Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Good Magazine Picks the Best

Graydon Carter has written an article for GOOD Magazine listing his choices for "The 51 Best Magazines Ever." Being a publisher and editor, I was engaged by his topic and my eyes promptly swept down his list like low-flying aircraft looking for, shall we say, recognizable coordinates. Alas, when I exhausted its possibilities with that glory of the printed page known as TIGER BEAT, I decided I was slumming, resumed normal cruising altitude, and flew away.

I am neither offended or surprised that Mr. Carter didn't include VIDEO WATCHDOG among his selections for the "Best" magazines (explained in a subtitle as analogous to "Smartest, Prettiest, Coolest, Funniest, Most Influential, Most Necessary, Most Important, Most Essential, etc"). In fact, I take pride in sharing his neglect with a large number of infinitely smarter, cooler, and more influential magazines -- including the very ones that inspired me to produce a magazine in the first place.

Not a single film-related magazine made the GOOD list: no FILM COMMENT, no SIGHT AND SOUND, no CAHIERS DU CINEMA or POSITIF, and certainly no CINEFANTASTIQUE, MIDI MINUIT FANTASTIQUE, CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN or FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND. Evidently these have not influenced lives or our world to the extent of VANITY FAIR (which Mr. Carter edits), HIGHLIGHTS, PEOPLE, or WET.

There is no mention of THE STRAND MAGAZINE (which gave us Sherlock Holmes), ST. NICHOLAS or THE HORN BOOK. Speaking of "cool," there is no CRAWDADDY (which introduced serious rock journalism), no CREEM, no HEAVY METAL (which changed the look of science fiction cinema), nor Michael Moorcock's NEW WORLDS, the zero-ground for new wave science fiction in the 1960s. There's no reference to any of the great pulp magazines of the 1930s and '40s. THE EVERGREEN REVIEW is outshone on the list by THE PARIS REVIEW, while MOJO and MUSICIAN are eclipsed by ROLLING STONE and THE FACE. This, despite the fact that Mr. Clark freely allows that neither of his choices for top music magazine has been relevant since before the introduction of the CD. Somehow I suspect that Mr. Clark's interest in music hasn't been exactly vital since the demise of vinyl.

I am tempted to describe this list as an overview of the 51 Best Known Magazines ever, peppered with just enough alternative chic items to look halfway real, and just enough dentist-office-waiting-room titles to appeal to people who don't have the time to haunt newsstands. 21 of these "best" magazines are footnoted to explain that their ranking only applies to specific short-lived periods associated with certain publishers, editors or figureheads; in other words, nearly half the list consists of what the author himself essentially classifies as failed, or at least paled, publications. Durability and continued relevance are evidently no yardstick of quality. (Curiously, while he allows that MAD and INTERVIEW haven't been the same since the demises of William Gaines and Andy Warhol, there is no such footnote for PLAYBOY, which clearly hasn't been the same since Hugh Hefner stepped down as Editor.) The irony is that Mr. Clark's preamble assures us that "magazines -- at least certain magazines -- aren't going away any time soon."

Actually, this is true enough because, if this article tells us anything, it's that -- regardless of waning quality or pertinence -- if your magazine was hot for a little while back in the 1970s, it should last on newsstands at least last as long as the generation that got its cultural bearings from it in their 20s. Especially if it's bought out, or simply sells out. And, if your magazine appeals to a well-monied generation, its chances for a long and profitable if irrelevant life are even better.

A pull-quote in this article offers what I consider an outstanding insight: "Newspapers tell you about the world; magazines tell you about their world." Alas, too many of Mr. Clark's choices read like newspapers, and some have decidedly yellowed. There's a vast difference between magazines marked by a specific personality or viewpoint, which one can visit periodically like an erudite or worldly or sarcastic friend, and magazines that truly map the worlds within our world, affecting our perceptions of the world, life, and art.

You know where I stand.

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