MEDIAnThe World’s BestnBad Magazinesnby Janet Scott BarlownThe below are litde collections ofninformation I picked up from, respectively,nEsquire and GQ. ‘nThe world’s finest ready-madensuits are found in America. Thenworld’s most intriguing men’snstore is in Italy. The worid’snbest harmonicas come fromnGermany.nFifteen percent of all furs in thenUnited States are sold to males.nSome men tint their chest hairnto match the hair on their head.nThe figures on a paisley necktiendo not signify the male seed.nI consider this dustball knowledge,nthe kind that will go straight into mynmental attic, where it will be neithernused nor discarded for the rest of mynlife. I don’t need it, I don’t want it, butnI’ll never be able to get rid of it. It wouldnbe easier for me to empty my mind ofnmy own phone number than of Esquire’sndescription of a Germandesignednfaucet: “an aquatic Varga.”nSuch is the nature of these magazinesn— upscale publications for styleobsessednmen — that they make indeliblenwhat in any other context would benutteriy forgettable. This is not a compliment.nVITAL SIGNSnThen why do I read them? I readnthem because I can’t quite believe theynexist. I read them because I don’tnunderstand them. I am sure that therenare across this country countiess mennwho bought last November’s GQ preciselynbecause the cover promised anfeature called “A Real Guy’s Guide tonHair Coloring.” These men openednthe issue, found the article, and readnthe first sentence: “Stockbrokers, doctors,nand lawyers are starting to considerntheir hair as much a power statementnas their suit and tie.” And then anprofound thing happened. The menndidn’t laugh. What I keep trying tonfigure out is: why not? (I have thenfeeling that a move to New York wouldnclarify everything; but some prices arentoo high, even for enlightenment.)nGQ is published as a lifestyle magazinenfor “The Modern Man.” Actuallynit is, as the titie of the hair coloringnarticle makes clear, a magazine fornGuys — post-adolescent boys who arenfinally old enough to drink, “build”nwardrobes, and spend time alone withnwomen, and finally hip enough tondemonstrate “humor and sophistication”nin the process. Aside fromnsometimes-interesting monthly columnsnby Ron Powers (television) andnMordecai Richler (books), and an occasionalnsemi-meaty article (never thenone on the celebrity cover-Guy), GQnstrives to be no more (and no less) thannThe Voice of Real Guyhood.nThe Voice of Real Guyhood is,nabove all, a personalized voice. Whethernthe subject is cars (“As I enteredncollege, I plotted to establish my automotivenidentity”) or the history ofnboxer shorts (“As a member of thengeneration brought up in briefs, I’mnhere to say that boxers take somengetting used to”), the GQ writer’s realnfocus is his own ever-interesting Guyself.nThe resultant effect is akin to thatnawful ironic self-awareness foundnamong women writers who are alwaysnlonging for bigger breasts and slimmernthighs. The idea seems to be thatnnarcissism can be made charming by anselective display of self-mockery.nEven a serious subject like vasectomynis, in GQ, just another opportunitynnnfor some Guy-type fun. In an articlendevoid of information but long on thenkind of elbow nudging, sexist humornand male anatomy jokes normally encounterednonly in regressive fourteenyear-oldnboys, someone named TerrynSullivan shared with fellow Guys thenstory of his vasectomy. The article’sntitie? “A Cut Below.” Get it? It was anwriting performance for which Mr.nSullivan should have been sent to hisnroom and denied TV privileges untilnhe could control himself Guys beingnGuys, GQ paid him instead.nGQ’s main Guy about town is RichardnMerkin, author of the columnnMerkin on Style. Merkin’s method as anwriter and cultural observer is to tellngreat chunks of his life story beforenreaching a negative judgment on, say,nPee-Wee Herman. It is necessary tonunderstand this about Richard Merkin,notherwise it would make no sense at allnthat in a column supposedly aboutn”two of New York’s most witty men’snshops,” he first recounts, at length, hisnsexual awakening: “I myself discoverednwomen in 1950, just about the timenthe Bronx Bombers buried the WhiznKids in the Autumn Classic. I amnrelatively certain that they — women,nthat is — were already in existence.n. . .” Cute.nOn those occasions when Merkin’snmemory well runs dry, he falls back onnthat shameless journalistic device, thenoff-the-top-of-my-head collection, thenpop-off column, the list—what Merkinnrefers to as a “helping of bouquets,nbrickbats, and plain old observations bynNobody Else but Me.”nIn a recent column-list, RichardnMerkin actually dragged out the dancingnfat man stereotype: “You show mena fat man who dresses well and I’llnshow you a deft and fabulous dancer.”nThen, for reasons known only to him,nMr. Nobody Else but Me asked, “Hey,nwhatever happened to those marvelous,nstuffy English names such asnArchibald or Reginald or Algernon?nTruthfully now, how long has it beennsince you were introduced to a guynnamed Cedric?” Since randomnchanges of direction are the name ofnthe game in these littie exercises, Mer-nAUCUST 1989/45n