Cargo, the new, disturbingly pungent and possibly quixotic shopping magazine for men, has a right to exist.
Free-speech laws, the perpetual search for the next big magazine thing, and the vast resources of the Conde Nast publishing empire give it that right.
But does it need to exist? In theory, such a male encroachment into traditionally female territory seems spot-on in this age of metrosexuals, queer eyes and ever-more-crowded shelves of masculine grooming products. Men probably do need the guidance Cargo ("Your money well spent") purports to offer, with the Internet and sheer capitalist inertia giving people an overwhelming range of choice in anything they might buy.
Its inspiration and corporate sister, Lucky ("the magazine about shopping"), withstood much early ridicule to become the most successful magazine launch since Oprah's.
And Lucky is darned good at the limited thing it tries to do: Forswear bothersome magazine traditions such as articles and simply lay out oodles of items its "readers" might buy.
So with traditional male-female boundaries being erased elsewhere, why not a male version of Lucky? All of the successful, so-called "lad magazines" of recent years have featured ample shopping sections, usually labeled something suitably butch, like "gear" or, indeed, "cargo."
Cargo, at least, strips out all the lads' creepy leering at very young WB starlets, the gauche sex tips, the hero worship of guy's guys. It leaves only the stuff: allegedly top cell phones, ways to get in on the apparent Army cap trend, some cars you can't afford, some rums you can.
In a sense, this is a more pure version of Playboy. Hugh Hefner's idea was a magazine that would coach men on the finer things in life, but he wanted to make sure it would also read heterosexual and get attention. Presto: female nudity!
But Cargo's problem, in its 204-page inaugural issue, is that it, in a word, stinks. Literally. The issue is reeking on the desk beside me as I type, turning my normally coffee-scented office, sometimes seasoned with a hint of used gym clothes, into a debate captain's neck on prom night.
The culprit, one of those self-defeating-by-dint-of-the-nausea-they-induce cologne inserts, symbolizes the trouble with the Cargo concept. For all its determined attempts to also read hetero, this is at heart, in the preponderance of its ad pages and "editorial" copy, a fashion magazine.
And most of the mainstream men the magazine will need to attract if it is to thrive do not like "fashion"--even the ones like me, who will admit to liking nice clothes.
Fashion is not nice clothes. Fashion is overpaying for something--$131 dress slacks fabricated from denim, page 161--that's temporarily in style. Like cologne, fashion's odiferous handmaiden, it is essentially frivolous.
And the genuine shopping man is more practical than that, which even Cargo's editors seem to recognize in talking about the magazine.
They define the difference between male shopping and female shopping as the difference between a definite task and a social event. Men, they say, call their shopping "research," they do it to meet a specific need, and their goal is to win by getting the best product or best value, depending on the man.
I'd mostly agree with that, although the number of men who seem to just wander the aisles at Sam's Club suggests it is an oversimplification.
But even accepting the definition of male shopping as hunting, Cargo isn't quite the right magazine.
Its information on TiVo and its competitors is inadequate to guide an informed buying decision. Ditto for the fine idea of asking a carpenter for his five essential power tools.
In each case, the desire to make it look good on the page (again with the fashion) crowds out the ability to offer the kind of detail a hunter needs. And the product judgments, for the most part, seem cursory, insufficiently rigorous to rely on as a winnowing tool.
The good news is that the better version of Cargo already exists. Gloriously unscented, entirely free of ad pages, it's called Consumer Reports.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times