You Say You Want a Revolution? (Better Feed Your Mind Instead)

Middle management gets the rock star treatment


Brad Wieners
October 29, 1996 2:52PM (UTC)

If you're going to launch a major magazine today, it's no longer enough to
inform, entertain, and sell ad space. Your mandate
is to make a revolution visible.

We are witnessing the rise of the Magazine as Document of the Revolution. And no magazine better exemplifies the MDR than Fast Company,
the new offering from Mortimer Zuckerman and Co., publishers of U.S.
News & World Report. If imitation is the truest form of
flattery, then Louis Rossetto and Jane Metcalfe, publisher and
president of Wired respectively, must feel like buttered popcorn — or
Fast Company takes the Wired model and applies it not to
technology, but business.

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In a letter from the editors, they report that during their launch, the
"immortal words of Hunter S. Thompson hovered over us on a large white board
near the front of world headquarters: 'Faster, faster! Until the thrill of
speed overcomes the fear of death.'"

What Fast Company is all about, in case you've yet to see it, is giving
corporate managers the rock star treatment. The magazine should have Jann Wenner gloating, too: it
was Wenner's Rolling Stone, after all, that first gave
rock stars the glossy treatment, just as Wired now glossies geeks and Fast
Company glossies Neo-Organization Perns. In fact, Fast Company's typefaces and page
layout unabashedly rip off RS — to the point that after two issues they were
already referring to themselves as FC.

Fast Company seems designed to give those with an allergy to pop-cultural appropriation the hives. In its pages, "The Wizard of Oz" is
best understood as a fable of how to build a better boss. It's also chock-full of neologisms and novel usages: Sifting through its pages you'll find references to "wet
blankets," "techno-troubadours" and "change agents," not to mention the
curious verb form "to magazine."
Or check the icon that illustrates the "Neo-Leisure" department of the
magazine: a guy diving through a circus ring of fire. What can this mean but that
for Fast Company guys and gals, leisure time is spent on activities that
test you and make you more effective on the job? Get thee to a ropes course
and come back a better team leader.

We have apparently arrived at a point at which a magazine that makes MBAs the height of glamour — call it the "job porn" niche — not only finds an audience, but thrives. For Fast
Company is only the most egregious example of a recent orgy of job porn.
Look and you'll find "Dream Jobs," a channel on HotWired;
Currency/Doubleday, a new book series that includes Art Kleiner's "The Age
of Heretics"; an annual round-up of "jobs that don't suck" in POV magazine,
a bi-monthly, Gen X Esquire; and the profiles of comers in the New York
Times business section, their computers and cars of choice carefully
reported.

Now, there's nothing wrong with seeking
self-fulfillment in work. But Fast Company's
vision of self-discovery is simply too narrow: it leaves the impression that self-discovery is only possible in the
workplace. Indeed, its chief accomplishment is to gather the kinds of
"ideas before they're safe" that might make a person leave the world of
business permanently and convert them into the latest motivational seminar
exhortations, the manifestos and lingua franca of "the new economy."

If the true revolutionaries of our time are corporate VPs, maybe we need a new revolution.

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Brad Wieners

Brad Wieners is a former Wired senior editor. He left Wired in December 1999 to work at Outside. He lives in New York.

MORE FROM Brad Wieners



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