'Zine watch

Culture | Glossy message: Hate your life? Buy this ...

Issue: "Quayle's presidential bid," June 19, 1999

Good news, bad news: Glamour magazine, previously a voice for affirmative action and universal daycare, dumped its political affairs column early this year and replaced it with-astrology. "You asked for it!" editors proclaimed: "Horoscopes. Psychic details you need for your love, lust, and work life. Big Decisions!"

Ms., the flagship of 1970s-style feminism, folded last fall. It was resurrected this spring with founding editor Gloria Steinem at the helm, but reviewers were underwhelmed by a standard feminist lineup that included lesbians discussing adultery and why few women with powerful roles win Oscars. Sniffed the online magazine Slate, "There couldn't be a compendium of articles that were more dated culturally or less meaningful politically."

Militant, politically oriented feminism may have lost steam as a cultural force, but feminism itself still drives most women's magazines, which merely adjusted their styles to fit the times. "An affair can help you survive a disappointing marriage and occasionally it gives a woman the energy necessary to leave a bad one," writes an advice columnist in the April issue of the health-conscious Self, "but it does not improve a marriage." Another article on the murder of abortion doctor Barnett Slepian declared, "Now anti-abortion hate groups, frustrated by new legislation, are taking things into their own hands."

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Model Christy Brinkley, on the cover of the May McCall's, tells readers how on her fourth marriage "I finally got it right." She added, "People must think I'm really flaky because I've been married so many times. Mainly, though, I think it's because I'm so trusting."

To convince girls that the way to be a woman is to have a man, in the tradition of Cosmopolitan, there is an array of teen 'zines, like Seventeen and YM (Young and Modern) which are so shallow they should have "No Diving" stamped on the cover. An adolescent girl can know the "dating gods" are with her, says the YM Prom Special, if after she offers a car ride to the home-room hunk, "he blushes big-time, and wedges his cute butt in right next to you."

Another major trend is a focus on money. Financial services to women are mushrooming, and most women's magazines now offer investment and career advice. The philosophy of one new publication, W.I.T. (women in touch), is summed up in a profile of Maria Bartiromo, a CNBC business reporter who said: "Dress for business yet look sexy, that's my fashion philosophy."

Most articles offer the worldly hope, in a how-to format or through real-life examples, that all readers need to control their lives is more information: Can't lose weight? "Amazing Can-Do Diet" (Family Circle, April 20); Sex life unsatisfying?

"The 5 biggest sex stresses ... erased" (McCall's, May); Children out of control? "I committed my son" to a residential institution but he recovered with therapy and came home (Ladies' Home Journal, April). The implication is always, "Buy this magazine and your life will be as good as it should be."

Les Sillars
Les Sillars

Les directs the journalism program at Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va., and is the editor of WORLD's Mailbag section.


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