Maximum confusion

Maximum confusion: By Janelle Brown. On the Web, a typo throws frat boys and feminists onto each other's turf.


Janelle Brown
May 8, 1998 11:00PM (UTC)

"Love your mag. But give us more babes!" said one of the first e-mails. Another declared, "I think your magazine really is the greatest thing to happen to guys. The articles and jokes are great, but what really makes it is the girls. Y'all have some of the hottest girls on the front of your magazines!"

I was utterly confused. The Web zine I co-edit in my spare time, a woman's pop culture mag called Maxi, certainly doesn't feature any "babes." Instead, we write ironic odes to lipstick, critique idiotic advertising and run features on the gender gap in technology.

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But our in box was receiving a steady trickle of strange messages loaded with testosterone. It was a mystery to us until the day I accidentally mistyped our address -- www.maximag.com -- and arrived instead at the home page for the men's magazine Maxim, coincidentally located next door at www.maximmag.com.

Maxim magazine, for those not familiar with it, is a year-old glossy magazine for men, produced by Dennis Publishing. Beyond the lingerie-clad starlets on the cover and the tag line "The best thing to happen to men since women," Maxim's worldview can pretty much be summed up by a recent story titled, "REALITY CHECK: Are You a Man or a Wuss? One minute you're a beer-belching god ... the next, an herbal-tea-sipping geek with lime Jell-O for a backbone. Make sure (before it's too late!) that our touchy-feely society isn't rounding your shoulders."

Maxi, on the other hand, probably represents the feminists that Maxim referred to when promoting "Feminist Baiting Screensavers" on its Web site.

Our publications and readerships are, you could say, diametrically opposed. But the Web makes for strange bedfellows, and in the cozy online world, Maxi happens to co-opt some of Maxim's readers, simply by virtue of that extra "m."

Maxim heavily promotes its Web site in its magazine, and according to
the Maxim webmaster, it lures nearly 60,000 people a week to the site --
most of whom come to ogle the revealing outtakes from photo spreads of
their half-naked, Playboy bunny turned "Baywatch" star cover models.

Many of those visitors, it seems, haven't mastered their spelling, and
end up at Maxi instead. And though a typo is certainly no crime, it's
mind-boggling that so many of them get all the way through our site --
clicking past features like "Chick Streaks: Hair mascara for the masses"
and "Underwired: Where are all the women in technology?" -- and still can't
figure out that Maxi is not Maxim.

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Many of Maxim's readers wind up in our forums. The chatter of our
girlish fans is often interrupted by these kinds of posts: "I enjoy Maxi
very much. It is nice to see a magazine that one, is geared towards
machismo in its truest form. Two, is not afraid to call a 'spade-a-spade'
and three doesn't take itself too seriously ... What a stellar choice of
babes!! Maxim is to be commended. Can I make a suggestion that Ashley Judd
be given consideration for an upcoming issue -- that's talent!!"

Or, from a pithy poster who calls himself "Lite Coors": "I think you
should rename ur magazine to MAXIM-The Health mag. I have never laughed so
much ... you know, genuine rip-roaring chuckles from the insides of my gut.
I am a health junkie ... take my daily vitamin cocktail, believe in
condoms-else-ur-history theory ... you get my drift, ya? MAX ... you are
it!!"

We get confused e-mails from misplaced Maxim fans who can't figure out
why they can't find that free CD advertised in the magazine, congratulating
us on the "hot birds" we put on our cover and even begging us for jobs:

"I am writing to inquire about possible job opportunities with your
publication ... Let me explain why you should snatch me up before someone
else does. First of all, I have lived in that bastion of masculinity --
the college fraternity house -- for four grueling years. I promise the
scent of piss and beer has not permanently attached itself to me and your
office will not lose its own familiar smell. This semi-communal living has
left me with vast caches of obscure knowledge which I would be happy to
impart to your readers. I graduate May 23 with a bachelor's degree in Beer
Science, err I mean Political Science. Better schedule an interview with
me fast."

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When their mistakes are pointed out, most mis-routed Maxim fans
disappear without a backward glance or apologetic e-mail. Some, however,
are persistent. It took one would-be contributor five e-mails before he was
convinced that no, Maxi wasn't Maxim, and no, he could not send e-mail to
http://www.maximmag.com and no, we weren't interested in publishing his
story about "OLD RIP, the horned toad that stayed alive for more than 30
years in the cornerstone of the new courthouse in Eastland, Texas."

A personal favorite is a contest Maxim holds in its magazine. Maxim
supplies a photo; the readers supply the captions; we, of course, receive
the e-mails. What are we to suppose about the picture that goes with reader
captions like "Coming to a theater near you, REVENGE OF THE IMPLANT" or
"Chicks N' Salsa"?

This is not to say that Maxi doesn't have its own subclass of confused
readers -- because according to Charles Coxe, an editor at Maxim,
maximmag.com also gets a healthy number of misplaced Maxi readers and
correspondingly confused e-mails.

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Many of the e-mails Maxim gets from Maxi readers are from irate
feminists, who were shocked -- shocked! -- to happen upon such a bastion of
male sexuality. As Coxe recently laughed to me, "I got one e-mail that
equated us to the spawn of Satan -- she saw a picture of a scantily clad
woman and went nuts."

Coxe also gets e-mail from shaken-up Maxim readers after they
accidentally land at Maxi. Some, he says, call Maxi "ultra-militant lesbian
feminists" (guess they were scared off by our parody
of Lifetime TV), and others tell him that Maxim should put a warning up on
its site that would relate the dangers of mis-typing that URL.

As one Maxim reader wrote to Coxe: "Just want to tell ya I Love your
mag. Just checked out your Web site, and about had a shit-fit. Whatever
you do, don't ever type 'maximag.com' with only 1 'm.' It appears to be
some
femanist website trying to take advantage of those of us who can't spell
correctly. I didn't get into it too deep, it kinda scared me!!"

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The irony of it all is that the editors of Maxi and Maxim get along just
fine. Sure, I loathe
much of the content they produce. But the Maxim editors certainly have a
sense of humor about what they do -- and cheerfully admit that their
readers can be frightening.

Certainly Maxi and Maxim aren't alone in our accidental fraternizing --
the abundance of online typos has spawned an entire online cottage industry. And the Mojave of
simple URLs has been a long lament of Web magazines who've had to resort to
that burdensome "mag" moniker (or the even more laborious "magazine"),
becoming the harder-to-find "Feedmag," "Cosmomag," or in our case,
"Maximag." How many readers has Salon lost to the "cyber community of Salon
professionals" that reside at salon.com? At Maxi, we've always resented
the Maxi Poultry Company of Quebec for both getting to our rightful domain
name before we did and then not even bothering to launch a Web site.

But with a million new Web sites blooming every week, the problem is
just going to get worse -- so we might as well sit back and enjoy the
chaos. In fact, isn't the confusion of the Web half its fun? That your
visit to the New York New Media Association Web page might be hijacked by its satirical opponent? That a
trip to your friendly neighborhood search engine might accidentally land
you with a Pamela Anderson Lee video?
The Net is a most random universe, and the occasional surprise that comes
from a mistyped URL can even be an eye-opening experience.

So sure, a number of those misdirected Maxim readers may think that Maxi
is a passel of militant lesbian feminazis -- but perhaps just a few are
being enlightened. We may even convert a few beer-swilling frat boys to our
feminist ways.

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Then again, perhaps that may be expecting too much.


Janelle Brown

Janelle Brown is a contributing writer for Salon.

MORE FROM Janelle Brown

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