After ten years of selling its slick, globalist vision of sophistication to the world’s elites, Monocle has implemented a redesign, though it’s subtle in voice and vision. At The New Republic, writer Kyle Chayka sizes up a magazine made for the world’s 1%, to see what Monocle represents, how it has shaped or been shaped by the world, and what our era of increasing nationalism holds for heavily sponsored-content that flattens nations into one continuous business and vacation opportunity.
With the recent redesign, some glimmers of political reality are beginning to enter the magazine’s editorial voice. The new page layouts are more text-heavy, with longer articles and fewer glossy photos and twee spot illustrations. The content has a new seriousness, though it remains ever-optimistic. In an interview for the March issue, the CEO of Lufthansa says he is confident that globalization “cannot be stopped or slowed down, even though some people are trying hard.” The president of Portugal, adopting the vocabulary of a start-up founder, pitches his country as “a platform between cultures, civilizations, and seas.” (“We were an empire,” he reassures readers, “but not imperialistic.”)
Monocle views the world as a single, utopian marketplace, linked by digital technology and first-class air travel, bestridden by compelling brands and their executives. Diversity is part of the vision—the magazine’s subjects are from all over the world, and its fashion models come in every skin color—but this diversity is presented, in a vaguely colonialist way, more as a cool look to buy into than a tangible social ideal. Cities and countries are written up as commodities and investment opportunities rather than real places with intractable problems that require more than a subsidy to resolve. If London is too expensive, Brûlé proposes, why not found your next business in Lisbon, or Munich, or Belgrade? If you don’t, someone else will, and you might just get priced out again.
The magazine doesn’t idealize homogeneity of race or gender norms, but rather a global sameness of taste and aspiration. Every Monocle reader, regardless of where they live or work, should want the same things and seek them out wherever they go in the world, forming an identity made up not of places or people but of desirable products: German newspapers, Thai beach festivals, Norwegian television. The end result of this sameness is that a country can pitch itself to the monied Monocle class simply by adopting its chosen signifiers, or hiring Winkreative to do it for them in a rebranding campaign. In this way, the magazine warps the real world in its own editorial image.
Last year, Longreads published a list with behind-the-scenes stories about magazines. Last week, Anne Helen Petersen published an article about the state of Tiger Beat for BuzzFeed News. Inspired, I decided to create an addendum to Making the Magazine. This reading list includes bigger names, like an archived examination of Ms. and Petersen’s update regarding Tiger Beat; a feminist-food magazine; a defunct magazine for sex workers and their supporters; and a lesbian/queer magazine for denizens of D.C. and beyond. Read more…
Subject matter can be almost self-consciously esoteric. The latest issue of Ernest includes a piece by Queen guitarist Brian May on diableries (19th-century stereoscopic photographs of clay model demons). Cereal has 10 pages on Anglepoise lamps; Avaunt has a feature headlined “Politics of map projections”.
The new magazines also move away from the traditional “colonial” model of travel journalism, where a writer is sent overseas to experience a trip as a holiday-maker would, then report back. Instead, many of the new titles commission pieces from writers with existing connections to a destination (a model that happily saves on travel costs, too). Boat magazine, an early independent which first published in 2010, produces an entire issue focused on a single destination, and moves its editorial team there for several weeks to seek out stories. Many of the new editors are scathing about conventional titles’ focus on hotels and restaurants, and their extensive use of lists. The independents see themselves as being about places, rather than holidays.
Below is a guest reading list from Daniel A. Gross, a journalist and public radio producer who lives in Boston.
