There has been a status quo in the media for quite some time where women are grouped into a neat little stereotype; they like fashion, make-up, shoes, gossip and twee career and relationship advice. So the "woman's magazine" was born. The limited interests of every woman were crammed into a single magazine for them to digest. The idea that massive groups of people can be pigeon-holed is quite crass and patronising. Usually the media loves nothing more than to tell women they should be fighting for this and fighting for that…but they're quite quiet when it comes to the fact that women are being simplified and dumbed down. I wonder why….of yes, because the media are making money from this by the women buying the magazines they sell so they won't bite the hand that feeds them. On a similar note pick up your average women's magazine and count how many articles and editorials urge women to be themselves and love themselves for who they are. Now go to the back and count the adverts for cosmetic surgery clinics. If the media was really as passionate about educating women to love themselves as they appear to be, they'd put their money where their mouth is and refuse to accept advertising revenue from people saying how you're not a proper woman without a boob job.
I was always somewhat proud that there was no equivalent for the male population. I saw it as proof that males were more diverse and had a range of interests too broad to be contained in a single "man's magazine" (well, one that can be placed lower than the top shelf anyway). Maybe one day I'll learn to stop underestimating the media and their desire to make money. In the last few years it seems that men are also being pigeon-holed in their interests and reduced to a lowest common denominator and given a whole range of "men's magazines".
Obviously I don't buy these magazines as I'm not your average male, however knowing that I'd be spending a lot of time hanging around in hotel rooms I bought some of these "lad's mags" (as they've been coined) as a solution to boredom that was "better than nothing".
First up was "Nuts" which I guess is your "downmarket" entry to the genre. What The Sun is to The Times. In broad strokes this magazine seems to be a re-balanced version of Playboy where the girls are dressed in nothing but articles. Only with Nuts the girls show less meat and the articles contain more meat. While Playboy works as men like naked women, Nuts just doesn't. The girls fall too short of pornography to be of any real interest, and the articles are the shallowest form of awful journalism.
For the articles we have a feature on cars which is just page after page of pictures of expensive cars taken at the same car show with a little box saying what size the engine is, how fast it is and the cost. Wow. Fascinating…but you know us men, we just love cars! There is a feature on a video game that, again, is mostly pictures with very little text that really tells you nothing about the game. Following the trend we have a section on gadgets that contains too little information about any of the featured gadgets to help you decide if you want to buy them. There is a load of stuff about football I didn't read. There was something about footballer's cars that I didn't read. Mopping up the remains were some vaguely interesting interviews with "people on TV" and pages where people send in pictures of themselves standing next to suggestive town name signs - nothing you haven't seen a lot better of on the internet. For free.
In terms of what Nuts offers for titillation there is a comparison of three girl's calendars. You know those calendars you see on the wall when taking your car in for its MOT, or in the bedrooms of 12 year old boys. The article is again mainly pictures with a breakdown of how many of the calendar's months pages are nude or semi nude. Seriously, it was just pathetic. Most of Nuts seemed to focus on "real girls" and I'm sure the intention is to make the reader think they could actually meet girls like this on a night out. They are supplying some kind of vicarious rendezvous. In this vein we had pictures of one such "real girl" stripping to her underwear and in the accompanying interview she gave saucy sound-bites that suggested she was fun and vivacious but short of being a slut. The interview answers were so well sculpted to the target audience I find it hard to believe the words were really hers. They probably said "we'll fill in the interview back at the office, but don't worry, you won't come across like a slut. Now take your clothes off…." Her interview talked of her flashing her boobs and liking women's bodies but nothing worse than that.
One of the main features was about a girl called Vikki Blows. I've done some subsequent research and can't actually find out anything about why she is of interest. I think taking her clothes off in "lad's mags" is what she does. The accompanying interview follows the usual trend of making her seem accessible, down to earth, one of the guys, but not a slut. She also reveals that she has flashed her boobs. The other main feature is on Gemma Atkinson (she used to be on a soap opera called Hollyoaks) who is a favourite in these magazines, though doesn't do any topless shots so it's a testament to her that she still has these magazines interested in her. Not having anything interesting to say the accompanying interview is quite a bit duller than the others and as her trademark is her not doing anything rude they fail to ask any questions that could have "I flashed my boobs" as the answer, though she does have to mention that she finds women attractive.
