May 1998
s m u g
back issues
by Josh Allen


Dear Back Issues:
Can you settle an argument between my wife and I [sic]? My wife thinks that spondylolisthesis is defined as a forward subluxation of one vertebra in relation to the one below, while I say that it's a backward subluxation. Who's right?
-- Verge of Divorce, Baltimore, MD

Dear Verge,
Thanks for writing in, but this column, though entitled "Back Issues," is in fact about magazines and not spinal deformations. Here's how it works: Each month I will plunge myself into the glossy, scented, oft-nightmarish world of print magazines, a world that I know all too well, and each month I will bring back the bloodied, shocking, and revelatory results of my studies. But to briefly answer your question, V.O.D., I'm afraid your wife is absolutely correct. It is indeed a forward subluxation, and in the case of isthmic spondylolisthesis, the underlying cause of the problem is probably a small stress fracture in the posterior arch of the slipped vertebra.

Qualifications and Related Experience

Magazines are no longer an idle entertainment for me; they are my only source of connection to the outside world, at least since my unfortunate incarceration. I started out like everyone else, you know, spending the bulk of my time reading big, best-selling novels like Grisham's Rape of the Bedouins but once I graduated from Heald my attention span just dwindled or perhaps (and this is how I choose to think about it) my brain became too full, the many years spent studying the Kondratieff Long Wave Cycle or whatnot simply blocking the entry of any substantial data, and so I am left to content myself with reading magazines.

And content I am. During my extensive and ongoing research into print periodicals, I've discovered that they encapsulate society, they define a culture, and they transmit information in a tidy, piquant manner. I will now present the essence of magazines in a numbered list, set apart from the main body of the text, thereby drawing attention to it and perhaps even falsely inflating its importance. This is a key technique in the world of periodicals:

1. Magazines are portable.
2. Magazines are disposable.
3. Magazines are current.
4. Magazines are informative.
5. Magazines are focused.

This is what the mnemostatisticians call PDCIF. Allow me to parse: Many products contain one or more of the above attributes, but only magazines contain all five, and this is why they are so popular ("hot"), enduring, and ubiquitous. Here's what PDCIF is really saying: "Magazines give me inexpensive, up-to-date, easy-to-transport data on the topic of my choice, no matter how obscure, irrelevant, base, or tedious that topic may be." I think it's Point No. 5 ("F") that really pulls this whole theory together for me. It's dandy to read general-audience periodicals like People or Time (single nouns are often a red flag for wide-appeal rags), and I think it's a perfectly healthy way to keep in touch with the proverbial pulse (there's even a magazine called Pulse! with an exclamation point at the end, used to generate excitement and the manufacture of emotion is a theme that we shall revisit again and again in this column, friend) of The People.

When you get down to it, you want to read about what you're interested in, not what The People are interested in, right? Now, if you're interested in, say, Leonardo DiCaprio, well you're in luck because you and The People are currently in sync so there's three-score fanzines waiting for you with him on the cover this month. But if you're interested in, oh, I dunno, like, off the top of my head, the recreational activities of young, angry, nude, bespectacled, nude lesbians, you know, for example, or maybe bonsai trees or Mustang detailing or like George Washington or the psychobiological effects of orthoxylene, etc., well, there's probably a magazine that covers just that topic in considerable detail and it probably has a circulation of at least 5,000 so you can rest easy knowing you're not the only sad, obsessive person out there in the world tonight. Magazines give us a circle of friends, united in their warm, glowing focus. Magazines tell us that it's all going to be just fine.

But this begs the question: Why read a column about magazines? Why waste my already-precious time with this meta-commentary when I can just crack open Vogue and be done with it? Well, chum, I intend to do more than just write about magazines. A mere review of a magazine is about as compelling and vital as, oh, a review of a website. What I'm offering in the months to come is a complete immersion. Each month I will hand-select a periodical and rend it asunder, line by line, picture by picture, sucking at its very marrow, as it were, plunging my analytical hypodermic into its very lifesblood and seeing what I can find. This column will be more of a travelogue than anything else, a report from the trenches, a grueling and madcap survey that staggers from the moneyed boomerland of Vanity Fair to the typo'd grit of Soap Opera Digest to the illegible onslaught of Raygun to the titillating mercator centerfolds of National Geographic.

I will attempt to break down all barriers between you and the magazine, so that when you actually go read it and feel its silky touch, its masthead and letters page and feature article and subscription cards will ease right into your soul - click - and you, Mr. V.O.D., will let out a small, satisfied whimper knowing that you have been merged with the most portable, disposable, current, informative, and focused product that our society has ever manufactured.

NEXT MONTH: Hot tips on how to lose that flab in time for summer!



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