by RIP RENSE
STEIN'S MONSTROUS REMARKS
HAUTE COUTURE HORROR!
Times magazine, which is called The Los Angeles Times Magazine,
is renaming itself West this coming Sunday, Feb. 5. Of course, the
old L.A. Times magazine was called West. That was way back in the
1960's, and Jim Bellows was editor.
Bellows wanted the rag to
have a hard attitude, to be something to read, not stared at lazily on
Sunday mornings by women interested in chaise longues. He succeeded, but his
bosses ultimately preferred the chaise longue crowd. The mag went through
many subsequent incarnations.
Whatever the new West
will be, or if any readers will care that it is no longer called The Los
Angeles Times Magazine (I believe the decision to reach that name took
over a year---really), the ad campaign is just a marvel. No wonder people
are paid so handsomely, to come up with copy like "It's a whole new
magazine, with a strong sense of place and a unique voice." What do you
figure---this genius exec is making a hundred and fifty grand? Drives that
Lexus to his/her million-five cottage in Montrose?
Strong sense of place?
Well, you know, if it's
called "West," and is intended for L.A., you'd best hope it has a "strong
sense of place," eh? Wouldn't go over so well if it was about, oh,
Tallahassee. Unique voice? Bet you’ve never heard that expression
anywhere in your whole life! But in defense, the phrase has every bit as
much vivaciousness and cleverness as Dick Cheney.
As for it being a "whole
new magazine," then why, pray tell, does the same ad copy say "what hasn't
changed: sharp writing, probing reporting, fascinating profiles." Uh. .
.guess it isn't a whole new mag!
It’s all from a color
flyer stuffed into the Times Sunday turkey Jan 29, headlined “Reaching
New Heights.” That sounds like the theme for my high school graduation
ceremony. I mean, this is the kind of grandiloquent fluff and nauseating
pablum that you expect in a. . .state of the union address. Just who really
writes this crap? Karl Rove?
|A Californian can have "the New Yorker in
you," or the "Parisian in you," but not a "Californian in you." See?
Once again, the Times has missed the local angle.
more: "Our magazine will return with a new focus on how we live in
California." How we live in California? Are we not already rather
well aware of. . .how we live in California? (Let's try "desperately.")
It beiges on: "Our style. Our people. Our concerns." Yessirreeeeee,
that sure sounds new! And very specific, too! Guess the old LAT mag was
about somebody else’s “style, people, concerns.”
More: "You'll find
talented new writers (guess the talented old writers were too old, or not
talented enough), bold photography (as opposed to cowardly photography, meek
photography, that must have typified the old mag), and a host of surprising
Well, here's one such
"surprising new feature": "The Rules of Hollywood: a weekly tale from the
trenches of the industry." Wowie zowie! That sure is surprising! Imagine the
L.A. Times covering Hollywood! Get me the smelling salts! I can hardly
As for “bold photography,”
judging by the cover of the first issue (or perhaps just a mock-up), this
will consist of things like a mussed haired, swarthy young lothario in what
appears to be a pre-coital pose with the very hip Asiatic female, leaning
against what looks like a hotel dresser (whether the bottle is booze,
mouthwash, or lubricant is an open question.) This somehow is supposed to
illustrate the fact that, as the headline suggests, Orange County has
become, and I quote, “unconservative.”
One of the “fascinating
profiles,” apparently, is “Why Jason Alexander is a Genius.” Another: “The
Woman Behind the Lens at Playboy.” Right. It is certainly fascinating that
"editors" continue to come up with the same sorry, uninspired junk, month
after month, year after year.
The fun does not end
"Not to mention a new
name: West. What hasn't changed: sharp writing, probing reporting,
fascinating profiles. Plus your favorite features: Dan Neil's 800 words and
Merl Reagle's Crossword Puzzle. Go West every Sunday."
Who could resist? Don't
you want to rush right out first thing Sunday morning and grab that whopper
in your driveway? Mmm-hm! Especially if you are the successful black female,
sexually ambiguous unshaven white male with hip rectangular black glasses,
or articulate career Latina demographic types featured in the latest Times
The flyer’s flaccid,
lifeless, pulverized language is capped off, most peculiarly, by a phrase in
big letters placed inside very mysterious parenthesis, "You'll like where
Of course, I don’t like
where they're going, as it sounds like an even more inflated, precious,
pompous version of where they've been. But never mind about that. Here is
the very, very best, most magical, wondrous part of the flyer---the part
that earns the author that fluorescent light Spring Street tan:
"Redesigned cover to
cover, for that Californian in all of us."
Aside from the fact that
it is not---by its own description---redesigned cover to cover (Did Dan Neil
highlight his hair?), let's take a closer look at the key phrase, "that
Californian in all of us." What exactly does that tell you? Well, it means
the magazine is. . .
Not for Californians!
It is aimed at people who
have come here from elsewhere, who are still coming here from elsewhere, and
who badly want to be seen as, and feel like. . .Californians. In other
words---non-native residents. As well as those fabulous bi-coastal
people for whom cities are like rooms in a house.
Yes, this rag will
have a "strong sense of place," all right, and that place is New York,
Texas, Indiana, Florida, Paris, wherever. Not East L.A., Venice, Reseda,
Artesia. If you already are a Californian, they're not interested. A
Californian can have "the New Yorker in you," or the "Parisian in you," but
not a "Californian in you." See? Once again, the Times has missed the local
I realize this is getting
into identity crisis, if not schizophrenia, but this is important. This is
the only part of the ad that reveals anything at all---the demographics folk
have turned their Armani-encased backs on you, the native L.A. resident, the
native Californian. They're pandering to people who come here write a
script, get an agent, pose for those head shots, etc., then give up and
leave after three or four years and go back whence they came. As well as
assorted lawyers, lawyers, fitness trainers, studio executives, lawyers,
fitness trainers, marketing executives, lawyers, newspaper editors, and
And yet, and yet. . .
This phrase appeared in
giant letters in a full-page West ad on the back of the business section the
very next day:
“NEW YORKERS DON’T GET
IT. CALIFORNIANS DO.”
Now I’m confused. On
Sunday the magazine was for the “Californian” in you, which, presumably,
would include New Yorkers. On Monday, West was for Californians only. Excuse
me, I’m having a vision of the Scarecrow on the Yellow Brick Road, crossing
his arms and pointing in opposite directions, saying, “Of course, some
people do go both ways.”
Funniest of all, the
ad campaign never even mentioned what is certainly the rag’s most
marketable and truly new commodity: best-selling author Amy Tan, who is
selecting and editing a weekly piece of West fiction.
Of course, that would
mean targeting people who read.
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