Returning to the watered-down porn roots there is a "Reader's Wives" section (only renamed "Bedroom Babes" but let's call a spade a spade). Girls send in their pictures and the winner gets to have a proper photo-shoot. Again it is "girl next door" types and the winner tells us all that she loves the pub and curry, and finds women sexy. The entrants for next edition's winner are probably one of the more depressing aspects of the magazine. Plain girls with awful make-up, awful dyed hair, awful fake tans who spent the 30 seconds they had between sticking their fingers down their throats to pose for a skanky picture. Yuk. The sound-bites that accompany the pictures are all of a stock nature revealing them to be accessible girls who just like the pub and a good time.
The next "real girl" who has a whole feature is also "fun loving", loves her boobs, loves bouncing and has a dancing pole in her bedroom. God when does this end?
Getting up to full-speed watered-down porn the next section is where girls write in with their "sexy stories" about when the builder came around. Being watered-down porn it lacks any of the explicit nature that you'd see in a "proper" porn mag, but the rough idea is there. It's brief though as we're back to Reader's Wives and the final girl finds women attractive (no, really?) and the song that best describes her is "I kissed a girl" by Katy Perry. She even names the fore-mentioned Vikki Blows as someone she would like to meet. I'm sure Ghandi is second on her list.
I could sum this magazine up in a single word…pointless. The articles carry no journalistic merit at all; if you want to know about cars get a car mag, for games get a games mag. As for the girls, if you want to see naked girls buy a porn mag. The consistent way that the girls are presented leads me to believe it can't possibly be pure coincidence. All of the girls had a similar look, similar "I just like the pub and a movie" attitude, similar "I think girls bodies are sexy" titillation and similar "I once flashed my boobs…he he…" levels of promiscuity. The magazine is going out of its way to portray these women as being sexy but still obtainable, they are selling you this vicarious chatting-up experience. Maybe the most worrying thing is that women are still being shown with "I'd shag them but I wouldn't want to go out with them" misogyny.
Next up was "Loaded" which is one of the broadsheets of the "lad's mags". I won't go into this in any detail, but it's a lot thicker than Nuts and there are more articles and some of them were genuinely interesting and carried a bit of depth. When they reviewed video games again they at least tried to transmit something about the game, but I fear I could never take their advice seriously. A game they raved about ("Wet") has had a mediocre reception in proper games mags, but could their rave reviews be because the game has a busty female lead and not because it's a good game?
As for the girls, well Loaded had…Gemma Atkinson (again) and Gemma Atkinson's calendar. They didn't stop there, though, they also had the Hollyoaks calendar and small interviews with each Hollyoaks girl. The interviews followed the standard, mundane formula that amounted to nothing more than text on a page where you learned nothing from someone with nothing to say. One question many were asked was "Katy Perry once sang that she kissed a girl and liked it. Have you ever kissed a girl?"
They shied away from Reader's Wives but did spot-interview girls on the street about their "Sex CV" (they were allowed to keep their clothes on for the photograph) and again were asked if they had ever "had girl-on-girl action".
One of the articles/titillation pieces was about a book that is just pictures of girl's kissing. The title of the article was, unashamedly, "She Kissed a Girl and She Liked It".
So to sum up Loaded it was a bit more "grown up" than Nuts and had better articles, but it still had the same consistent fascination with girls liking other girls however Loaded's constant use of the "I kissed a girl and I liked it" motif was almost absurd in its excess. Do these magazines not have editors that read the mag and think they've maybe over-used the phrase?
Both magazines were similar in a lot of ways; mainly around how they manipulated women to match the perception they have manipulated their readership into desiring. I certainly won't patronise either magazine and I think that only a very shallow man too afraid to buy proper pornography would find these magazines of any interest. I also hope that any man that does read these magazines appreciates the manipulation that is going on and doesn't buy into it. I won't hold my breath though. Now pass me that "MAD Magazine"…