Magazines' wacky year

Washington Post

In magazines, 2002 was the year when even the parakeets got patriotic.

Last September, nearly every magazine in America published a special 9/11 anniversary package. Amid this blizzard of tributes, reminiscences, wrap-ups, photo essays and learned messages from wise men, Bird Talk, a magazine for the owners of pet birds, published its own heart-warming memorial: a gallery of photographs of parrots, macaws, cockatiels and a blue-fronted Amazon named Elvis, each patriotically raising an American flag in its claws or its beak.

All a reader could say was, "God Bless America!" Or else maybe, "Huh?"

There were a lot of "Huh?" moments in magazines in 2002. There were also a lot of "Wha?" moments and "Yikes!" moments and "Yuck!" moments. Now, before the blush of the new year fades, let's revisit some of these moments.

Glamour magazine sent a writer named Sunshine Flint out on the streets of an unnamed city with a huge piece of spinach stuck to her teeth. Her mission: "To see if anyone will be kind enough to tell her about it." Most people didn't, even when Flint asked them if she looked OK. From this traumatic experience of man's inhumanity to man, she distilled a bit of timeless wisdom: "Carry around a mirror!"

Us magazine boldly pioneered new technologies in its tireless quest to cover celebrities. When actress Julia Roberts married cameraman Daniel Moder, Us used its amazing "morph-o-matic" device to combine the faces of the lovely couple to predict "what their kids could look like." The result was two surprisingly ugly little fictitious tykes.

For its fifth-anniversary issue, Maxim, the wildly popular men's magazine, promised to identify "the Greatest City on Earth." Then it published 13 regional editions, each identifying a city in that region as the world's greatest city.

To publicize the issue, Maxim spokesman James Heidenry conducted interviews with media in each city, shamelessly naming Detroit and Philadelphia and San Francisco and Dallas as the world's greatest city. "Like a guy juggling different girlfriends," Heidenry said, "we told them all they were No. 1."

Maxim also introduced its own line of hair dyes for its young male readers. "Go Bleach Blond, Blond, Red or Black," the ad copy read. "It's so easy, even your friend who thinks arugula is a dirty word can do it."

The Door, which bills itself as "The World's Pretty Much Only Religious Satire Magazine," identified its price in various currencies: "$5.95 U.S., $6.95 Canadian, 2,182.28 Costa Rican Colons, the ONLY world currency named for a segment of our gastro-intestinal system!"

Trip: The Journal of Psychedelic Culture issued this warning to its readers: "Trip is known to be highly addictive and has been found to contain mind-altering industrial grade radioactive materials. Please do not look directly at Trip and always point Trip away from the face when in use. Never place your head or other body organ directly between the pages of Trip...."

Jane, the increasingly vulgar and idiotic women's magazine, ran a cover story on actress Lara Flynn Boyle and printed this comment on the spine of the magazine: "This cover girl made our writer puke."

Sometimes, magazines hid their best "Huh?" moments deep inside stories that were otherwise utterly normal. I was drowsing through a Newsweek cover story called "Clinton Now" when suddenly a comment by Julia Payne, the ex-president's spokeswoman, made me laugh out loud. "One night last year he called about 1 a.m, ranting and raving about something," Payne recalled. "And I said, 'Sir, are you watching Fox again?' "

In August, GQ ran a story on the Marriot sisters, a pair of vacuous party girls who are heiresses to a famous hotel fortune. But it turned out that the Marriot sisters don't actually exist. The story was a hoax, GQ's editor explained, designed to spoof the Hilton sisters, a pair of vacuous heiresses who really do exist.

In September, Sports Illustrated ran a story on Simonya Popova, a gorgeous, leggy, busty young star on the women's tennis circuit. But it turned out that Popova didn't exist either. The story was a parody of ... well, the lamentable lack of gorgeous, leggy, busty young stars in women's tennis. Or something like that.

No magazine likes to run a correction. Corrections remind readers that the magazine is not infallible. But sometimes a correction can be worded so artfully that it makes readers more impressed with the magazine. The New Yorker managed to pull off this feat in its Oct. 28 issue:

"CLARIFICATION: A quotation about Hamlet's Dionysian qualities, on page 96 of the September 30 issue, was misattributed: It was not Harold Bloom being Nietzschean but Nietzsche himself."

In 2002, American magazines published approximately 8,573,487 celebrity profiles. Most were mediocre. Some were truly awful. But few reached the apogee of awfulness achieved by Esquire's profile of actress Cameron Diaz. In the article, writer Bill Zehme discussed Diaz's alleged fondness for burping and passing gas, and he quoted Diaz saying, "I've gotta pee soooooooo bad!" and "I have to pee again." The piece was illustrated with a full-page photo of Diaz giving the finger to the reader. Classy.

Transgender Tapestry, a magazine for folks who've had sex-change operations, ran a list of tips for transsexuals attending their high school reunions: "Avoid tossing trans-related topics haphazardly into conversations. People tend to be uncomfortable with unfamiliar subjects such as sex change surgery.... And avoid shocking statements such as 'When I was a man... ' "

Dog Fancy magazine ran a story on how to "Host a doggone great party!" to celebrate your dog's birthday or "puppy school graduation." The article suggested appropriate canine party games, party foods and party favors and issued this warning: "Make party hats optional; many dogs dislike wearing them."

A full-page ad in the April issue of Yoga Journal read: "Invitational Yoga Pose off -- $30,000 first prize. Watch the world's best as they battle for prestige and cash!" The ad provoked dozens of readers to call the editors to protest the crass commercialization of their ancient, venerable spiritual practice.

Actually, the ad was a hoax perpetrated by a Canadian fitness company called Lululemon Athletica. "The pose off is an April Fools' joke," the company announced on its Web site. "It does not exist. Be one with your sense of humor."

That was good advice. Being one with your sense of humor was the only way for magazine readers to keep their sanity in 2002. It was a bizarre year. And the early returns indicate that 2003 might be just as bizarre. The cover of the January 2003 issue of High Times, the marijuana magazine, asks the question: "Was Jesus a Stoner?"

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