Tuesday, January 27, 2004

I'll Have a Bitch Latte'

I'm a sucker for those slick, completely lacking in nutritional value entertainment magazines you find in the supermarket. I don't mean the obvious tabloids, even though their cover pictures crack me up, like the faked photos of Osama bin Laden and Sadam Hussein dressed respectively as a groom and blushing bride. Man that cover was priceless. But I refuse to waste my money on them, knowing that they are all lies and facts taken completely out of context and twisted like a Twizzler into a new and completely fake form, and supplimented with touched-up photos or the telltale grainy-look photos taken with a Peeping Tom long lens. No, I'd rather read the likes of "In Touch", "Us" and "People". Although they are also largely fake and superficial, I'd rather believe that the photo-fakery and out-and-out fabrications are less in number than in, say, "The Inquirer".

These silly gossip and entertainment magazines are my guilty pleasure after a long day of work, terrible weather, and battles of wills with the other New Jersey drivers - an oasis of frivolous egos and conspicuous consumption where I can turn off my mind, relax and float downstream (as the man sang). However, as much as I enjoy looking at the clothes and baubles and giant Chiclet smiles as an escape, there has been a growing sense within that I am wasting time, and more importantly, my brain, on such magazines. For those reasons, I have been making a concerted effort towards finding ways to combine entertainment in short spurts, but with more meaningful content. These fun magazines are all the froth at the top of a cappuccino, without the steamed milk and espresso at the bottom. I needed a latte'.

For one thing, I don't feel in any way connected to the people in those magazines. They are so far from reality as I know it, that they might as well be from another planet. Okay, "People" does attempt to tug at the heartstrings by interspersing human interest stories about the brave, tragic or plucky, but it is all done in such a superficial manner that even the most heart-rending stories are distilled down to the most flavorless bite-sized nugget. In one page, sporting a picture of the subject with their family, pet, or in a tub, you learn just enough about them to make you connect ever-so-slightly with the protagonist, yet not too much, so you have no risk of learning anything about them that might make your suburban middle-class American values quake with fear.

On the other hand, there's the newspaper, and it does come in handy short articles and in a conveniently re-usable (paper mache' anyone?) or recycleable format, but very little of it is entertainment. Not to say that I'm not interested in the news, but what I'm talking about is wanting something to read that is fun to read, not just endless assaults on my hope that human kind is ultimately good. Man's inhumanity to man, column after column of it, is not the first thing I want to settle down to after dealing with the "real world" all day. I found myself hoping for real, funny, entertaining, and yet thought-provoking reading material, preferably in a short format. To get down to brass tacks here, something short enough to read in a visit to the bathroom would do nicely.

Although I love reading blogs, and they do pretty much fit the requirements of the reading material I was hoping for, I'm not about to drag my monitor into the bathroom (for what I hope would be obvious reasons). Such would also be the drawback to any reading material online, including the wonderful Onion. What I needed was a magazine with substance, yet colorfully written.

At first, I went back to an old love, Psychology Today. To my profound disappointment, the entertaining yet scholarly approach that I remember from years ago seems to have taken a much more mainstream (might I even suggest lowbrow) approach to its subject matter. I kept getting the feeling that it had dumbed itself down, and I had a nagging feeling that I was resenting being dumbed-down for. But what really took the cake was the fact that there were all kinds of charlatans and psychics and losers advertising in the back of the magazine. What self-respecting psychologist would want their article printed mere pages away from "Stella, Your Psychic Guide", or other such drivel? How disappointing. The search continued.

I decided to go another route completely, and subscribed to Cosmopolitan , especially because I had always really liked reading the Agony column, and more recently they used to have a dating diary that was pretty entertaining. I can't seem to find either of those columns in the most recent issue, so my enjoyment quotient has plummeted precipitously. But much worse than that, I've discovered what many of you probably already knew - women's magazines like Cosmo and Glamour, etc. are nearly exclusively written to amp up any insecurities already held deep within the (preferably) ample bosoms of their readership.

[Note: I may have already blogged about this next paragraph's topic, but I'm too lazy to go back and look. Forgive any redundancy, please.]

If you want to feel totally inadequate in every way, please, feel free to take over my subscription to Cosmo. Nearly every article is about sex, but not just about sex, but about how to drive your mega-studly boyfriend WILD that very evening with the most incredible oral sex EVER. Better than anyone's ever done it before, you should trust them on this. (Um, isn't getting your woman to perform oral sex already the best ever?? Does it have to be Olympian, too?) And you will do all that, after a spectacularly successful day at your smashing job, wearing designer clothing that is both suitable for your position and totally cutting edge fashion at the same time, all while ignoring the jeers and sneers of all of your co-workers (they are just jealous, darling!) and earning a reputation for getting aHEAD at your job, BLOWING past all the competition with your HARD work and THRUSTING yourself into the most difficult assignments...

Alrighty, I need a glass of water here.

Anyway, the point was that the expectations of what a true Cosmo girl's life should be, and what my life is actually like, were light years apart from one another, and I felt like I was eternally reading a bodice ripper, even when the article was supposedly about workplace ethics or some such. I won't lie and say that I never found anything worth taking away from Cosmo, because I did learn quite a few things from them, after separating the breathless froth to find the kernel of substance within. But it's just too much damn work shoring up one's ego before diving into yet another article framed by photos of models much less than half my age and half my weight as well. "Oh, look at that outfit, I can't afford/fit into/hold my breath all day to bear wearing it. I must be some loser!" And then, "Listen to these fantastic careers these women must have, where did I go wrong? There isn't even a boardroom here for me to "Wow!" anybody in." Until finally, I'm mentally counting out the sleeping pills with one hand and holding the razor blade in the other, all while flipping through the last pages of photos showing miles of taut, lineless skin and perfectly styled shiny hair. "I'm nothing but a Cosmo poser! I'll never be a Fun Fabulous Female!" [Insert disconsolate wailing here.]

On a mission to find a book for a friend's birthday, I browsed the magazine rack in the Barnes & Noble , and I believe I found an answer to my silently screamed prayer. Bitch, a Feminist Response to Pop Culture, is the first thing I've found in a while that strikes the many chords I was hoping for. The articles are entertaining, as they are mainly centered around pop culture, true to their claim, and some are fun, some are more like the papers you would write in college if your courses were all about cool subjects, and most of all, I know that none of these articles will bother suggesting the many ways I can turn on my man when he gets home. The entire universe of Bitch is not focused around molding the reader towards a particular lifestyle or thinly disguised cosmetics advertising, but instead is around the more critical enjoyment of the very same pop culture items that the other magazines seem to simply fawn over and act as public relations vehicles for.

What is so refreshing about it was that finally, there were authors (men as well as women, by the way) who were not afraid to, for example, loathe Julia Roberts instead of kissing her ass. In article after article, there was evidence of great intelligence, mixed with witty commentary and unique perspective. It is Fluff, with Substance! Hoorah! I can once again indulge my need to read short, frothy prose while winding down at the end of the day, but without it being a "guilty" pleasure anymore. Imagine that, I can actually use my brain and still manage to make my boyfriend happy. It's okay not to be a Cosmo girl? Hell, it's more than okay. It's far better to be a Bitch.

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