June 1999
s m u g
back issues
by Joshua Allen


There comes a point in every person's life, I believe, when they realize that they are easily categorizable. They are no longer vibrant individuals, swimming against the stream, vomiting one irreverent and tradition-bashing idea after another, but instead just one more living embodiment of a stereotype. The scariest part of this little epiphany is that nothing's changed about you, you haven't undergone some weirdly dramatic transformation, you've just had your eyes forced open. Turns out you were never really all that unique.

This can be troubling, especially the first time it happens ("So ... so you're saying that ... that there are other people who think they aren't cut out for nine-to-five jobs and believe they'd thrive in a nonstructured, creative environment?"), but after a while it becomes increasingly comfortable, since the effort it takes to attempt originality is significant and tiring.

It happened to me again as I flipped through the shiny pages of George, the friendly politics magazine from hunky John F. Kennedy, Jr. It snuck up on me. I was kind of dreading reading it because I have minimal (read: 0) interest in politics, and what's worse is that I can't have unveiled disgust for it like I do other things I have minimal interest in (fashion, sports, and the inevitable comedic punchline: healthy sexual relationships) because it makes me sound like a moron. "Aw, politics is for squares!" I'd say. "Nuts to that!" (I've adopted a rather retro tint to my slang these days, FYI.) And that would just open myself up to all sorts of insightful and accurate criticism, which is just about my least favorite thing.

The Accurate Critic: So you're saying you don't care about the welfare of this nation and its inhabitants? You don't question the policies of our leaders? You don't make informed decisions at the polls? Do you even vote? [ten more minutes of insight deleted]

Me: Scram, wisenheimer!

Q.E.D. I keep my political apathy to myself. But I felt it would be therapeutic to pick up George and face the music, maybe learn a thing or two. And imagine my surprise when George turned out to be completely appealing and comfortable, not boring or dry at all! Perhaps I was rash in my relentless remote-clicking past C-SPAN and my quarter-century streak of not watching the State of the Union Address. This stuff was really pretty juicy.

I mean, look who's on the cover: noted pundit and activist Calista Flockhart! Who's on the back page, explaining what he'd do if he were president? Senate hopeful Denis Leary! Who's modeling the latest anchorperson fashions? It's none other than hard-hitting Serena Altschul! And there's Helen Hunt, and there's Ben Affleck, and there's Carmen Electra, and there's Noah Wyle! I know all these people! Politics is just like my beloved Entertainment Weekly after all. I wish I'd known sooner, I would've gotten more involved with the student council.

What shook me from my reverie was an article about how sleazy the media felt about all the Lewinsky coverage, but how they sure do miss those good times when stories were easy to explain and easier to sell. "Are we really supposed to muster the enthusiasm we once had for a presidential excursion to the Department of Interior to celebrate its 150th anniversary?" they pout. That's when it hit me: George is just as uninterested in politics as I am, and so they spruce it up using every glossy magazine trick in the book, with the biggest one being that they avoid the Issue and focus on the Personality - something that should be familiar to anyone who's consumed any type of nonfiction media ever.

George bends over backward to pull the pretty, shiny needle from the dull haystack of American politics. So we get a big exposé about a shocking gay sex scandal ... that happened in 1964. And an article about a close confidante of the Clintons ... who happens to be actress Mary Steenburgen. And biting questions answered by former New York senator Alfonse D'Amato ... like how to make great tiramisu and when it's proper for a male senator to greet a female senator with a kiss. There are top-ten lists, fashion layouts, infographics, pithy news items, even a grunge makeover for Al Gore, complete with before-and-after photos ("Old Al has a furrowed brow. New Al gets a pierced brow. The message to young people is 'Hey, I can feel your pain.'). Viewed from a distance, say 1-2 feet, George could easily be mistaken for GQ.

And yet I was seduced by George's boyish good looks and impeccable pedigree, a cheap date because I am the target audience for this thing. I am the apathetic Gen-X slacker that the media described to everybody back in the early Nineties. I am of the cynical yet liquid demographic group that will only pay attention to politics if it's drained of all policy and made up real sexy-like.

So I had yet another moment where I realized I'm just like everyone else. I'm not above being manipulated (and in fact enjoy being manipulated), and I'm not sharper than anyone else. George speaks directly to me, and what it says makes perfect and awful sense, and I feel comfortably stupider after reading it.

Fear it, friends.




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