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.


  1. Anonymous10:01 am

    I agree with the Photoshop theory, but equally I would say it was down to the slow erosion of the borderline between titillation and real life. 'Lads Mags" have become an outpost that all female celebrities must stop at.

    When they first started, the image of a TV presenter in a slightly diaphanous blouse was nothing short of astonishing, nowadays you can get Blue Peter Presenters showing their arse and nobody bats an eyelid. I can remember stealing a copy of Mayfair when I was 14 which had Mel (or Kim) from Mel and Kim in it showing her tits from before she was famous.

    These days a wannabe pop star would have to do at least that just to get into Nuts....

  2. For chaps in their 40s and older who grew up on the fleshy and um, bushy, girls of 70s Playboy and Mayfair it's all a bit antiseptic isn't it? Though in a lot of ways it is just the digital version of Alberto Vargas's fantasy dolly birds, though of course they weren't real women.

    It's not a Lad Mag, but French Elle just did a series of covers with make-up free, non-retouched celebs - Monica Bellucci still looks stunning, the bitch.

  3. You're correct re: Vargas, of course, but nonetheless his images were appealing because they were cute. Cuteness is a quality that never seems to have occured to most men's magazines. In the heyday of men's magazines I remember that the most pinned-up picture in the office was a picture of Anna Friel in a summer dress that was shot for a teenage magazine. Nobody would have questioned its innocence. It just depended on the way you looked at it.

    The French Elle pictures are terrific but I refuse to believe there wasn't *any* retouchery involved. Somebody took a picture of me the other day to be reproduced about 3 pixels square in the Radio Times and *insisted* on taking out a few blemishes.

    Don't answer that.

  4. Teenage boy has first hands-on encounter with a real-life naked girl: "Yeugh! What happened to your skin?"

  5. DH: I take you point but has a picture ever been printed that wasn't changed in some way cropping, lightning I bet caxton told his block carvers to leave a bit more wood around mary's chest in his first edition of the bible. also naked people of all sorts are freely available on interweb in an amount that would have killed previous generations of lads through magnesium deficiency or RSI.

  6. If men's mags are going to the wall because of Photoshoppery, why not women's mags too? We've all seen the Dove advert, and is there any women's glossy that features a real un-retouched woman on the cover these days?

  7. Anonymous11:22 am

    My better half's job is to retouch pictures for a major record label's publicity shots. A thankless task, involving much reshaping of arms, eczema removal and zit-busting.

    It's the new medical profession.

  8. WWM - God help her if she deals with Aerosmith or the Stones...

  9. I blame

  10. Anonymous4:41 am

    Your points about the uniformity, plastic aura, and overall alarming fakeness of the pin-ups in the lad-mags are well made. Certainly those girls are unreal, antiseptic, and photoshopped until they resemble photorealistic oils rather than real people. I disagree with your causal link to Maxim's demise and falling sales in that sector of glossy rags in general. I think their main problem was that while their market changed, and their audience moved on, they didn't. When Loaded blew up, all the publishers piled in for a slice of the pie, with all the same models on the same merry-go-round, and interchangeable features keeping the ads apart. I think I heard once that *one* of them tried out a mag for the 40-yr-old who had graduated from Maxim level.

    In the meantime, the fresh generation of lads who should have been just starting with this stuff, could by something even dumber even more often - Nuts and the other one; the freaks could read Bizarre for wall-to-wall nastiness; the gadget mags were taking big bites; and broadband has brought everyman more women, in fewer clothes, doing dirtier things, in full motion - for nothing! Even the few who have stayed loyal over the years, have noticed that not one of these mags is that much better than Sport for sports, or Shortlist for general interest. If you're going to 'read' the same article/list/airbrushed tits every six months, why pay for it? A lot of that money now goes into alternative entertainment - iphones, broadband subscription, PS3 etc. I'm sorry for (most of) the people who are out of a job, but Maxim became outdated and unnecessary. Long live the trees.

  11. Anonymous7:08 pm

    hehe I was shocked that no one has pointed out they all these mags (nutz, maxim, etc) died because they started farming content from the internet -whole pages devoted to lolcats, b3ta image challenges, etc, etc -when people can go online from their phone why are they going to spend a fiver seeing someone else's selection of /b/ images?

    People will always want original content, if journalists get so lazy they just farm their ideas off the internet then they and their magz won't impress anyone and they'll all die. simple fact of life.

    Although I do think you're almost entirely right - the 'perfect' people in ladsmags can't hold the attention span of most male brains, you've seen one you've seen em all.

    It's interesting to note that amatuer porn is by far the most popular on the internet (by click) on any pornsite - those porn sites which offer not only the option of viewing but also making and uploading amatuer content being one of the fastest growing areas within the 'porn market place' (beside of course webcam sites, although of course many nonprofit or 'gift orientated' meeting places exist for 'cam2cam')