I love Esquire magazine. No, that’s not accurate. I despise and am in awe of Esquire magazine, which is full of clothes and men’s jewelry I neither want nor can afford, and unavailable plasticky women barely out of their teens. I am amazed by the fact that Esquire has been peddling The Great American Fantasy (TGAF) for 80 years and is still successfully doing so with a publication that is two-thirds ads and one-third cotton candy lite.
TGAF is alive and well and, I suspect, hasn’t changed that much since 1932, when Esquire first was published. There are other mags, of course, which pander to the American Fantasy. Playboy did, for decades, and when the going got more graphic, liberated and free of three-syllable words, so did Penthouse and Hustler.
For the more constructive among us, The Fantasy might be a backyard gazebo or a motorized bicycle. I remember once subscribing to Popular Mechanics only because it promised an article on building your own sport car from junkyard parts. I don’t know if anyone actually built one of these hot-rods, but my friend Kevin and I did spring $20 for a set of detailed PM blueprints of a one-man hydroplane. We built it out of two-by-fours and marine plywood, painted it blue and white and bolted 40 horsepower Johnson outboard to its rear. We ran it and it was scary fast, skimming the water like a dragonfly. We totaled it when the throttle got stuck and it flew from water to land and hit a tree. Really. I had to bail out of the boat (we’d named it, appropriately, Insh’ Allah) and in the process lost my glasses, which made the 90-mile drive back from the Chesapeake Bay almost as hazardous as the boat ride.
There’s a plethora of car mags with the million dollar Bugattis; hunting and fishing mags with thirty-pound muskies and 20-point bucks shot with home-made blowguns; home decorating mags with professionally shot photos that will never approximate a reader’s home; health mags with buff and oiled bodies that have never tasted meat; travel mags that encourage visits to African war zones; impossibly-rich-people mags…
And then there’s The New Yorker, in a class of its own. I give The New Yorker subscriptions to a very select few folks whom I care for deeply.
Most magazines have a voice to promote the fantasy.
Home and travel magazines gush. You are there with them, amazed at the sights before you, be it a top-of-the-line Bertozzoni convection oven or the coast of Northern Greece.
Do-it-yourself mags have a homey quality. We’re all guys figuring out how to wire the new garage door while having a few beers.
Esquire is smart-alecky, read-this-and-you-too-might-verge-on-cool. But really, deep down, it’s pretty much worthless.
The New Yorker promises a different fantasy: erudition. Read these articles and you will not only be Gotham cool (which is way better than Esquire cool) and in the know, you’ll be privy to information seldom disseminated. The cartoons are for urbane folks who get it, whatever the it may be. The teeny tiny print of the Events columns reinforces our belief that we’re being invited to a very special soirée, an event restricted to important people, readers like us.
If I had unlimited time and money, I would subscribe to hundreds of magazines. I would learn to keep bees and turn a lathe. I would get welding tips, build specialized bat-houses, sail wooden boats, and search for sunken treasure. I’d play my guitar a lort better and recreate Van Halen licks while cooking a turducken. I might—and this bears further thought—want to work for a magazine about magazines.