June 1998
s m u g
back issues
by Josh Allen


A 90 Pound Weekly

I come to you thoroughly scrubbed, puffy, pink, tender, cleansed from a one-hour power shower, soaped and conditioned and buffed to a lovable softness, an April freshness. But my soul is still dirty, friends, my heart still black, because lodged therein is a hard, gemlike love for Entertainment Weekly.

There's culture, and then there's pop culture, and then there's pop, and then there's Entertainment Weekly (EW). EW is unapologetically commercial and doesn't try to hide behind irony or art, but rather flaunts its whorishness with pride:

EW: [bottomless, writhing on smoke-filled stage] People of America! View my solid gold clit ring! It was purchased with the astounding opening-weekend profits ($41.2 million!) from Paramount/DreamWorks' Deep Impact!

Because of this, Entertainment Weekly earns my respect. In the world of EW, art and commerce are interchangeable, or rather, art was optioned by commerce in the mid-Eighties and now commerce is looking for a hot director to give art some "youth" and "attitude." The heart of EW is the box office receipts, the Nielsen ratings, SoundScan. All EW cares about is the biggest, the wealthiest, the sexiest, and if you're none of the above, then EW has nothing for you but bad puns ("misery date" and "flirting with a disaster flick" and "girth of a nation") and scorn ("Space Jam had Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan. Camelot has Cary Elwes and Bronson Pinchot. You do the math."). Example: EW mocks BusinessAge's recent ranking of world's wealthiest models, saying that Claudia Schiffer and Linda Evangelista are "as crusty as year-old mascara" and then whip out their own Top 15. They don't have time for yesterday's news, people! This is Entertainment Weekly and we're sorry but Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler are last week. This week it's Godzilla and we really wish you'd stay on top of things.

EW's timeliness goes hand-in-hand with its slutty honesty; it always has another john waiting, so it has to keep moving. EW doesn't have the time to play nice, they have to generate content, which they do at an alarming rate. Sure, the movie review capsules (which are like Contac granules spilling out of an already-tiny gelcap) are repeated over and over, but everything else is fresh each week. EW is dense with emptiness. No article is longer than two pages (a gauntlet thrown down at the feet of bloated monsters like Wired and Vanity Fair), and most of them shouldn't even be that long. EW has mastered the soundbite, in all its various ramifications, so the entire magazine reads like the back page of People (there's News and Notes, Burning Question, Hot Sheet, Monitor, Flashes, Trends, Random Quote, Winner/Loser of the Week, etc.). Each page is a patchwork of callouts, boxes, captions. Rarely do you encounter two paragraphs uninterrupted by a photograph or drawing or quotation or factoid. It's fast, buffed, and disposable.

The fleeting nature of EW is apparent from the get-go: the pages wrinkle and warp even before I get it home (usu. from the checkout stand), the ink on the cover smears underneath my sweaty fingers, it's limp and unhallowed, quick to evolve into a flyswatter or notepad. It's not meant to survive into next week. I believe if the editors had their way, the magazine would simply expire after a seven days, dissolving into a fine, grainy, unrecyclable ash, making way for the next one.

And there is always a next one, another and then another piling up around my bed, daring me to be up-to-date. EW creates a harsh, insular, Darwinian world, where you're only as good as the profits of your last film or miniseries or bestseller (and the Book section is my favorite, where you would be hard-pressed to locate a mention of any writer who was not a crossover celeb [Marcia Clark, Cokie Roberts], featured on Oprah [Jacquelyn Mitchard, Toni Morrison], or someone who wrote a book that was made into a movie [Richard Price, John Irving]). Success is openly measured by finance and business: "Thanks to a dream teen cast and an MTV-ready soundtrack, this $10 million zit-set romp should wind up way profitable!"

Storytelling and character development are no longer entertainment, but rather demographic strategies and seen as sort of pathetic, old-school traditions. Instead of the pretentious method acting of bygone days, you get Matthew Broderick on his character in Godzilla: "All I can really say is I play a scientist, like a bug-ologist or something ... what the hell am I? I forgot what I am." In the Parents' Guide to current movies, this is what appears in the "What's Not So Good" section for Deep Impact: "Director Mimi Leder gives human concerns more screen time than special effects." One of the films producers puts it more simply: "You really want to know what opened the movie? The wave [that wipes out New York City]. We put it in the trailer and the TV spots. That's the only reason it opened. We all know it."

That's the kind of balls-out honesty that we need. Entertainment Weekly recognizes that it's far too late for anyone to proclaim themselves pure, unpurchased, above reproach. It's a ridiculous notion, and it's insulting whenever anyone tries to convince us otherwise. Sure, we'd like to believe our leaders and artists and whatnot are virginal genius autistics, with their beliefs and ideas unsullied by multinational conglomerates and videotaped trysts, but that's going to make for a tiring and bitter life. It's high time our pop culture icons followed the admirable lead of EW and just let it all hang out. "Yeah, I fuck groupies. What of it?" The only personality trait that hasn't been co-opted and polished into a sexy marketing campaign is honesty, and even if the truth is unsavory and cheap, which is usually is, at least it'll be recognizable as human. If Clinton held a press conference and presented us with a four-color bar graph of the number of extramarital blowjobs he'd received over the past 10 years, each rated according to time and effectiveness, I think you might hear "third term" whispered throughout the darkened hallways of after-hours Washington. Three days later, Entertainment Weekly would have the proposed cast list.




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