Going for Bloke

British men's magazines have invaded America's newsstands. Too bad they're edited by a bunch of wankers.

By G. Beato
March 7, 1997 1:00AM (UTC)
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so it turns out it's not just American men who are swelling with interest in sure-fire teeth-whitening strategies. In England, the men's lifestyle magazine market is experiencing the same tumescence. Along with naturalized versions of GQ and Esquire, the Brits boast a number of homegrown dude titles. And with typical vainglorious bluster, they're all battling it out for preeminence on American news racks.

Maxim bills itself as "The Magazine for Men." Arena corrects that presumption with its slogan, "The Original Magazine for Men." Attitude, a gay-oriented publication, punctures all this het chest-puffing, calling itself "The Magazine For Real Men." And then there's Loaded, the pack's smuggest, most self-obsessed joker: "At Least An Hour's Read," it chortles with laddish precocity.


With the current surfeit of American men's mags, you'd think no one except the odd expatriate would want to bother with an English one -- especially when they cost twice as much. But there they are. And there are bound to be more. Maxim is rolling out an American edition in April, and its unctuous-macho direct-mail solicitations offer an ominous foreshadowing of the Hef-like splash it hopes to make: "But you know what gives a magazine publisher like me a major case of blue balls? It's knowing darn well you've got the best men's magazine on this planet -- and that there's a zillion guys who don't know it."

England, of course, has a solid reputation for both testosteronic slapstick and sophisticated vanity. And, in theory, at least, the men's magazine is the perfect vessel for that particular combination of virtues: Benny Hill meets Oscar Wilde, and the ad revenues and magazine awards roll in. But Benny and Oscar are dead, and at the moment, their journalistic heirs seem more capable of photographing shoes than filling them.

Attitude -- let's just say that with features like the obligatory "How Butch Are You?" quiz, it needs a fresher one. Arena, for its part, has the unfortunate habit of getting to stories at least a decade too late: a melancholy soccer fan fondly recalls the hooliganism that haunted the game in the '80s; P.J. O'Rourke interviews Hunter Thompson about his drug salad days in Las Vegas; ex-howling junkie Nick Cave, long past the point where he was compelling (his new album of piano ballads is rumored to sound like John Tesh without the edge), slouches his way through a fashion shoot with shit-eating chagrin. Arena -- it's the magazine for bad boys gone complacent.


And the British version of Esquire? Well, if Paul Mathur's recent article on Oasis' Liam Gallagher is any indication, it's the magazine for bad writers born complacent. Apparently thinking that the best way to get inside the chimpish singer's head was through his gastro-intestinal tract, Mathur engages in some of the most embarrassingly vigorous ass-kissing ever committed to print: "Liam's the bonkers one, the cross between Tasmanian Devil and long-lashed angel. You could never sum him up in a sentence and you'd be dumb to even attempt to."

Loaded, Maxim, and FHM (For Him Magazine) all go for blokes instead of gents. For every article on some sissy subject like fashion or grooming, they show at least one pair of breasts. Amid titles like "Wank World Cup" and photos of florid-faced dads mugging it up with their topless offspring, there's the occasional promise of something more than mild prurience -- the March issue of Loaded, for example, features an L.A. porn star planning to make a gangbang video with her most loyal fans. It's a topic that seems like the perfect starting point for an essay on the future of relationship marketing and one-to-one media, but the editors aren't that ambitious. Instead of going off on such tangents, Loaded prefers to remain half-cocked.

Along with the tits, the bloke mags feature the same sort of service journalism that makes the new American guy mags so dull. Maxim mocks the practice with its Users Guide To Life section, providing instruction on anything it can possibly think of ("How to ... not get eaten by a lion") but tempers its efforts by including the genre's standard fare ("How to ... manage your boss") as well. FHM takes service journalism to its logical conclusion with a special two-page "FHM Promotion" sponsored by Neutrogena. Through a Q&A with a guy, his girlfriend, his two exes and another random woman, you learn how to control dandruff and turn yourself into the sort of smooth-scalped stud who can hold the attention of up to four follicle freaks at once. FHM -- it's the magazine for men who'd rather be watching infomercials.


What's most disappointing about these mags is their lack of America-bashing. Sure, it's there -- "You can forget J.D. Power, that self-important American survey of quality in cars" -- but for the most part, it's half-hearted. And that's too bad, as it's always fun to see other cultures try to hammer their envy for the U.S. into disdain. In this instance, however, the reason for the gentle hand is obvious enough: American culture provides a huge part of English men's mag editorial. Loaded features Cindy Crawford on the cover and articles on the Dallas Cowboys, David Koresh, Harry Dean Stanton and that L.A. porn star. FHM showcases Jenny McCarthy and American prisons. Arena kicks off with an article about England's boredom with the States, then follows it with pieces on Hunter Thompson, John Travolta, Muhammad Ali and Metallica. England -- it's the country for men who can't stop thinking about America.

G. Beato

G. Beato is a regular contributor to Salon.


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