David Brock, meet Dave Itzkoff. Dave is a bit like you: he used to

be blind, but now he sees! Except he hasn’t changed his political

allegiance, he’s just quit his job at Maxim. And written a piece

for the New York Press excoriating his former employer.

I didn’t quite understand Itzkoff’s article, so I went out

and bought a copy of the magazine, to see if I could work out what he

was talking about. I hadn’t read it since its launch, when it was

basically recycled material from the UK version which didn’t really

work over here. Now, the US version is an excellent magazine in its

own right.

So, am I saying that Itzkoff, who ought to know what he’s talking

about, is wrong? Yes and no. I certainly hate the faux-naïveté

with which he writes that “I would also like to believe that someday,

someone is going to publish an intelligent men’s magazine that

speaks to today’s generation of twenty- and thirtysomethings without

pandering to them or making excessive use of the word "dude."”

Dave Itzkoff, meet Details.

The problem is that Maxim is a much better magazine than Details,

and for many of the reasons that Itzkoff glosses. His main complaint

is that Maxim is “one of the most slickly cynical products you’ll

find on a newsstand, a continued testament to the fact that good window-dressing

is all that’s needed to bring a customer into the shop, even if

there’s no merchandise to be found inside.”

He then develops this observation in excruciating detail, explaining

that Maxim doesn’t go in for standard magazine fare like long puffy

profiles, and rather sticks with a tried-and-tested formula which is

heavily reliant on spending a lot of effort on cover lines.

But actually he undersells his former self. The cover lines aren’t

all that: the top one on the June issue is “SEX at first sight!

Doltproof pickup tips women wish you knew” – which is a bit

of a syntactic mess, really, requiring a couple of readings to understand,

and in any case not likely to prompt mass buying of the magazine. Given

that the word “sex” has to appear on the cover somewhere,

that’s probably one of the less intelligent uses of the word: a

bit like using up your S in scrabble on an 18-pointer.

Meanwhile, the content of the magazine is actually excellent. The

front of the book rips along nicely, with fun, nugget-sized articles

and pictures which are enjoyable to read yet at the same time light

and fluffy enough that you’re happy reading on. (Advertisers in

the middle of the magazine don’t want you giving up at the beginning,

daunted by something large and worthy.)

There’s a lot of gratuitous babeage, of course: photos of underdressed

girls which barely even pretend to illustrate the articles. But I’m

not complaining, and neither are the 12 million other readers of the

magazine. Loaded, which started the lad mag industry, has as

its slogan “for men who should know better”, which nicely

encapsulates the combination of lewdness and irony which makes these

magazines work. The fact is that guys like being guys, and no one’s

ever been in any doubt as to what it is that guys want.

The thing is that Itzkoff isn’t even complaining about the objectification

of women. Hear him cry:

Time was when one of Maxim’s numerous detractors

would cut us down in the press, and my first instinct (after having

a good cry and contemplating graduate school) was always to dismiss

it as sour grapes–these people were just jealous that the magazine

had achieved so much so quickly. But now, belatedly, I understand the

dilemma its success has raised, one that cuts right to the heart of

this industry: Is a magazine supposed to engage, enlighten and edify

its readers, or is it only intended to distract them as they flip from

one advertisement to the next?

Dave Itzkoff, meet Planet Earth. You want Maxim – Maxim

– to “engage, enlighten and edify”? Those million people

who bought Maxim at the newsstand this month because of the cover lines

or perhaps the picture of that girl off the telly – you think they

want edification and enlightenment? Who do you think you are, Lord Reith?

Who do you think Felix Dennis is, a public servant dedicated to the

education of the American male? He’s a businessman, out to make

money, and he makes money by selling ads.

I was reading two magazines yesterday – Maxim and the New Yorker.

I was entertained by the former, and edified by the latter. But the

last thing I want is for Maxim to run 22,000-word articles on newspaper

editors, or, on the other hand, for the New Yorker to run cover stories

filled with juvenile double-entendres of the lowest order, such as “SAT

scores aren’t the only thing on the rise at fictitious Winslow

High”. Oh, wait, that cover story was by one Dave Itzkoff.

The point is that the magazine market is about filling niches. Maxim,

it turns out, fills a very big niche indeed (oo-er), and I’m completely

at a loss as to why Itzkoff considers this such a dreadful state of


What he wants, he says, is “a publication with content that’s

challenging, that people might want to read, and if it connects with

your audience, they’ll buy the magazine of their own volition,

without having to be tricked into it.” (His emphasis.) What he

doesn’t seem to realise is that Maxim fulfills two of his three

criteria: people want to read it, and they buy it of their own volition.

You can’t trick a million people into buying a magazine, and if

you do, and if they’re disappointed, then they’re not going

to buy it again. Maxim’s newsstand sales, however, continue to


Itzkoff seems to think that Maxim’s readers are looking for “issue-oriented

news features or authoritative first-person narratives,” and must

therefore be disappointed every time they buy the magazine: the fact

that such things aren’t found in Maxim is proof enough for him

that they were tricked into buying it. After all, who would knowingly

buy a magazine without an authoritative first-person narrative?

Well, I would, Mr Itzkoff, and I’ll do it again. I like a mixture

of high and low in my life: I’m happy putting down a heavy political

biography in order to watch Britney Spears Live from Las Vegas. What

I don’t want is Britney suddenly putting on a sober suit and lecturing

me on international geopolitics.

What would be the purpose of running longer features in Maxim? Could

Maxim do them better than anybody else? Maxim is, at the moment, the

best magazine at what it does in America. If you don’t like doing

that thing, then, fine, quit to join Spin instead. But don’t try

to spin your own preference in magazines as an industry-threatening


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