Magazine article The Spectator

Every Man a Bond

Magazine article The Spectator

Every Man a Bond

Article excerpt

`SHOULD I wash behind my foreskin?' I'm not asking for myself, you understand, it's Jake in Harrogate who needs to know. In fact he is so undecided, he wrote asking, `Should I wash behind my foreskin?' to Esquire magazine. Now there are two cor-blimey-would-you-credit-it things about this. First, how did Jake reach an age when he could write a letter to a men's magazine without discovering for himself? I mean, there is only one choice, wash the little sucker or don't. Foreskins aren't complicated bits of kit, they don't even come with an owner's manual; and doesn't he have any mates (probably not in the procreative sense) who could shout through his letterbox, `Here, Jake, wash your bloody foreskin'?

The second and marginally more surprising thing is that Esquire thought this was a letter worthy of publication. Did the editorial team sift through the mountains of mail and say, `Oh, I do think this raises an interesting point. Our readers are bound to find this informative and an invigorating topic for further discussion.'

Esquire used to boast that it was the liberal intellectuals' magazine. It and its American parent had some of the most highbrow writers; now it has prepuces and Francis Wheen (any connection is purely coincidental). It used to be the magazine for the New Man with his finger on the pulse; now it is the magazine for the bloke with his hand down his trousers. Esquire has joined the raucous, self-confident, mildly offensive gang of men's mags that are hanging out in every corner shop in the country, leering and whistling at hard-working women, single mothers and bits of totty, shouting jokes to each other across the motoring magazines.

Men's magazines are the fastest-growing and most successful section of publishing. FHM, the leader of the pack, has now overtaken Cosmopolitan as the biggest seller in the country. Men's Health, the periodical for vain hypochondriacs, is taking on readers like a bulimic on a binge. A women's magazine editor of long standing told me she couldn't help feeling a twinge of jealousy: `It's sort of unfair, men's magazines are where women's were 20 years ago. They can still write 20 tips for a top blow job. The difference is ours were always about how to give them, theirs are about how to get them.'

Although there is a definite similarity between the heyday of liberating women's magazines and today's men's ones, there are also telling differences. Where women's periodicals were infused with an undercurrent of guilt and responsibility, the men's are almost psychotically guilt- and responsibility-free. Women got seriousness coated with humour. Men's magazines can't keep a straight face for longer than a twosentence paragraph.

Having spent a week reading every men's magazine from GQ Active (for the fey weed who thinks tummy muscles are a riveting topic of conversation) to the soft porn of Vulcan (for the man who needs a step-ladder and a mop to wash beneath his foreskin), I'm breathless with admiration. The feckless, funny, clubbable, easy banter of these young oiks is a delight. Whilst politicians, social workers, Guardian women and the Samaritans (this was listening week for young men) suck their teeth and shake their heads over disaffected, rootless males being the greatest problem facing society today, the chaps are out getting drunk and talking about their willies.

Magazines are the membership cards of minorities. The more disenfranchised, the more arcane or embarrassing your peer group, the more magazines are devoted to it. This is why there are more periodicals for coarse tench fishermen than for socialists, and more for aficionados of sex with women with huge bosoms covered in shaving foam than for devotees of the regular missionary position with someone you love. Women's magazines flourished when women didn't, when they were marginalised, discriminated against and smouldering with injustice. Now that for the most part they aren't and don't, their magazines have lost power, purpose and energy; they are left with the humourless round of responsibility and tidying up. …

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