By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Was 2007 dull?
America's magazine editors seemed to think so. They kept finding excuses to publish stories about other years. U.S. News & World Report ran a cover story on 1957. Rolling Stone published an entire issue devoted to 1967. Newsweek ran a cover story on 1968. And Spin ran a package of stories about 1977.
Why? Well, 1957 was 50 years ago. And 1967 was the year Rolling Stone was founded. And 1968 was, Newsweek declared, "the year that made us who we are." And 1977 was, Spin announced, "The Year Punk Exploded!"
And 2007 was . . . the year American magazines published cover stories about other years. It was also a year when American magazines published the bizarre, the goofy, the dubious, the ridiculous and the completely absurd. For instance:
Popular Science published a story titled "Robot Boogers: How Synthetic Snot Could Save Your Life." Details ran a piece titled "Inside the World of Fat Sex." And Men's Journal published a fashion spread showing Hollywood stuntmen wearing trendy clothes while crashing through windows and leaping through fire.
Men's Health published a story called "Men Who Cut Out Their Own Organs" and illustrated it with a photo -- let's hope it was a fake -- of a guy stabbing a stiletto into his abdomen.
In 2007, GQ published "The 50 Most Powerful People in D.C." -- a list that actually included 56 powerful people in D.C. but did not include George W. Bush, the president of the United States. Time magazine published "The Time 100," a list of "the World's Most Influential People." It included Raul Castro, Michael J. Fox and Kate Moss but it also did not include President Bush. It also didn't include Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, whom Time later named its "Person of the Year."
Does any of that make any sense?
In 2007, People named Matt Damon "the sexiest man alive," Esquire named Charlize Theron "the sexiest woman alive" and the New Yorker published a photograph of two bonobos making love.
"The meaning of life does not belong in a magazine," film director Werner Herzog said in an interview in Esquire, and America's magazine editors responded by not publishing the meaning of life. Instead, Men's Journal named actor Russell Crowe "our favorite S.O.B." New York magazine announced that "the Yankees are the new Red Sox." And Esquire published what must be the ultimate men's mag article: "How to Open a Beer With This Magazine."
Meanwhile, GQ published some fashion advice for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "Wear a tie. Look, is the Iranian parliament on permanent casual Friday? What's with the twenty-four-seven open-collar look, Mr. President? You dress like Tom Cruise in 'Rain Man.' "
This was a tough year for magazine writers assigned to interview female singers. When Jaan Uhelszki interviewed rocker Lucinda Williams for the music mag Relix, Williams suddenly got up and wandered away. When she returned, Williams apologized and offered a truly creative excuse: "I dropped some pink eye shadow on my bathroom floor before you got here, and I couldn't rest until I could get it all up."
But that was nothing compared with the indignity suffered by Steve Kandell, who interviewed soul singer Amy Winehouse for Spin: "It's 2 a.m and I'm waiting for Amy Winehouse in the lobby of the Soho Grand wearing a slice of tomato on my head," Kandell wrote. "She bet me $100 that I couldn't walk to the bar across the street without it falling off, but just as we were leaving, she made an unannounced detour to her room. That was a half hour ago, and to be honest, I'm starting to feel like an ass."
But at least Kandell got to meet Winehouse. Judith Newman flew from New York to Los Angeles to interview Britney Spears for Allure magazine, only to spend four days waiting while the interview kept getting postponed, then canceled. So Newman wrote a story about not interviewing Britney. It began like this: "What would I do if I were 25, world famous, unimaginably wealthy, and no one could say no to me? Well, first, I'd sleep with Dick Cheney. (It's my world. Welcome to it.)"
Speaking of the vice president, Texas Monthly published a fake cover photo showing Cheney holding a smoking shotgun. "If You Don't Buy This Magazine," the cover line read, "Dick Cheney Will Shoot You in the Face."
