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Why do men’s magazines suck?

Following on from yesterday’s post about Hunter S Thompson wannabes, I’ve been thinking about men’s magazines and wondering: why do they all suck?

They really do, especially when you compare them to women’s magazines. Women’s mags are often derided for being formulaic, but it’s a formula that works: a bit of fashion, a bit of health, and a few “eek!” features to talk about during your lunch break. Oh, and the “number feature” – a cover line with a strange number, such as “297 ways to change your life!”. Marie Claire is arguably the best – its feature stories are always fascinating and beautifully written – but I’m developing a growing respect for R (“Real”) magazine, Red and a few others. These are all magazines that treat their readers with respect, and which fulfil the old journalistic mission of informing and entertaining in equal measure. I’m a huge fan, particularly of R Magazine.

On a brief tangent, the numbers features amuse me: check out the cover of women’s magazines the next time you’re in a newsagent, and you’ll see that they all do it. Here’s an example:

Heh. Back to the point…

Of course, there are plenty of dull, celeb-obsessed women’s magazines or hideous coffee-morning titles, but none of them are as depressingly bad as the men’s magazines – which have degenerated dramatically in recent years. When Loaded first came out it was fresh, funny and hugely entertaining; now, it’s a magazine for idiots. Early editions of FHM were hilarious, but now it’s a combination of dull SAS stories and half-naked “celebrities” whom I’ve never heard of, together with laughably unbelievable “true women’s confessions”. It’d be funny if it weren’t so depressing: with each issue, the interviews with z-list female celebrities become even closer to the wish-fulfilment of a pornographic magazine’s letters page. It’s pornography for people too young, too insecure or too short to reach the top shelf of the newsagent. Most depressing of all, it’s still a damn sight better than the lad weeklies, Zoo and Nuts.

Here’s the current blurb for FHM magazine.

And here’s a recent Loaded cover.

To be fair, FHM, Loaded et al are at the low end of the market; as Andrew O’Hagan wrote last year, they’re the glossy equivalent of the Sun. But the supposedly high-brow magazines suck, too, albeit for different reasons. Arena’s confused – it can’t make its mind up whether it’s going after GQ readers or Loaded readers, and falls flat between the two; GQ and Esquire feature the odd bit of decent writing but the columnists are dull, there’s far too much fashion (and the fashion’s insanely expensive, too) and the target audience clearly earns or aspires to earn a six- or seven-figure salary; and so on. So I find myself in magazine limbo: too old for FHM and Loaded, too poor for GQ or Esquire, too lazy for the various health and fitness mags and too young for the various political/current affairs titles.

Perhaps the problem is that there’s no real need for a men’s magazine, because most other magazines are for men. Computer magazines are largely read by men. Car magazines are almost exclusively read by men. Music, film… men men men men men. But I’m still convinced there’s a gap in the market, a need for a male equivalent of Marie Claire or even R Magazine. A magazine that isn’t aimed at sniggering schoolboys, that doesn’t write ten-page features on the correct way to wear cufflinks, that doesn’t tell me that I need to spend 18 hours a day in the gym to get the perfect body, that doesn’t cover a single subject (cars, gadgets, books, music) and that doesn’t hate, fear or envy women. A magazine that doesn’t make me skip 90% of its pages. A magazine that I wouldn’t be embarrased to have in my house. A magazine that, I suspect, doesn’t exist.

Maybe such a thing does exist, but if it does I don’t know where to find it. Any pointers appreciated…