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…

9 thoughts on “Why do men’s magazines suck?

  1. Norman Lamont says:

    What about Word? I’ve gone from picking up the odd one every couple of months to actually looking forward to it. It seems to be emphasising books as much as music now and I’ve discovered some interesting stuff from it. If they’d only get off the iPod addiction …

  2. Gary says:

    Yeah, Word’s OK but it’s still a niche thing: music with a bit of film and books (and as you say, an iPod fetish). Uncut’s similar – good, but a bit narrow in its focus.

  3. david says:

    Over the last week I’ve bought both Maxim and FHM. Mainly because I had nothing better to do. Both were utter gubbins. I haven’t actually read FHM for a while (I’ve bought it and then couldn’t be arsed actually reading it all the way through) but the last time I did I did get something out of it. Not world-shattering journalism or anything but sometimes it was actually quite interesting. I read all of FHM on a 30 minute plane ride and regretted not taking my book out of my case. Badly written and pandering to the really, really thick.

    Reading (by reading I mean skimming through and realising it wasn’t worth it) Maxim this evening I thought it was even worse. Example – stars obviously have hard lives so lets juxtapose a quote from that one-legged woman married to famous bloke about being harrassed by the media with a quote from a woman who had been gang-raped by soldiers somewhere in the middle-east. I’m not sure that really made the point.

    Some of these womens magazines put the men’s ones to shame though. More is obscene – I think that most of the FHM/Loaded writers would be embarrassed reading it front of their girlfriends. I think a nymphomaniac reading it might feel a little inadequate. Ruth bought one the other day – can’t remember which one but I think it was one of the ones you mentioned. It had a couple of excerpts from “diaries” from four so-called “typical” men in their twenties who basically shagged anything that moved for a week. The bias of the article seemed to be that all men are like this and women would be shocked to find this out.

    All we need is a quality newspaper to merge with the star or something. Then you’d get stuff to read inbetween ogling.

    PS on the subject of the star – no, I didn’t buy it – but it is another example of newspapers stealing images from the web and not crediting them. (Charles with Camilla as a horse from B3ta midweek.)

  4. Gary says:

    Men shagging everything that moves? I suspect the article would be better as an insight into how twentysomething men are all bullshitters :)

  5. Rob says:

    I’ve been wondering about this since 1985 at which time I resorted to the US Gentleman’s Quarterly.

    The issue I fear is profitability. The UK cannot sustain a niche men’s magazine product; ultimately it will (as Maxim, GQ, For Him ((FHM)) and Arena will testify) move from its original differentiation position to one of the ‘Vanilla Middle’ articulated successfully by Loaded.

    Having isolated the real profit potential in the UK male and should we be so surprised, I give you The Sun as exhibit A, they must imitate or die.

    The result is what you now see. Sadly a brave attempt by Zero magazine failed.

    Regards

  6. Jayne says:

    Um, what were you expecting from escapist literature? Also, women’s mags about celebs are really awful because (1) they publish untrue stories/claims about celebs and (2) they rehash and/or contradict the made-up story about said celeb the very next week. It’s just bad gossip.

  7. Gary says:

    Hi Jayne. Er, you’re a wee bit late to this really old article :)

    > what were you expecting from escapist literature?

    Escapist needn’t mean terrible. Car magazine is escapist, and it’s beautifully photographed and very well written. Edge magazine talks about videogames without assuming its readers are idiots. There are lots of examples. But at the time – and we are talking about a publishing phenomenon that was already running out of steam five years ago – the term “men’s magazine” was starting to mean “soft porn, football and pictures of horrible wounds”.

    I think the argument I made at the time – that there wasn’t a general interest men’s magazine that was any good – was true.

    > women’s mags about celebs are really awful

    They are. And two of the magazines I named in the piece – Marie Claire and R – have changed since I wrote it. MC is a shadow of its former self, and R stopped publication a few years ago.

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