under the covers

Life looks back, The New Yorker looks ahead, and New Woman looks at Jimmy Smits' ass.

Published October 20, 1997 7:00PM (EDT)

| The ballad of reading Jane: Ask a hundred airport-newsstand customers to identify Jane Pratt. Seventy will tell you that she could eat no lean; 29 will say that she plays the British chick on "Frasier." But because that one who does know who she is is flying business class and charging it to Condi Nast or Hachette, you're all supposed to be pretty goddamn interested when Pratt poles another cosmetic-laden barge onto the stinking canal of women's magazines. Notwithstanding this -- and the concomitant media lust-for-failure -- Jane is decent. Read it till your eyeballs pop, or don't -- whatever. True, it perpetuates its editor's embarrassing cult (spot Jane in "All My Children" and win a trip to NYC!), but it does give its audience slightly above-average credit for news awareness (a Promise Keepers feature) and non-Hollywood arts interests (alternaband news; fiction that -- well, might be good someday). That, unfortunately, does count for progress in the genre. And look, no fragrance inserts!

Pockets lined by Huang: Vanity Fair's November issue is dominated by a massive photo spread of 65 top world leaders. Or should we say 65 top world leaders are dominated by Vanity Fair's November issue: Certainly the fashion-plate images far outweigh the accompanying factoids, creating a certain Vogue-does-Encarta effect (a favorite spread: Tony Blair, all shirtsleeve-y in a think session with his young staff, appears to be making a Dockers commercial). A major theme is that economic power now equals or trumps political; among the less obvious choices is the other white meat of Australian media moguldom, Kerry Packer of Consolidated Press Holdings. Packer was dead for several minutes after a 1990 heart attack and later said, "I have been to the other side ... and there's nothing there." (Yeah, buddy: It's called hell.)

What validates the entire feature, however, is the cover photo credit for Annie Leibovitz's presidential snapshot: "The president wears a tie by the Donna Karan Collection. Clinton's hair by Fridiric Fekkai; grooming by Lillian Brown." It is somehow the most telling apergu of Clinton written in the past five years, and it should be inscribed on his monument.

Doubleplusungood thoughts: I'm partial to traitors -- writers of the left or right who admit their side occasionally loses one because it deserves to. Michael Tomasky, regular castor-oil server to the left, chides his team in the Fall 1997 Dissent for fumbling urban crime. About to watch Ruth Messinger get blown into the Hudson River for precisely that failing, Tomasky contends that liberals have single-mindedly focused on (admittedly real) economic causes, while spurning effective social-order approaches that are as compatible with liberalism as with conservatism. Crime is to the urban left today what civil rights was to the right after the '60s; expect its leaders -- as Elliot Currie, Ester Fuchs and Randall Kennedy's rebuttals indicate here -- to take just as long to 'fess up and move on.

Caution -- Metametajournalism next 34 words: No one needs me to add to the squawk on Esquire's not-that-there's-anything-wrong-with-that semi-outing of Kevin Spacey (October), but Alex Ross in Feed delivers the best critique I've read. (If you'd rather skip Spacey's secret altogether, this month's British Esquire excerpts Martin Amis' "Night Train," due here in February.)

Franksubstantiation: Speaking of Esquire, can it finally be out of room for winking, sophistic Rat Pack hagiographies? Whatever the reason, it's the November Details that excerpts Bill Zehme's Sinatra memoir, "The Way You Wear Your Hat." Zehme reveals that Sinatra drank hard and loved hard. Also, he shared his martini olives with the elect: "This was something of a sacred act, performed not casually, but with an air of Eucharist." Given the scuttlebutt on the Chairman's health, by the way, half the balding scribes in Manhattan must have 5,000-word "remembrances" idling in the print queue. Book your overseas flights now. More promisingly, Art Spiegelman debuts as comics editor (Peter Kuper offers a cartoon travelogue of fleshpot festival Burning Man) and Baffler editor Tom Frank tells us his problem with Details, among other things.

Bridge to the 11th century: Need a break from the highbrow prognostications of the New Yorker's Oct. 20-27 "Next Issue"? A double issue of militantly middlebrow Life looks backward at the millennium. Sure, ranking the 100 top events and people of the past 1,000 years is preposterous -- what nuance gave adventurer Ibn Battuta (44) the edge over philosopher Zhu Xi (45)? -- but fail as it must as a whole, the issue succeeds in every part. The sober, good-for-you entries make a great scattershot sample of civilization (when's the last time you really thought about refrigeration?) and the photography is alternately witty and arresting. It's history as fun fact, maybe, but it is fun.

Generation IOU: A personal-finance package for 20-to-34somethings in this week's U.S. News and World Report applauds youngsters for saving like good little squirrels so that their elders can be buried with the social safety net. Apparently, we've accepted this grand generational heist as a fait accompli -- which would be no surprise given that we've already absorbed a couple decades of just such uncritical scribbling on it. No disrespect to USNWR's well-meaning guide, but the next time some consumer research analyst congratulates me on my sporting acceptance of the fact that Social Security will dry up the second his EKG flatlines, I'm cold-cocking him and taking his wallet.

Dog-Ear Soup

  • Our national disgrace: Every day thousands of baby boomers have birthdays and no one is working on a cure! Hillary Clinton hits 50 on behalf of millions of women in Time this week.

  • The aptly named Wallpaper -- gorgeous and about this deep -- touts online shopping for Britons seeking books only out in the States: "Take 'Hand To Mouth,' Paul Auster's new novel ... [You can order it now] at a 30 percent discount for US$17.50." Add shipping and handling and it will have cost you only $31.40 to discover that Auster's slight collection is not a novel.

  • William Shaw gets himself E-Metered in a clever inside-Scientology piece in the October Arena.

  • The October New Woman features Jimmy Smits as its first male cover star ever, proving, in a Diet Coke empowerment moment, that women can ignore an odious personality for a nice ass just like the boys.

  • November's Worth is devoted to "One Stock," Intel: It's useful as a research and investing primer but unfortunately loaded with unseemly raves ("No wonder Intel shares are one of the world's favorite investments") and peppered with Intel's clean-room-worker mascots, and CEO Andy Grove must be having himself a nice long cigarette.

By James Poniewozik

James Poniewozik is a Time magazine columnist on TV and media.

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