September 1998
s m u g
back issues
by Josh Allen


GQ: Civilization got Simple

GQ, at some point, say in the mid to late Eighties, evolved from a magazine into a cultural archetype. Its content no longer mattered, really. Instead it presented us with a concept, an icon, a mood, a character. It was more like a delicate spray from a bottle of musky cologne than a concrete thesis. I mean, what other magazine titles are used as nationally-recognized adjectives? Sure, there have been a couple of times when I was referred to as being "so Better Homes and Gardens" or "way On Our Backs," but never with the frequency that I've heard: "He's total GQ."

But what does "total GQ" really mean these days? What kind of person can be summed up by the mere mention of a men's magazine? Am I that kind of person? And if not, why not?

I'd never cracked open the slick, refined pages of GQ before this month and so I'll admit I was coasting on pop culture fumes (and who isn't?) (and who doesn't want to be?). What initially struck me about it was its similarity to Vogue: the trite articles, the scent-strips, the proliferation of fashion ads. This was all about sophistication and refinement, and even the comforting tenets of sexism that we all cling to were being called into question. On the letters page was an incensed reader bemoaning the recent spate of half-naked cover girls: "By placing women on your cover, you are cheapening what GQ really represents ... The cover should be used to feature male excellence in entertainment, business, sports, politics and the arts." The fact that I reached for this magazine at the newsstand specifically because Liv Tyler was on the cover confirmed the fact that I was not, after all, the target audience for this publication.

I realized that we were talking about gentlemen, here, not pigs like yours truly who should stick to Seventeen and Sticky Fingers (ok I made that one up, but if there was a porn magazine called Sticky Fingers I think we'd all flip through it, idly, on our lunch breaks, in the interest of research and personal betterment). And not your general purpose, hold-the-door-open kind of gentlemen, either, but specifically gentlemen who live in Manhattan and play a starring role in some major corporation. These are men who have steely eyes and razor sharp pleats. Voices that penetrate weakness with a rich timbre. Trophy wives and manservants. But this begs the question: Are these really the people who are reading GQ? I mean, if I was one of those guys I wouldn't be futzing around with magazines, no sir, I'd be sporting a wool bird's-eye two-button peaked-lapel suit by Burberry's ($1,695) and hitting Titleists off the back of a Norwegian cruise liner while my mistress applied name-brand depilatory wax to her bikini area.

There are, indeed, hints here and there that these uber-gentlemen are also not the intended reader for GQ. The Dr. Sooth column, which is the only nod to sexuality that I saw aside from the writhing six-packs of the shirtless male models (this lack of sex is where GQ makes a wide and curious departure from its sister magazines ... where are the articles about prolonging orgasm, what women are really thinking, let's put the sensual back in consensual, etc.?), features such non-CEO issues as "I have a crush on my English Lit professor." The article about creating a home office begins: "Already you've made your excuses: small apartment and so little time spent inside." Lit professor? Small apartment? Are these really the pressing concerns for today's hardcore gentleman? But I don't even notice as I'm reading; I'm already drawn in. Hey! I have a small apartment! I had a crush on my professor! I'm total GQ!

They also manage to draw in the ordinary joe by subtly couching the luxury and glamour within acceptable male terms. I was alarmed at first by how unmanly the whole production seemed. Not a single column about bow hunting, and I'd be hard pressed to locate any body hair at all in the entire issue. No, instead I get an article on the merits of talcum powder. But, again, they sucker me in by telling me it was used by the boys in Desert Storm and that "desperate drug dealers can stretch a few ounces to a kilo with it." Hey, that's pretty manly after all! By the end of the article I was ready to rush out to the Body Shop and add this nebulous product to the methylphenidate and unused mint-flavored floss in my medicine cabinet. I draw the line at the fashion spread, though! Oh but it's with Pete Sampras, that's ok then. Pond's Clear Pore Strips for men? Now I've just about seen it all! Oh but they call it "the most disgusting thing you'll ever enjoy" and comfort me by saying "Hey, it won't be the first time you're embarrassed by a purchase at a drugstore." Yeah! Bye bye, blackheads! The manipulation is so smooth that after awhile I'm nodding in appreciation of the peccary leather cashmere-lined gloves by Luciano Barbera and the insightful yoga tips.

GQ, Q.E.D., is about constructing sophisticated fantasy worlds for the reader. Giving them a sneak peak into another level of society. And, just like Vogue, the basis for this world is glamour and power, the tantalizing intangibles that most of us enjoy to read about precisely because we lack it in such volume. What GQ has mastered is the illusion that the magazine is not for you, when really it is. It looks like the intended reader is the high-stakes Manhattanite, but really it's for all the regular bums like us who wouldn't know a pranayama from a tattersall, so we get a little thrill at peeking into the executive washroom.

When I read Vanity Fair (usu. sans pants), I feel like it is by the elite, for the elite. GQ, on the other hand, is by advertisers and for the great unwashed. True to its reduction to an adjective (a reduction most publishers would kill for), GQ is all about transmitting a mood and an environment. Its pages turned my small apartment into an oak-heavy corner office where expensive cigars were smoked over densely-worded merger contracts. Afterwards, standing in the kitchen and eating peanut butter out of the jar didn't hold the same magic.



in the junk drawer

and such
and such

·feature· ·net worth· ·bumping uglies· ·smoking jacket· ·ear candy· ·feed hollywood· ·target audience· ·back issues · ·compulsion· ·posedown· ·the biswick files· ·mystery date· ·and such and such· ·blab· ·kissing booth·

·contents· ·freakshow· ·fan club· ·archive·

copyright © 1996-1998 fearless media