* * *
Fifty years ago, a champion boxer picked up his son from school, a literary critic was tackled by NFL players, and a famed NASCAR racer tended to his chicken farm. Such was the sidelong view of sports presented by Gay Talese, George Plimpton, and Tom Wolfe. Sports in the 1960s proved a rich arena for writers looking to flex their literary muscle, and Talese and Wolfe tried out unconventional sports writing while still kicking off their careers. You won’t find much reference here to the sweeping political developments that tend to dominate our narratives of 1964. Instead, you’ll get some sense for the texture of the time. Read more…
It’s better for us not to know the kinds of sacrifices the professional-grade athlete has made to get so very good at one particular thing. Oh, we’ll invoke lush clichés about the lonely heroism of Olympic athletes, the pain and analgesia of football, the early rising and hours of practice and restricted diets, the preflight celibacy, et cetera. But the actual facts of the sacrifices repel us when we see them: basketball geniuses who cannot read, sprinters who dope themselves, defensive tackles who shoot up with bovine hormones until they collapse or explode. We prefer not to consider closely the shockingly vapid and primitive comments uttered by athletes in postcontest interviews or to consider what impoverishments in one’s mental life would allow people actually to think the way great athletes seem to think. Note the way ‘up close and personal’ profiles of professional athletes strain so hard to find evidence of a rounded human life – outside interests and activities, values beyond the sport. We ignore what’s obvious, that most of this straining is farce. It’s farce because the realities of top-level athletics today require an early and total commitment to one area of excellence. An ascetic focus. A subsumption of almost all other features of human life to one chosen talent and pursuit. A consent to live in a world that, like a child’s world, is very small.
Radio SilenceFor this week’s Longreads Member Pick, we are thrilled to share a first-time-ever memoir by the great Lucinda Williams from Radio Silence, a San Francisco-based magazine of literature and rock & roll. Subscribe, and download the free iOS app.
Magazine nerds, here we go: A starter collection of behind-the-scenes stories from some of your most beloved magazines, including The New Yorker, Time, Entertainment Weekly, Cosmopolitan, Vanity Fair and the New York Review of Books, plus now-defunct publications like Might, George, Sassy and Wigwag.Share your favorite behind-the-magazine stories with us on Twitter or Facebook: #longreads.Read more…
Photo: Mike Sager and Warren Durso at the Standard Hotel, West Hollywood.
We like to occasionally ask some of our favorite writers to give us the backstory on a story they loved. Here’s veteran journalist Mike Sager telling us about his story “Ugly,” which ran in the May 2012 issue of Esquire.
When you get a phone call from your editor telling you he wants an in-depth profile of an ugly guy, you panic a little. You imagine yourself having to walk up to some stranger. “Hey, you’re friggin’ ugly. Wanna be in a story in Esquire magazine?”
Then you think of a really good friend of yours. Great guy. Not a pretty sight.
You try to imagine how the call will go.
You even make the call.
Then you chicken out.
And you start panicking again, just a little bit, remembering how long it took to find the right Beautiful Woman for the piece I think of as this story’s reciprocal. (“The Secret Life of a Beautiful Woman,” Esquire April, 1999, collected in Revenge of the Donut Boys). With Hollywood and environs as my hunting grounds, it had taken nearly three months to find a beautiful woman to profile. In the beginning the magazine wanted a blonde. I kept remembering this five by seven model card, this brunette with baby bear brown eyes. She’d haunted me through the entire search, through dozens of interviews with other women who weren’t quite right for one reason or another. As it was I insisted on picking the dark-haired woman. Her name was Brooke Burke. I guess you could say my story was her break, though she’d been working her butt off for years to get where she was. Read more…
“It’s probably worth saying that there are editors at all sorts of magazines (myself included) who know they should never assign a story on a certain kind of subject—a Phish tour, say, or Mitt Romney, or what’s up with Cuba?—and yet they do so despite their better judgment. A writer tells you he or she is interested, you convince yourself that it’s all going to work out despite the pre-digested conclusions or the limited access or the fact that what you’re talking about is a generality rather than a specific idea. And it never, ever does, unless something remarkable and unexpected happens in the reporting or the writer brings some stunning originality to it. And these things work in a kind of horrible tandem—the lack of interesting subject matter inspiring the writer to scat out thicker and thicker layers of word jazz—resulting in so many bad magazine stories.”