Get out the Bromo before you hit the racks this month -- it's a saccharine orgy out there.
Life makes a spectacle of itself with yet another peep show for British royalty-voyeurs. The newsless cover "story" on Princess Di beats the fanzines for sheer prose-treacle: "Britannia's brightest star holds her own as a thoroughly modern princess who excites an adoring public throughout the world and rocks the cradle, and the boat, at home." And it features investigative coups of this caliber: " 'If her shoes are cleaned,' tattles one family friend, 'she wants them put back exactly in line in her cupboard.' "
Face it: The sycophantic Chuck & Di cult has become a national humiliation, eclipsing even the Liz Taylor fetish and the recent canonization of Mary Cunningham (last seen retailing her Authorized Biography in Newsweek). Yet why not, since truckling to celebrity seems suddenly in style everywhere. Witness the unctuous example of People, which saw fit to pay six figures for Cristina Ferrare's purported "diary" (Nov. 29), slathered flattering set-up photos all over the spread, and then tried to excuse itself by timidly labeling the text as "personal and perhaps self-serving." Some "perhaps": Ferrare's Mother Goose portrait of husband John De Lorean and family makes the Waltons look like the Manson gang. And Time this week joins the star-toadies with its Paul Newman cover line -- "Verdict on Newman: Quite a Guy." To further the mood, the article continually refers to him as "Paul." Blown Covers
Atlantic's cover plugs its second excerpt from Seymour Hersh's forthcoming book, "The Price of Power: Kissinger in Nixon's White House," centering on 1970 and U.S. efforts to prevent the election of Salvador Allende in Chile. Hersh spends much time reviewing the climate of U.S.-Chilean relations, private corporate actions to sway the election and American backing of a military coup. These make useful, if often stiff, reading. But his principal thesis is that Richard Nixon "specifically ordered the CIA to get rid of Allende," that Kissinger acquiesced in the decision, and that then-CIA head Richard Helms had "no doubt in his mind at the time what Nixon meant" -- assassination. The case is not convincingly made. The closest Hersh comes to a "smoking gun" is a former National Security Council aide who says he saw a White House options paper that proposed the killing; and the bulk of the remaining evidence consists of "blind" quotes about Helms and circumstantial inference from previous U.S. actions against Castro, Lumumba, et al. It just isn't enough.
But it's a miracle of coherence compared to Harper's cover story, "Sharing the Dirty Work" -- a demolition derby for syllogisms run in a fogbank of abstraction. Michael Walzer offers a gratuitous "egalitarian vision" in which social equity demands that we all (grannies and heart surgeons ostensibly included) take turns at hard, dirty work like garbage collection. Why? It's lost in the forensic nimbus -- the thickest since Al Haig dined alone. But read the profile of Dr. Alex "Joy of Sex" Comfort, who at 14 blew the fingers off his left hand with gunpowder and during World War II called for a Nazi victory to preserve Western literature. And if you're in a bloodthirsty mood, see Hugh Kenner's verbal carpet-bombing of Mortimer J. "Six Great Ideas" Adler.
Esquire, the magazine that recently urged you to change your socks every day as if it were a hot flash from the Mayo Clinic, apparently has just discovered that the sexual revolution is winding down. The cover story, "The End of Sex," is fine if you've been living on the DEW Line for two years and haven't heard that "indiscriminate, obligatory 'getting-it-on' is losing its charm." Otherwise, it's the moral equivalent of Donahue reruns. See instead Jodie Foster's peculiar lament, "Why Me," about how the Hinckley assassination attempt affected her. On first hearing the news, she found that "I was crying for myself. Me, the unwilling victim. The one who would pay in the end. The one who paid all along -- and, yes, keeps paying." If you hope to know what on earth she means by this, forget it. But keep reading anyway for the occasional deep-think: "In time, I asked myself, Why me? Why not someone like Brooke Shields?"