In 2007, Vanity Fair published a special issue on Africa, guest-edited by Bono. Each magazine featured one of "20 historic covers," which depicted such famous Africans as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, George Clooney, Madonna, Jay-Z, Brad Pitt, Chris Rock and Queen Rania of Jordan. Immediately, the editors of Esquire responded with a parody titled "Other Magazines Bono Is Guest Editing This Month," which included a fake Cosmo cover bearing this come-on: "The World Population Problem: What Your OB-GYN Isn't Telling You."
This year, magazines dared to ask the kinds of tough questions that have puzzled the sages for eons. Spin asked, "Is rock bad for the environment?" Fitness asked, "Is your salad making you fat?" Health asked, "Just a mole . . . or cancer?" GQ asked, "Is it time you went to BlackBerry rehab?" Teen Vogue asked, "Are YOU the next big thing?" Cosmo asked, "Could your man be gay?" and Radar asked, "Is your baby gay?"
Sometimes a magazine asks the right question to the right person. It happened this year when Spin asked Iggy Pop, the famously crazed rocker, "What's the most insane thing you've ever done?"
"At the Redondo Beach Motel in L.A. in 1974, I was stoned," Pop replied, "and there was this floor tile, a gray or brown background with a kind of meandering white marble effect striated throughout. And I thought all the white lines were cocaine. I spent all night trying to snort the floor!"
In 2007, American magazines published approximately 7,439,327 articles about the presidential election of 2008. Most of them were almost as dull and predictable as the candidates, but a few were memorable, for better or worse.
Radar, which tries to be the world's snarkiest magazine and sometimes succeeds, published a fake photo showing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama naked while Mitt Romney looked on wearing his Mormon underwear.
Los Angeles magazine published the perfect campaign story for Los Angeles, the city that thinks life is a movie. The premise of the piece was that being president is like being a movie director, which gave writer John Powers an excuse to compare the candidates to famous directors. Rudy Giuliani: "He comes off like a Republican Oliver Stone, a smart, driven paranoiac with a messy personal life." Hillary Clinton: "the Stanley Kubrick of Democratic candidates. A little cold, sure. Guarded, you betcha. A control-freak perfectionist." Barack Obama: "the most Spielbergian of the candidates. He's steady, smart as hell, judiciously liberal, and though his eloquence touches listeners, it never threatens them with anything too strong."
But it took Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi, who tries to be the world's snarkiest magazine writer and frequently succeeds, to sum up the campaign thus far: "In the absurd black comedy of the American electoral process, our presidential candidates are mostly two-dimensional monsters, grotesque approximations of human beings born by some obscene asexual reproductive method in the demeaning celluloid muck of the campaign trail."
Come on, Matt, don't hold back. Tell us what you really think.
The years's oddest description of a celebrity appeared in Esquire, where Mike Sager profiled actress Christina Ricci: "She removes her oversized sunglasses to reveal her large and devastating hazel eyes, which are set like two twin navels beneath the porcelain swell of her expansive, pale, Buddha's belly of a forehead."
Whew! And I always thought she was kinda cute. Must have a good makeup artist.
America's magazine readers did not just sit back and passively accept all the weird stuff foisted upon them by America's magazines. Sometimes they snorted with derision. Sometimes they threw the magazine across the room in disgust. Sometimes they fired off angry letters to the editor. Sometimes those letters were at least as goofy as the stuff they were protesting.
"How ironic and sad that in an article on 'The New Right-Wing Smear Machine,' as well as on your cover, you use the innocent, maligned bat to suggest creepy evil," a reader complained to liberal magazine the Nation. "I think you owe it to bats and to the balance of nature dependent on their voracious insectivorous behavior (at least for the species you depict) to issue an apology."
There you have it, folks -- the State of the Union, 2007: You can't even insult a bat without somebody firing off an irate letter. No wonder magazine editors preferred to sojourn in the nostalgic glow of 1957 or 1967 or 1977.
What'll they think of next year?