The news we'd like to lose

Joe Lavin's Humor Column

From The Boston Globe

The news we'd like to lose

May 2, 1998

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Is it me, or has it suddenly become a chore to read magazines? Walk up to any magazine stand, and you'll find that so many have become nothing but cheerful lists of things to do. Each month, headlines scream out ways to improve your life through better jobs, better sex, better relationships, and better everything.

Well, what if I don't want to improve my life? What if I just want to read an interesting, perhaps even frivolous magazine article that can't possibly help me? Or what if I want to read about some far-off land that has no direct impact on my life? Increasingly, it would seem that I am out of luck.

Instead, we are bombarded with "10 Tips to Find Your Ideal Mate" or "15 Ways to Land the Perfect Job" or "98 Hot New Diets." Enough already! If we want grief like that, we can always call our parents. We don't need to pay $ 3.50 for glossy, colorful nagging when most of us can call collect and get it for free.

Don't get me wrong. There are still many interesting magazines out there, but these days too many fill their pages with what your typical news anchor would call "news you can use." The message seems to be that you should have time only for useful stories, and if by chance you have extra time to read something else, then what is wrong with you?

It used to be only fashion magazines that practiced this ever-so-helpful form of journalism, but now so many others are copying the trend, even men's magazines. New magazines like Verge and Maxim treat men the same way Cosmopolitan treats women. Sure, the attitude may be slightly different, but it's just as annoying. Instead of dieting tips, they like to tell me "How to Score!" with bold headlines. To help me learn more about what women want, gorgeous actresses and models are asked in each issue for their views on sex and men. ("But, honey, Naomi said all women were turned on by that!") I don't know about you, but I have enough things to worry about already - I don't really need to concern myself with what pleases Naomi Campbell.

Watching the rest of the magazine industry follow Cosmo's lead is more than a little depressing. Soon Time will be offering Whitewater quizzes for you and your mate to take together, and Sports Illustrated will be handing out tips for hosting the perfect World Cup party.

It's such a condescending notion - this idea that we are all too selfish to follow any story unless it applies directly to our own lives, but publishers know the approach works. Helpful articles sell. Witness the rise of a magazine like Men's Health. Overflowing with tips to improve your body and your life, it has become one of the most successful magazines around. Meanwhile, magazines like the quirky and often sarcastic Might die unnoticed. The lesson has been learned. The so-called service magazines are the success stories, and all the new magazines are rushing to cash in on the trend. Yes, service is in, in, in!

I wish it weren't. I'm no slob, but I just don't want to read about how to improve my workout either. My workout is just fine, even if it doesn't always happen. And as for all those articles about sex and relationships, well, I just don't need that much pleasure. Please, Mr. and Mrs. Magazine Editor, stop nagging me. Just let me live my life the way I want to live it.

Is that too much to ask?
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