Under Every Question Mark, A Periodical

By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Say what you want about the sorry state of the mass media in these troubled times, but you've got to give credit to America's magazines: They're not afraid to ask the tough questions, the important questions, the cosmic questions that have perplexed the great sages of the ages. And they're not afraid to put those questions right on their covers for all to see:

What is spacetime?

Will Humans Last Another 10,000 Years?

Who's naughtier in bed: men or women?

Glance at a newsstand and you'll see so many magazine covers asking so many scintillating questions that you despair, knowing you'll never have the time to learn all the answers. But you're in luck: The Magazine Reader staff has collected and digested these magazines and now, as a public service, we will reveal the best of these cover questions -- and the answers.

Playboy: "Marilyn Monroe -- Was She Murdered?"

A : Maybe.

The official autopsy report listed the cause of Marilyn's 1962 death from an overdose of Nembutal as "probable suicide." But Playboy thinks the real cause might have been, believe it or not, "murder by enema." Somebody could have given Marilyn a sleeping pill that knocked her out and then "administered an enema filled with a toxic Nembutal solution."

The theory isn't particularly convincing but it does raise another interesting question: Was this just an excuse to reprint some photos of Marilyn naked?

Men's Journal : "Tom Brady -- The Best Quarterback in NFL History?"

A: It's too early to tell.

As ex-coach Don Shula says in this article: "You can't say that yet. He's still relatively early in his career."

American Photo: "Is Pam Art?"

A: Yes.

The Pam in question is not the popular aerosol cooking spray, it's Pamela Anderson, the "Baywatch" babe and former Playboy centerfold.

In 2000, Sante D'Orazio photographed Pam for Playboy but the photos never ran. Then D'Orazio injured his knee playing basketball and he got depressed and sat on his couch eating Doritos until he looked at his Pam photos and decided, "She was the earth goddess the Greeks called Demeter and the Romans called Ceres; she was Shekinah of Jewish mysticism; she was Eve and her apple; Mona Lisa and her smile."

That revelation got him up off his couch. He exhibited his Pam photos in a gallery and published them in a book called "Pam: American Icon." An essay in the book asks, "Why did the Taliban blow up two colossal Buddhas in Bamiyan, Afghanistan?" The answer: "Because they couldn't get to Pamela Anderson." You read this article and you wonder: Is this just an excuse to run pictures of Pam naked?

Reader's Digest: "Just a Headache . . . Or Worse?"

A: It depends.

Sure, that throbbing, pounding pain in your brain could be a simple headache. But it could be a migraine. Or it could be a stroke. Or meningitis. Or an aneurism. The Digest's sage advice: "See your doctor."

Discover : "Will Humans Last Another 10,000 Years?"

A: None.

The article in question is about the "Clock of the Long Now," a huge timepiece, still being constructed, that is designed to keep perfect time for 10,000 years. Its creator, Danny Hillis, hopes the clock will inspire humans to take a long view. But nobody in the article even attempts to answer the question on the cover.

Vanity Fair: "Kate Moss: The inside story of the cocaine, the boyfriend, the shattered career. Can she come back?"

A: Yes.

She's on the cover of Vanity Fair. That means she is back. And besides, it's a wonderful excuse to run pictures of Kate nearly naked.

Art News: "Who Are the Great Women Comic-Book Artists?"

A: There are no great women comic book artists.

The article is titled "Why Have There Been No Great Women Comic-Book Artists?," which turns out to be a parody of the title of a 1971 Art News article, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" In the case of comics, the answer is that women "faced overt discrimination" in comics and also had to contend with "a bias against supposedly 'feminine' subject matter and wavering equivocal lines."

Jane: "Who's naughtier in bed: men or women?"

A: None.

In this poll, Jane readers never answer the cover question, but they do reveal a lot of other interesting info -- 28 percent of them have engaged in a threesome, 21 percent have nicknames for their partner's genitalia and 23 percent have walked in on their parents having sex. And one Jane reader revealed that her most embarrassing moment occurred when she and a friend had sex on a mountain trail and then hiked down to a parking lot, where a little kid pointed and yelled, "Look Mom, that's them!"

Business Ethics: "Why Is a Corporation Like a Stray Cat?"

A: Because it needs an owner who will keep it out of trouble.

This revelation comes in the introduction to an interview with Bob Monks, who is identified as the "grandfather of the responsible corporate governance movement." Monks is also a man capable of uttering this sentence: "I'm trying to use accounting to create a more holistic vocabulary." And he admits he's not having much success: "I find the progress I've made virtually nil."

Brain, Child: "Is There Going to Be a Mothers' Revolution or What?"

A: Or what.

Stephanie Wilkinson, co-editor of this magazine aimed at smart mothers, goes on for 11 pages about the need for some vaguely defined mom's revolution but she admits it's not happening: "If there is a mother's movement going on, it hasn't reached my neighborhood yet."

Scientific American: "What is spacetime?"

A: Nobody's really sure but it might be "a kind of fluid, like the ether of pre-Einsteinian physics."

This article fails to come up with a definitive answer but it does raise the right question, which is, as any schoolchild knows: "Might the properties, even the existence, of Hawking radiation depend on the microscopic properties of spacetime -- much as, for example, the heat capacity or speed of sound of a substance depends on its microscopic structure and dynamics?"

The answer to that question is definitely maybe.

Okay, one last question before we go: Should readers expect answers to the provocative questions raised on magazine covers?

A: You've got to be kidding.

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