Tuesday, November 21, 2006

CINEFANTAST-GEEK

Earlier this year, it was briefly rumored that the long-running CFQ (formerly CINEFANTASTIQUE) would be discontinued. The publishers denied this, but now, instead of receiving their expected latest issue of CFQ, subscribers have received the first issue of a new magazine called GEEK MONTHLY, with the following note from editor Jeff Bond attached:

"CFQ has been hard at work for over 35 years providing incisive coverage of fantastic films & television, and now it's time for the mag to take a much-deserved rest. While we plan on bringing CFQ back in the near future on an irregular basis for in-depth spotlights & special issues, the regular magazine will be going on hiatus into 2007."

As we all know, "hiatus" is a notoriously non-committal way for businesses to tacitly consign no-longer-viable properties to the necropolis. It pinches an illusion of bon vivance into the cheeks of an old soldier who wants to go out looking tired rather than exhausted. We can all count on the fingers of one hand the number of television shows that have come back from the quicksands of hiatus, and the number is surely far fewer when it comes to magazines. As a fellow publisher, I can tell you that there's no money in publishing any magazine "on an irregular basis," because distributors refuse to pay for them until the next issue of that title is published. And, of course, the longer any magazine is off newsstands, people stop looking for it. But I suspect the publishers of CFQ are wise to this, given the obscure phrasing of the closing words of Jeff's note. What exactly does "on hiatus into 2007" mean, anyway? Until 2007? Throughout 2007? Beginning with 2007? Whatever the answer, it surely conflicts with "we plan on bringing CFQ back in the near future" -- especially if GEEK MONTHLY should perform better than CFQ on newsstands.

A magazine apparently conceived to cover vaguely similar interests in extremely dissimilar fashion, GEEK MONTHLY summarizes its interests with the above-the-title beats of "Entertainment • Lifestyle • Tech • Sarcasm," and the first issue features cover boy Rainn Wilson, "TV's Coolest Geek," in ungeekly James Bond drag. Based on information posted at their website, it would appear that GM was conceived as a fashionable "lite" fusion of CFQ, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, and THE ONION. (A GeekMonthly.com blog posting uses pictures of telejournalist John Stossel and Borat as an opportunity to ask the age-old question "Separated At Birth?", which I hope is not symptomatic of the magazine's actual content.)

Some onlookers are cocking snoots and saying that CFQ's late founder/publisher/editor Frederick S. Clarke must be spinning in his grave. As someone who knew and worked for Fred, I'm not so sure. It's true that Fred started out as a purist, idealist, and publishing visionary, but as time marched on, he succumbed to the temptations of big business and embraced what was most commercial about science fiction and fantasy cinema -- even if he continued, to some extent, to be opinionated and somewhat contrarian in his coverage of it. He also founded FEMME FATALES (sic) in 1992 as a T&A sister publication to CFQ, which is what really indicates to me that, if Fred Clarke was still around today, GEEK MONTHLY might well be an option he would consider worth exploring.

But for those of us who loved CFQ -- and especially the original CINEFANTASTIQUE as published by Fred Clarke -- the substitution of GEEK MONTHLY in subscribers' mailboxes has got to make us ponder to what we, and the world, are coming. In a sense, the magazine's profile mocks the very sensibility upon which CINEFANTASTIQUE was founded: the idea of paying serious, in-depth attention to films not previously taken seriously by the mainstream press. That idea, which put considerable push toward the initial turning of an enormous wheel of industry that now spins like a multi-billion dollar lathe, is experiencing diminishing returns at the newsstand because what CFQ used to do best of all is now being done by the film studios themselves, in the form of DVD supplementary features -- the making-ofs, the audio commentaries, the storyboard galleries, the behind-the-scenes interviews. (The trouble with this, of course, is that we have collectively sold out objective journalism in favor of lookalike publicity. Call me Howard Beale, but woe is us.)

It makes sense, in these increasingly cynical and idiocratic times, that "sarcasm" is what has been dreamed up to replace boring intelligence. Sarcasm allows people to feel superior to what they don't know and are too cool to learn. At least the editors of GEEK MONTHLY are calling a spade a spade and are literate enough to not confuse sarcasm with that trendy word often misused as a synonym: "irony."

The name-checking of Woody Allen on the cover of the first issue recalls the nebbish director's maxim that he would never want to join any club that would have him for a member. Which beggars the question, "Who is the audience for this sort of magazine?" Speaking as one of the original first generation CINEFANTAS-geeks, I think any magazine calling itself GEEK MONTHLY is far more likely to attract closet geeks and wannabe geeks, if there are such things, than the genuine article -- who prefer to think of themselves as "obsessives", "eccentrics", or even "fanboys," and would resist on principle any corporate attempt to represent them and their interests. These people will continue to seek their information in genuinely oddball magazines and news sources that, like them, simply are what they are.

If this does prove to be the end of the line for CFQ, Fred Clarke can rest easily in the knowledge that his brainchild lasted the better part of 40 years (from the time its first mimeographed issue rolled off the hand-cranked press in 1967) and effected substantial change in the film and publishing industries.

Not bad for a geek from Oak Park, Illinois.

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