And Mark Green's superbly researched "Political Pac-Man" in the New Republic is as succinct and lucid a primer on the PAC boom as anyone would want to read. But who would? It's a month after the election, which revealed some notable PAC failures. The timing is as deranged as Roger Angell's writing about an Oct. 3 Orioles-Brewers game in the Nov. 29 New Yorker. Let's all chip in and get these boys a calendar. Tots at War
The toy industry is rearming for Christmas. After a sales slump during the Vietnam era, "now we're seeing a resurgence of patriotism," the chairman of giant Mego Corp. tells Ms. magazine--the Reagan presidency has led to "a comeback of military toys." And an update: "The good guys are Americans of various ethnic backgrounds," says a Playco Toys official. "The bad guys are figures that have vague overtones of being Chinese, Arabs or Russians." And Hasbro's G.I. Joe, Ms. reports, now has an Anti-Terrorist Team whose enemies include a "Col. Qaddaffi look-alike." Hasbro will shoot $4 million to hype the belligerent poppet and his cache of super-tech doodads. In addition to laser weapons, says a company spokesman, "we gave our force a 20-mm Vulcan Gatling gun just like the real thing. And our missile system was adopted from the actual Hawk missile system." If Reagan has his way, Yule '83 could bring Dense Pack Donna, MX Mike and -- who knows? -- Armageddon Ernie. Science on the March
Space is the universal topic this month, with good articles in Discover (your typical quasar "produces the energies of 10 trillion suns"), Science 82 (Pluto is apparently covered with frozen methane, like the Jersey Pike in February) and Omni (black holes and their friends). And there is a splendid selection of sublunary reports:
Trees may talk to each other by exuding aromatic messages (Omni). When one is infested with caterpillars, it warns glade-mates to make their leaves less tasty. "Plants are just very slow animals," says a Dartmouth entomologist. "The only thing they can't do is run away." Which explains why your azaleas have started biting the postman.
Tennis linesmen and umpires are much more accurate in their judgment of line calls than the players (Discover), according to a new photo-study. Seems a fast serve "is actually in contact with the ground for only about three thousandths of a second," during which the players' eyeballs are distorted by G-forces generated in turning to look at the ball. "McEnroe always says, 'Right here! It was right here!,' " says study director Vic Braden. "But it's a joke. He can't know that."
And Cornell savants working on micro-etching computer chips (Omni) have reached the point at which a single light beam (half a millionth of a meter) is "simply too big and clumsy" for the job. So now they're using beams of ions to "write" lines one one-hundred-millionth of a meter wide. (Have these guys been practicing on the IRS forms?)
The much-ballyhooed redesign of Psychology Today has arrived -- the first issue under returning founder/editor Nicholas Charney. It's a mixed but promising event. The new wrap-around Crosstalk section, reflecting the current vogue of front-book shorty items, is uneven and only fitfully interesting. And one major feature is an outright flop: Six Nobel Prize-winners -- mostly physicists or research physicans -- are asked to comment on the future of psychology. The results are superficial or banal, and no wonder: It's like asking arc-welders to comment on the future of pottery. But there is an excellent overview of the shrink-monde brouhaha about whether Freud slept with his sister-in-law and a crackling chat with management swami Peter Drucker, who says the Japanese economic threat is overrated, labor unions are "irrelevant," blue-collar workers are doomed and the American family has never been closer. Chips Ahoy
About the hottest thing in the industry these days is the micro-computer market. There are now some 200 mags for the silicon set (up from 100 in 1980), each major computer brand already has several specialty books, and the number is still growing. Wayne Green Inc., which publishes the hefty 80 Micro for Tandy users, has just started inCider for the Apple corps; and after only six issues, PC, the monthly for the IBM-PC, has over 75K circulation, is about to launch a spin-off and has just been swallowed by the behemoth Ziff-Davis group. Advertiser pockets appear bottomless: The last issues of PC, Byte and 80 Micro together totalled more than 1,500 pages.
