January 2000
s m u g
back issues
by Joshua Allen

After a grueling internal struggle, I came to an extremely difficult decision that had absolutely nothing to do with the onslaught of libel cases that were recently leveled against me. Yes, dear readers, that gnawing premonition of doom that's been darkening your heart has now finally come to pass — "Back Issues" is being euthanized.

Despite what my editor says, I think to think of this column as finally being completed, rather than being smashed and washed away with a high-power water-jet like a tooth that's rotted away from too much sweet, sweet candy. As I typed the final period (or was it the usual seven exclamation points? I'm too weary with sadness to check) of last month's "piece," I was almost deafened by a sonorous chime of triumph. But there was something subtly different about that month's sonorous chime of triumph, something that set it apart from all the others, and after days and days of phenylephrine-fueled introspection, I realized that it was because "Back Issues" was finished. The final piece in a complex and stomach-churning puzzle had been placed with a satisfying click, and thus the definitive commentary on the current state of magazines has drawn to a close.

So what have we learned since the brassy, violent wake-up call of this column's mission statement back in May of 1998? That inaugural article praised magazines for possessing a nebulous yet potent substance known as PDCIF (to wit, they are portable, disposable, current, informative, and focused). But as we stumble toward the inky blackness of a new millennium, the world is not so innocent — and neither are magazines.

Time and time again, month after month, I'd apply the scientific method to the selected publication, tearing it down to its very fibers and sifting through the tiny scraps of perfume samples and punny captions and sidebars and humorous lists and brightly colored charts and punchy intros and the iron fist of editorial and the sensual curves of half-nude women everywhere, everywhere. The inescapable truth was that each and every fiber was infused with darkness. Sinister motives and empty souls.

Each magazine had its own form of evil. From the blatant, garden-variety evil offered by Vogue and Maxim (sexism, pride in stupidity), Entertainment Weekly and Wired (praising commerce as the highest form of art), to the more insidious versions found in The Baffler (the dessication of joy through over-analysis [see also: this column]) and Martha Stewart Living (reacting to an out-of-control world by obsessively focusing on those insignificant things that are in your control, even while being instructed to do so by a fascist and fetishistic leader) — there was always something unsettling.

Once I made this discovery, it was an easy leap to the next one: PDCIF is just another component of this evil. The innocence and frivolity that I clung to in the early days was simply the pheromone-soaked tendril that drew me deeper into the acrid maw of the Beast. Magazines do an excellent job of passing themselves off as well-meaning and frivolous, flaunting the fact that whatever is contained within their pages will be dead and gone by this time next month. So we idly pick them up, flipping through them quickly, letting our eyes fall where they will, only catching brief snippets of content, lingering at certain photographs for whatever reason. Our defenses down. We aren't expecting a deep psychological attack so we're relaxed — exactly the mindstate that makes us the most conducive to a deep psychological attack. Subtexts within subtexts can be found in every magazine, but they are designed to ward off deep reading, allowing these subtler intents to slip through without you even realizing it.

Before you know it, you start caring about the box-office receipts of movies and the brands of clothing that newscasters wear. You feel a constant and irrational impulse to purchase things. You find yourself relying on catch phrases and alliteration in both your speech and writing. Your attention span gets shorter by half with each passing year.

Magazines are the mindkiller, and so I must abandon my close association with them. I fear it may be too late for me, but I hope that these words, and the ones that have preceded them, have reached you in time. Peace be with you.


I know what you're thinking — or would be thinking if you could stop screaming and pulling your hair from your body for even a second — you're thinking: But what will become of Josh? Where will I turn for what the New Yorker clumsily calls "the purple prose of [a] tyro"? Fret not, for from the ashes of this column comes a new fiery bird of truth, a column that will quite possibly be even more dense, even more brutal and shocking, even more insightful and delightful than "Back Issues." I don't want to give away too much, my friends, but it's called "Decomposition" and it will have a spicy, piquant flavor, a labyrinthine structure, and a head full of dreams. Look for it next month at this very location. And feel the fear.




in the junk drawer

and such
and such

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