Closed by its latest owners last December, Ms. has picked itself up, brushed itself off and gotten back in the race. The resuscitation of the 17-year-old feminist journal is not only a brave gesture in today's grim magazine marketplace but also a defiant one: The new Ms. won't take advertising, and thus, the reasoning goes, won't have to tailor its contents to the appetites and allergies of advertisers.
For the reader, it's not a bad bargain. The ad-free, 96-page Ms. offers about twice the editorial matter of a comparable ad-laden magazine. With the advertiser subsidy gone, the reader will pay a little more for his or her Ms. -- $4.50. The magazine's new editors, headed by old-Ms. veteran Robin Morgan, are essentially taking it back to its core constituency -- its readers. Less dramatically, lots of magazines are responding to shrinking advertising spending in the same way -- by asking their subscribers and newsstand buyers to bear a greater burden of the costs.
If you doubt the influence of the magazine advertiser, read Gloria Steinem's manifesto in this summer "premiere" issue, which bears the original Ms. logo. In what must be an exhilarating release, the founding editor and feminist elder confesses to her own magazine's past courtship of mule-headed advertisers, and shares with us some of the choice phrases advertisers use in contracts to guarantee upbeat or inoffensive editorial environments in women's magazines.
Maidenform's ads were not to be adjacent to editorial matter "relating to illness, disillusionment, large size fashion, etc.," Steinem writes, and Procter & Gamble insisted that its products were not to be advertised in any issue "that included any material on gun control, abortion, the occult, cults, or the disparagement of religion."
The magazine's new incarnation is decidedly less slick and colorful than Ms. in its heyday ever was. (Editor Morgan proposes the ungainly term "magabook" to describe it.) It's full of news, advice and argument from the contemporary women's movement -- these are not post-feminist times, the editors say, but post-patriarchal times -- with a deliberate emphasis on international news.
Ms. in the 1980s was often accused of trimming its ideological sails to reach a wider audience (or another advertiser); now Ms. knows and unapologetically speaks its mind. Writes Morgan: "So here we are, still crazy after all these years." This is, depending on your sentiments, either a shining virtue or a crippling defect, but the new magazine can't be accused of waffling.
On the impressive roster of contributors to the summer issue: Toni Morrison, Adrienne Rich, June Jordan, Marilyn French, Ann F. Lewis, Lindsy Van Gelder, Bella Abzug, the Boston Women's Health Book Collective and, interviewing each other, k. d. lang and Lesley Gore.
For a year's subscription (six issues), send $30 to Ms., Box 57132, Boulder, Colo. 80322-7132.
Scales Fell From My Eyes Writer Craig Canine always thought there was something fishy going on behind the seafood counter at his favorite supermarket in Des Moines. Like the rest of us, he was curious: How fresh is fresh, anyway? Where was it caught? Is this really red snapper? Unlike the rest of us, he followed up -- or rather down -- by traveling his rockfish fillet's week-long plateward journey, from Pacific net to Seattle processor to distribution warehouse to Omaha transfer (where it sits all weekend cooling its eels) to the point of purchase in Des Moines.
Canine shakes whatever naive confidence you had in the meaning of language or the honesty of fishmongers. "Fresh" can mean fresh, but more often it just means "caught recently." As a rule, fish lasts 10 to 12 days after it is plucked from the sea, so long as the proper temperature is maintained. Red snapper seldom is; seafood purveyors are notorious for fanciful labeling.
Along the journey the narrative takes a lengthy detour into the safety of seafood and the need for better health inspections (a separate story in itself, or should be) and a more pleasurable side trip into the mishmash of fish names (the best improvement award goes to the orange roughy, known in its native New Zealand as a slimehead).
Canine's story is in the promising first issue of a new and brainy food magazine, Eating Well, published by the conscientious folks, Vermont-based and Canadian-owned, who also bring you Harrowsmith Country Life. The food magazine field is competitive, and so is the healthy-eating niche, but Eating Well doesn't read like the rest of them.
One year -- $12. Write Eating Well, Ferry Road, Box 1001, Charlotte, Vt. 05445-9977.
White Man's Burden In search of the original pukka pith helmet, which you dunk in water and it keeps your head cool for hours in the blazing sun even if it's so soggy it completely loses the classic shape you associate with old movies set in India and Africa, John Anthony West was astonished and dismayed. They simply aren't made much anymore, not properly anyway. That's probably because they carry such politically incorrect associations -- plus, you have to walk around with a wet thing on your head. A man with a mission, West takes to the pages of the August Conde Nast Traveler to try to revive an old hat.