And two future-shockers out of Shreveport, La., have no pages at all. Softdisk Magazette (for Apple users) and the new I.B.Magazette (IBM--PC) come on a 5 1/4-inch magnetic disk with a returnable mailer. Poke the little floppy in your unit and a musical fanfare welcomes you to each of the monthly features, tips, free programs and graphic demonstrations. Even the ads are intriguing, since a software firm can actually show how its programs run (replete with flashing, beeping and ditties). And the 'zettes are fully "interactive"--after each item, the reader is invited to write comments on the disk before recycling it to Shreveport. "If they don't like what they read," says I.B.Mag editor Bill Wiener Jr., "they can tell us what they think." Try that at Cosmo! As the Whirl Turns
Home Video magazine will no longer accept ads for X-rated programs. It means a 10- to 15-percent revenue drop, but HV wants to be "truly acceptable for the home." Translation: Studies showed that VCR daddies weren't sharing the mag with wives and tots . . . Ex-Lampooner Brian McConnachie has sent out the pilot issue of The American Bystander, a handsome and sophisticated humor magazine set to start in the spring, and he's looking for pro gagmeisters.
Black Box, the first poetry magazine on tape, will celebrate its 10th anniversary on the 13th with a benefit at the Washington Project for the Arts . . . and Polish Princess Alexandra Wankowicz, 22, of Georgetown is about to start International Life, a 36-page tabloid giveaway for "the foreign community." . . . Feisty little Mother Jones is having tax troubles. Seems the IRS, after auditing MJ's 1978 return, concluded that the muckraking lefties are too capitalistic to be a valid tax-exempt organization. An MJ spokesman calls it "political harrassment." Plus c,a change . . . Making its debut on the stands next week: Gentry, a new "lifestyle" magazine for black men, aimed at the 18-to-34 market. Reynolds Publishing Co. of Cleveland is printing 100,000 copies with a cover price of $1.50. Prizewinners
The Golden Narcissus Award this month goes to Atlanta publisher Robert L. "Rusty" White, would-be Hugh Hefner of the Magnolia Belt and the man responsible for the new girlie book called Platinum, 500,000 copies of which slithered onto the stands last week. White wants five recession dollars for what he calls "the first magazine for the gentleman," free of "titillation and sensationalism," and in which "women will not be treated as sex objects." But it's just the same old skin pix punctuated with the kind of pseudo-genteel travel-and-chow stuff you find in the airplane seat pouch. White has previously endeared himself to Western culture as publisher of The Robb Report -- a fat-catalogue of luxury cars and other mega-chattels for millionaires (plugged repeatedly in Platinum) -- as a nightclub mogul and the purchaser of Bert and LaBelle Lance's $1.4-million Atlanta mansion. Oddly enough, the lead article in Platinum is a profile of White (pictured with pistol in hand): "He has the vision of Henry Ford, the style of Rhett Butler and the guts of Rocky Balboa." He'll need the viscera for sure, since he plans to take the mag monthly in February.
And Life wins the Genoroso Pope Gag-Reflex Trophy for its photo-essay on Sudanese tribal life. Keep this one away from the kids. Back of the Book
The January Playboy (with the wholly unastonishing "sex survey") asks rat-eating felon G. Gordon Liddy to name 10 things that make him laugh. The noted hand-burner rises to the challenge, and finds "the request the funniest thing since they sat down to grade John Sirica's bar-exam."
If you're prone to seizures of optimism, you'll find fast relief in Washington Monthly with Phil Keisling's grim analysis of why profitable businesses are dying. Need another dose? American Heritage asks Henry Kaufman, biz-sybil of Salomon Brothers, about the likelihood of another '30s-style depression. "If you had asked me 20 years ago, I would have said that the odds were a thousand to one," he says. "Ten years ago, a hundred to one. Now I would guess it's eight or 10 to one." Thanks -- we needed that.
And finally, this from Parents: Psychologists warn that refusing to let your child believe in Santa Claus can retard his moral sense and imagination. For corroborating evidence, see Truman Capote's account of his own Clausian Disillusionment in Ladies' Home Journal. Memo to moms: If you must shock the nipper out of a soothing fantasy, tell him about Social Security instead.