from the arts to the sciences and vice versa. Lower barriers to entry—intellectual and economic—have allowed artists to hop the fence from traditional media into previously uncharted territories such as electronics, robotics and biotechnology. Make is symptomatic of this increased cultural awareness of the artistic possibilities of technology.
Personal computers are now cheap and powerful enough that musicians can turn them into instruments. There is no more need for musicians to go to places like the Computer Music Center at Columbia University (birthplace of the Moog synthesizer) to make music with pricey and large equipment. Although the Music Center still exists, its director, artist Douglas Repetto, admits that the researchers don’t use the building much: “Everyone can work on a laptop from home. Why would you want to come to this cold, dirty place to work?” One of two RCA Mark IIs in the world, synthesizers built in the 1950s for $500,000 each, sits in the Center collecting dust, a testament to the death of elitist electronic music. Make will tell you how to build your own “String Thing,” an instrument that sounds like an electric cello and is made of lasers, guitar strings and clothes hangers.
Even the previously necessary knowledge of programming languages to make electronic music is now an archaic notion. The Princeton University Laptop Orchestra, or PLOrk, is an assortment of freshmen with limited knowledge of music and even less of computer programming. Each student is equipped with a laptop and a set of speakers, and together they create music—in real time—by writing code. Made with computer dummies in mind, the operating platform is easy enough for anyone to write decent music with a little practice.
If electronic music isn’t your thing, then maybe building robots is. Make can give you instructions on how to craft several, but be advised that you may have to play catch-up. Artists have been onto robot building for a while. There’s an annual international “Robot Talent Show,” called Artbots, in which anyone who wants to participate—usually people with aesthetic sensibilities and engineering prowess—can display their bots that draw, create rhythms or are automated puppets, among other kinds.
In addition to robotics and electronic music, “bioartists” are now experimenting with genetics, using common lab practices, such as transfection and cloning, to make artworks out of living animals. One of them, Eduardo Kac, collaborated with a French laboratory to procure Alba, a bioluminescent bunny whose DNA is combined with that of a phosphorescent jellyfish, making her glow bright green under a certain blue light. Before she died of natural causes, Alba was photographed incessantly and became the icon of the bioart movement.
More and more, anyone will be able to use technology in interesting new ways, some even useful. People of all sorts of backgrounds will inform the design of our tools, will customize their electronic possessions and will push the boundaries of art. Make is there to lend a helping hand.
Date of Birth: 1992
Frequency: 2 to 3 per year
By Brian Patrick Eha
Of all the subjects to build a magazine around, nations rank low on the list. Cities are more popular: New York magazine exists—and Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles and many others—but not United States. And yet Cornucopia’s purview is nothing less than the nation of Turkey.
Below its masthead is an etymology of the word that gives this sumptuous magazine its title: “The Latin cornu copiæ or ‘horn of plenty’, a horn overflowing with flowers, fruit and corn; symbol of prosperity and abundance in the cities of anatolia.” It’s a small note, probably overlooked by most readers, but it warms this former high school Latin student’s heart. Better still, the content lives up to the Latin.
Cornucopia is a marvel of execution as much as conception. its rich photo spreads of architecture and handicrafts are as stunning as anything in The World of Interiors, the writing holds its own and the subjects covered are diverse, within its limited scope. The Autumn 2011 issue, for example, includes a historical profile of Midhat Pasha, author of Turkey’s first constitution; a substantial piece on America’s first archaeological expeditions to the Ottoman Empire (with full-color reproductions of paintings by Osman Hamdi Bey); and an essay on the collection of Kütahya ceramics at Magdalen College, Oxford University. Plus, book reviews and notices about museum exhibits and art shows.
The only aspect of Turkey from which Cornucopia shies away is contemporary politics, though glimpses of the rapidly developing nation overseen by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan come through in Andrew Finkel’s “Private View” column. If the relative lack of political coverage seems at times a glaring omission, it is also a re- dress of the coverage Turkey receives in news magazines, which focus exclusively on its social and political ferment.
And Cornucopia, published jointly in the U.K. and Turkey, also avoids lapsing into Orientalist fluff. Don’t be fooled by the glossy pages and pretty pictures—this is not an empty-calorie magazine, an Architectural Digest for the Ottoman-obsessed. In that autumn issue, a cooking feature centered on sweet peas offers no fewer than nine recipes for pea-based dishes—including one handed down unchanged from the 18th-century librarian of the Topkapı Palace—and also whets the reader’s appetite with the surprisingly fascinating history of the legume in Ottoman cuisine. This combination of lifestyle coverage and stimulating history is also present in the profile of Harun’s Paradise, a unique getaway that doubles as a boutique hotel and a traditional boat-building atelier on the Sea of Marmara.
The question of how a magazine that comes out just two (occasionally three) times a year and sells only 20,000 copies per issue can afford consistently to produce such high-quality content has at least three answers. First, the editorial staff is small. I counted three pieces in the most recent issue that Berrin Torolsan, the co-founder and publishing director, wrote or contributed to. Second, Cornucopia is manifestly aimed at a well-heeled readership, which means lucrative ad space occupied by boutique luxury hotels, Christie’s auction house (advertising an Islamic art sale), carmaker Peugeot and other upscale brands. Mercedes-Benz even created a special ad for the magazine that features its SLS AMG coupe on the shore of the Bosporus. And third, Cornucopia is expensive (eighteen dollars per issue).
One distinct hindrance to a wider readership is the difficulty of finding it outside the U.K. and Turkey. Although subscriptions and back issues are available for purchase through the website— with free shipping worldwide—it’s safe to say that most people who find it are those who have gone looking for it.
Neither the price nor the exclusivity, however, in any way decreases the pleasure of reading Cornucopia for the armchair world traveler or couch surfer, no matter how impoverished. Whether you’re planning a trip to the Golden Horn or just dreaming about what life was like in the last days of the Ottoman Empire, this is a magazine to revisit and to savor. It’s a truism that the measure of a travel magazine’s success is whether it makes you yearn to visit the destinations it depicts. Cornucopia goes one better. It is a vacation in itself.