Sunday, April 25, 2010

Really? Glamour?

Glamour was recently named magazine of the year.

I'm not quite sure why.

I've subscribed to Glamour for the last year. I only did so because of their 75th anniversary promotion, where I could get a year's worth for 75 cents. Yep, 12 issues for less than a dollar. What the hell? As far as women's magazines go, I actually like Glamour, detesting their nearest rival, Cosmopolitan. Glamour was more real, and I liked that they incorporated recipes and real advice, at least in the back. They had the obligatory "serious story", addiction or do-gooders, now with Katie Couric interviewing some notable female. All well and good.

But after a few months, it was wearying. The topics were the same, of course: men, relationships, food, eating, exercise, fashion, beauty. I wondered how those working at the magazine didn't get bored of the repetition. The advice was usually sound, but repetitive, and occasionally contradictory. I waded through the "girl with the belly bulge" and the Crystal Renn spreads; meh. Crystal Renn is beautiful and not plus sized in the least, as I've noted before. I no longer felt that the magazine was the exception to others in its category; maybe I just got used to it, maybe the novelty wore off. But I also wasn't looking at other young-women magazines, either, so it became just another Glamour. I knew I wasn't going to renew my subscription when I subscribed, but now I didn't care.

But besides the sameness, I was saddened to see that women's magazines "cleaned up" certain celebrities:

Lady Gaga and Rihanna are known for dressing explicitly, in wild getups, but they are stripped of their individuality; whitewashed, you could say. There's no crazy makeup, no funky fashion choices, nothing that should be exposed covered up and nothing covered up that should be exposed. They're not even in fun colors: Lady Gaga is uncharacteristically in all white, or off-white, as if to appear pure, but she looks out of place and strangely bland, since she blends in with the background. It's the text that speaks, not her. Rihanna at least looks happy, if girlish, a woman full of spunk and personality. This might be to offset the serious interview inside, promoting her album Rated R, both which explore her dark and volatile year. But her hair is gelled back; we are not to notice her funky, unconventional style choices, just like we aren't meant to view Lady Gaga as she wants to be seen. Maybe that explains her detached look.

I see this as suppressing both women's natural personalities and style to favor a more acceptable form of female expression, both in beauty and personality. I can understand why a cover picture of Lady Gaga wouldn't have her face covered, but I don't see why she has to appear in such an awful getup, one she would never wear anywhere else. I don't see how prettifying Rihanna makes her ordeal any better, except take away her right to express herself as she chooses.

So Glamour, magazine of the year? You might talk the talk of inclusion of expression, proudly showing off your Crystal Renn glamour shots, but until you really show how real women are, capturing their life as they live it (not as you wish them to see it), you don't deserve this title.

Cross-posted on Notes on Popular Culture.

RIP: The AIM Away Message

A blogger I follow, Katie from Boston, recently wrote an ode to AIM away messages. Both of us spent overlapping years at college, in that space where social media was growing, but hadn’t hit the wider world yet. Status messages were only in the province of AIM, and the unique college environment meant that everyone was on all the time, through one medium. We all had angsty things to say, and we did so by the most elegant and articulate way we could—song lyrics:

One thing that’s been lost in the translation from away messages to Facebook statuses and Twitter, though, is the art of the song lyric message. Most song lyrics are too long to sum up our deepest feelings in 140 characters, but that wasn’t a problem with the AIM away message! No, we didn’t have to come right out and say what we were feeling because an artist we liked had done it for us, leaving us with cryptic lyrics to provide our friends, hoping that they’d decipher our mood. And there were truly lyrics for every emotion.

I too have lamented this loss. Song lyrics just don’t work on Facebook, just another post on a feed. With AIM, we got the added bonus of fonts and colors, all designs to prove how precious or earnest we were through what we listened to.

Katie nails down many of the categories the songs fell in, although her personal references do not mesh with mine (or my friends), since that is based partly upon taste. But no one who went to college in 2004 will forget the ubiquity of Garden State (I’m pretty sure everyone on my buddy list used “There’s beauty in the breakdown” from “Let Go”). She misses the overused “We’re so in love” lyrics from “Such Great Heights”—to this day I groan when seeing “I am thinking it's a sign that the freckles/In our eyes are mirror images and when/We kiss they're perfectly aligned”. It’s not original or cute anymore, it’s hackneyed and trite.

Away messages were a code. Not always, and obviously, sometimes they were perfectly explicit, even when in song lyrics. I knew what certain lyrics “meant”: trouble, or heartbreak, even if I didn’t know specifics or if the specifics didn’t line up exactly with the song. I just knew it was bad news.

Of course, away messages were also misinterpreted, sometimes causing lots of offense and drama. That was all part of college, as was the timing of certain remarks (whether intentional or not), or the inability to update the away messages either out of sheer laziness or because people were plumb not there to do so.

I suspect AIM is not held in the same regard now among this demographic, not with Twitter and Facebook and cell phones and text messaging all overtaking the importance of the away message. Plus everything can be integrated, so there really is no excuse for not updating. But I do miss crafting my away messages, thinking of the audience to read them. Now, out of college, most of my buddies have gravitated away, and like most social services, the fun is in who you know and how many people in your network are in, so the reason for going on has diminished, and with that the motivation to put up an away message. Now, the same people are on, usually at the same time—the evening.

Instant Messages have gravitated toward the workplace, as a way of connecting to far-flung colleagues, or to those in a big organization where picking up the phone is pure avoidance or laziness. Katie does nail some of the problems inherent with talking via this means: the inability to detect tone (sarcasm often falls flat), causing confusion; and how to squeeze in this activity while doing other things (also a mainstay in college). It always seemed dishonest to ghost in order to talk to only one or two people, or to put up an away message in order to avoid those you don’t want to talk to while engaging others. AIM also foreshadowed the “digital autism” of today, the inability to have a conversation or pay attention to those you’re physically with, preferring to spend energy through technological means.

I still go on AIM, but it’s a different experience; it’s to talk to specific people. I rarely have away messages up now—what’s the point? Who’s going to see? And with all the new features, it’s no longer the service of yore, but an entirely new beast, one that’s trying to still be as old-school but playing catch-up with the new kids on the block. AIM’s heyday was rooted very much in its time, a benefit of a confluence of factors that was victim to technology and time: growing up.