Human history is, among other things, a compendium of bad ideas -- monarchy, communism, Prohibition, the designated hitter, the XFL, reality TV. And now, the folks at the Conde Nast magazine empire have added another horrific idea to this wretched list:
Men's Vogue? The very name is a truly moronic oxymoron, like holy war or garlic mouthwash. But alas, it is true: Last week, after a century of Vogue and a few years of Teen Vogue, Conde Nast launched Men's Vogue, the first Vogue for American men. And the company is pondering the possibilities of a magazine to be called Vogue Living.
Why? Wasn't one Vogue enough? Was there a groundswell of demand for more Vogues? Were men and teenagers besieging the Conde Nast building, wearing Armani suits and chanting, "We want our own Vogues," while pumping their meticulously manicured fists into the air?
Probably not. But the folks at Conde Nast are always eager to clone profitable magazines. In 2000 they launched a women's shopping mag called Lucky, which spawned a men's shopping mag called Cargo and a home shopping mag called Domino. Vast forests are felled to produce slick paper bearing pictures of expensive consumer goods.
What is Men's Vogue like? Well, it's a lot like GQ, the Conde Nast mag that I always thought was the men's version of Vogue. Except GQ has more stories that aren't about buying stuff.
Thumb through Men's Vogue and you see picture after picture of sensitive young men who haven't shaved since the day before yesterday wearing absurdly expensive clothes and looking perturbed, as if they're thinking: Jeez, did I leave the stove on at home? Or maybe they're just bored. Or constipated.
The ads in Men's Vogue are for absurdly expensive stuff, such as Macallan Scotch, whose slogan is: "Drunk by People Who Sign Off Their Own Expenses." The articles in Men's Vogue are also about absurdly expensive stuff, such as the Hermes Etriviere briefcase, which costs $3,575, and the new Bentley sedan, which costs $170,000, and the Tour de l'Ile wristwatch, which costs $1.5 million.
There's also a photo spread called "In Her Eyes," in which "three ultimate women reveal what really makes them take notice when a man walks in the room." The three "ultimate women" are Jacquetta Wheeler, Karolina Kurkova and Sophie Dahl. (Who are these babes, and how did they get to be ultimate?) They're lovely lasses but apparently quite shallow: What makes them take notice are $4,500 evening jackets and $4,650 watches and $75 pocket hankies.
Of course, what all this boils down to is that Men's Vogue is a "wish book." Like the original "wish book" -- the Sears catalogue of a century ago -- Men's Vogue is a publication for people who want to drool over stuff they'd love to own. Unlike the old Sears catalogue, however, Men's Vogue does not double as an alternate source of toilet paper -- its pages are way too slick.
But I don't want to be too negative. Men's Vogue does have a couple of articles worth reading. One is a profile of Walton Ford, an eccentric and talented artist who hikes the Berkshires to paint strange nature scenes. The other is "A Bloody Good Time," A.A. Gill's arch and mannered essay on British bird-shooting weekends, which contains this sentence:
"Hunting involves a fox being chased by hounds being chased by horses being chased by merchant bankers, gay interior decorators, farmers, resting criminals, nymphomaniac girls with faces like farriers' anvils . . . and Camilla Parker Bowles chased by psychopathic vegan animal liberationists chased by fat policemen chased by paparazzi chased by insurance-claim lawyers."
Wow! That sentence is so wonderful that it almost makes up for the drivel in the rest of the magazine. Almost but not quite.
How Do You Say 'I Love This Game' in Chinese?
The best basketball story on the newsstands these days appears in an unexpected magazine: Foreign Policy.
On the surface, "Chairman Yao" is a piece on Yao Ming, the NBA's 7-foot 6-inch Chinese superstar, but it's more than that. It's about globalization, the power of American pop culture and the emergence of China as a sports superpower.
Author Brook Larmer, a former Newsweek correspondent, traces the surprisingly long and rich history of basketball in China. The game was taken to China in the 1890s by missionaries who learned basketball from its inventor, James Naismith, in a Massachusetts YMCA. The game thrived, particularly after China's communist rulers decided in the 1980s to promote the country by stressing Olympic sports.
"Were it not for China's ambition to raise its international stature through sports," Larmer writes, "Yao's parents (both basketball players, 6 feet, 10 inches and 6 feet, 2 inches respectively) never would have been forcibly recruited into the Chinese sports system and paired up in retirement to produce the next generation of giants."
At the same time, David Stern, the NBA's savvy commissioner, realized that China was a huge potential market for his product, and he began searching for a Chinese superstar to woo fans among China's 1.2 billion people.
It worked. Since Yao joined the Houston Rockets in 2002, his team's games regularly attract up to 30 million TV viewers in China. And when a Chinese Web site held an online chat with Yao in 2002, Larmer writes, "nearly 9 million fans logged on, crashing the system in six of China's largest cities."
Room Service, Please
After decades of ignoring the King's cuisine, Gourmet magazine has finally given America's eaters what they really need: "Elvis's Favorite Recipes."
The recipes include his favorite sandwich -- peanut butter and mashed banana on white bread fried in butter -- and his favorite pound cake, which Gourmet says is "the best pound cake we have ever tasted."
There is also Elvis's own recipe for the meal that he asked his cook, Mary Jenkins, to smuggle to him once in a hospital where he was being treated for colon (!) problems.
"I want you to fix me some kraut and wiener sandwiches," he told Jenkins by phone. "Boil the kraut and wieners together. Take the wieners out, put them on a hot dog bun, and pile the kraut on top. Then fill them full of mustard. Bring them to me this afternoon and tell the guard at my door that you are bringing Linda [Thompson, his girlfriend] some clothes."
As Elvis might say, bon appetit, y'all.