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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What *really* killed Maxim

A few years ago Maxim was one of the most successful magazines in the world. Now it's closing. The decline of the so-called "lad's mag" – a sniffy name invented by the posher men's titles, who know their readers are no older or wealthier but are in the business of selling luxury advertising – is not down to a sea change in society. It's down to Photoshop.

It's years since any of the pictures in any of these magazines had even the faintest erotic charge. All the girls have got the same straight hair, the same make-up and the same pouty lips, appear to have been photographed in the same un-specific context and, where the thighs have been slimmed, the spots excised and the eyes whitened, are eventually bathed in that same Venusian sheen that leaves them looking as alluring as a pair of cable-knit tights. It's as if the advent of hyper-real cartoons like Tank Girl and movies like Toy Story encouraged the editors to grope towards an archetypal amazon. This seems to fly in the face of the fact that men are pathetically grateful for whatever they can get. That applies no less in their fantasies than it does in their real lives.

When the history of the men's magazine boom of the last twenty years is written people will go looking for the images to place alongside the tennis player scratching her backside, Farrah Fawcett Majors' incandescent smile, Alberto Vargas's forgetful blondes or Adam Hersh's lesbian kiss in the gallery of male fantasy. They'll find very few candidates.