Will they ever grow up?
`It is obvious that young guys want to read about stuff like cars and women and getting drunk." At least so says Matt Strickler, described recently in the Scotsman newspaper as "noted man-about-town in Manhattan".
Strickler was referring to an invasion of laddish magazines on US newsstands over the last couple of years.
The success of the likes of Maxim in particular - the current British edition carries a story on how to be a successful adulterer - is making magazine proprietors in the US quite nervous.
Now FHM has entered the fray there, confident of making significant inroads into the highly competitive magazine world. The dream formula? "Everything in the magazine must be one or more of the following: funny, sexy, useful," according to Ed Needham, who heads the US edition of FHM. It seems to work pretty effectively - FHM sells extremely well in every country in which it is published.
However, at the same time as lads' mags appear to be cracking the US market, stories back on this side of the Atlantic indicate that this sector of the industry is in some danger of decline - leading, ironically, to the smartening up of magazines' images (see article below).
To be sure, the covers of both FHM and Maxim this month are adorned with attractive women. They carry typical stories, like how to charm women into the sack, but very little gratuitous nudity. Is this the "smarting-up" - as opposed to dumbing-down - of the lad mag? Recent figures suggest 30 per cent of sales of men's magazines are to women. Perhaps the subtle shift is an indication of British men's magazines making moves to exploit the female market.
On the other hand, Loaded carries an interview with boy-band Five about sex and groupies, as well as an illustrated interview with Benedikt Taschen, proprietor of publishing company Taschen, who believes art, sculpture and pornography carry equal value. GQ weighs in with a fairly revealing photo spread of supermodel Eva Herzigova.
Football, sex, booze, babes, death, fashion and expensive gadgets still feature strongly in men's magazines. The women, if they aren't completely naked, may sport anything from a piece of delicate material draped across their bodies to a bikini. Yet sprinkled across the "gwan out there and geddit, phwoaaar" attitude is a certain increasingly visible admission of nervous, even shy, vulnerability. The interviewer in Loaded who talks to Benedikt Taschen, for example, admits to a certain degree of alarm when a young woman hands around explicit pictures of herself. "I am frankly startled," he says. "I've been out with girls for months and seen less of them than I have seen of Natacha in the past 30 seconds . . . I am scared."
In fact, so much of men's magazines are all about fantasy. (In GQ, when a man goes along to a real-life orgy, he and his partner are horrified and do nothing.) Inundated with fabulous pictures of magnificent women, men can happily imagine they have it all. There is little or nothing about meaningful relationships; dealing with marital problems; coping with rejection/separation; helping children with homework.
GQ has aspirations towards providing more intellectually stimulating content (to that end, it includes "short story of the month") while Esquire, with a long highbrow tradition, calls itself "the sharper read for men".
Arguably there is little to justify such claims. On the other hand, are there any more high-minded values being imparted by women's magazines? The hot topic in this month's issue of Cosmopolitan is oral sex, and there's more nudity than Maxim and FHM put together; if you're not having a "21st century one-night stand", you might be wondering "Does Your Body + His Body = Great Sex?"
The magazine world is extremely competitive. The biggest sellers are the likes of OK! and Hello! - full of celebrity gossip. But if you don't have celebrity gossip, next best thing is sex. Sex, celebs, expensive cars, clothes, gadgets - if anything, men's magazines seem to reflect a human need to escape into a fantasy world where you can have it all - i.e. a gorgeous babe, a fridge full of beer and loadsamoney.
"Is this the `smartingup' of the lad mag? Recent figures suggest 30 per cent of sales of men's magazines are to women"