Thursday, September 20, 2007

Thank You, Esquire, for the Dumbest Thing I've Ever Seen in an American Magazine. Ever.

a rant:

For two months I've been a subscriber of Esquire.

The pages are glossy. Glossy and often cologned. "Man at His Best" is the magazine's motto. Man at His Best. That's a bold trademark, but in all fairness, I've enjoyed Chuck Klosterman's columns and their pretzeled arguments of pop sociology, and I've enjoyed A.J. Jacobs and his nerd-chic experiments in "honesty." While Esquire's grooming and clothing tips go well beyond my stylistic and income bracket, I figure that's the nature of a men's magazine targeted at thirtysomething professionals who no longer shop at Target.

But then came the October 07' issue, and Esquire's experiment in "marginal fiction."

"Along the bottom of this page, you'll find a line from "So Far From Anything," new fiction by Benjamin Percy... it's the kind of storytelling that, in a perfect issue, we'd have on every page. So we did just that - one line per page, from the opening line (page 29) to the climax (page 244.)"

One line per page? Seriously? How's that supposed to work? If you don't have a copy of Esquire in front of you, here's how a reading experience of Percy's "So Far From Anything" would go, beginning a few lines in:

(Since the text in the following images is fuzzy unless enlarged, I'll post the relevant lines of story below the images.)

"praying, for music. You need something you can sing along to- some caffeine for the - "

Commercial interruption. Gary Sinise likes Baume and Mercier watches. Okay. Cool. And now, back to the story -

- or not. Spiderman 3 is coming out on HD DVD. Awesome, I guess.

"ears- to keep you awake until the next service station. In the pop and hiss of static, you- "

Asics shoes. Look at that dude in Asics shoes!

Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey? I'm thirsty!

And so it continues. Till the end of the magazine. A line of story, advertisement, advertisement, a line of story, advertisement, advertisement, advertisement. Imagine watching a TV show, only with commercial interruptions every six seconds, and you'll have a good idea of what it's like to read Esquire's marginal fiction. Is it fair for the story's readers, or for that matter, its author, that the words of "So Far From Anything" are sprayed across the bottom of pages like graffiti? And how can we lose ourselves in a story if we're constantly reminded of Asics Shoes and Tullamore Dew Whiskey? That's not right. That's not fair. Unreadable is what it is.

In his editor's letter, David Granger refers to Percy's story as, "our little experiment in using as much of the available space on every page as possible." If this is only a "little experiment" and not a regular feature, I can forgive Esquire. But come on. Really. What was gained by this experiment? How many people are going to read Percy's story if it means piecing together phrase after phrase like a never-ending ransom note?

In maximizing all "available space" in its pages, Esquire looks like a website bloated with a thousand different links rather than a high-class magazine. And that's unfortunate, because as I've mentioned, the publication does feature some quality essays, and who knows, maybe its latest issue includes a really good story that doesn't deserve to be marginalized.

So thank you, Esquire, for the dumbest thing I've ever seen in an American magazine. Ever.


YiQi C. said...

If this "marginal fiction" were packaged better, it would be the new "it" thing for mixed media artists and even open-minded literary/creative writing folks.

Requiring the reader to "participate" in the act of reading--especially when it only means flipping pages--is no more ridiculous than asking a TV viewer to surf manually the channels he wants to watch or for someone watching a DVD to fast-forward/rewind when necessary.

I do, however, see your point about reading minute amounts of text and having to flip more pages just to get past the ads--I still don't understand why men's magazines, heck fashion magazines in general, have up to twenty pages of ads before the table of contents.

I read that piece on pop sociology you provided as a link. The columnist has forgotten that people in need of help or the least likely to be helped when there's a crowd. Each person thinks that someone else is going to do something, therefore, nobody does anything quickly enough.

Alex Pollack said...

"Requiring the reader to "participate" in the act of reading--especially when it only means flipping pages--is no more ridiculous than asking a TV viewer to surf manually the channels he wants to watch"

The big difference is that when one flips channels, he or she is encountering different programs with different stories, whereas in the case of Esquire's "marginal fiction," one needs to constantly change "channels" to follow the same story. In essence, it'd be like if you wanted to watch "The Office" but you'd have to change from NBC to CBS to Fox to ABC every five seconds in order to follow the storyline. And that would not be fair for the viewer.

Good point on Klosterman's column, though I still did enjoy his alternative tact at dealing with the issue.

Michael said...

Pretty funny. Pretty ridiculous.

Interesting concept. Dreadfully executed.

At least they didn't do one letter or word per page. That would have been fun.

David Ogles said...

Haha, great article. Though somewhere in the back of your head I hope there was a voice questioning, "Do I really admit to the entire Internet that I subscribe to Esquire just for the sake of this story?"

Hopefully it was worth it,

Anonymous said...

good read as always

Pete said...

This seems like a rather shameless ploy to force the reader to view every single advertisement in that issue. I'll bet the advertisers loved the idea.

Anonymous said...

You are, quite possibly, the most talented writer of our generation.
I am in sheer awe of your literary genuis....

Anonymous said...

I find Esquire very unresonable perky and pretentions magazine.

Most of advertized stuff(shoes, gadgets, suits ect.) doesn't make any sense in real life.
The editors don't realize difference between fashion podium and day-to-day environment.