[Salon Magazine]

 
T A B L E_.T A L K

Brill's Content: Love it or leave it? Weigh in on the media's latest watchdog publication in Table Talk's Media area

 
R E C E N T L Y

Will Mother Jones become more politically correct?
By Ashley Craddock
The resignation of Mother Jones editor Jeffrey Klein sparks fears that the magazine will hew to a left-wing party line
(08/24/98)

Repeat offender
By Tom Mashberg
A fellow Boston newsman offers a scathing obituary for disgraced Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle, after he was finally scraped from the newspaper's hull
(08/20/98)

Monica 2: This time, it's for the money
By James Poniewozik
It's a very, very merry Testimoniday in punditland, as the talking heads pick over what's left of the Bill-Monica-Ken scandal
(08/18/98)

Steal this leak!
By Cynthia Cotts
In a rare First Amendment victory for the press, a D.C. court says reporters can use purloined information
(08/07/98)

If elected, I promise more girlie shows at the state fair!
By Peter Kurth
Ridiculous joke or subversive political statement? The media -- and the public -- can't decide how to treat 79-year-old farmer Fred Tuttle's bizarre campaign for the Senate
(08/06/98)

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Win a trip to the IFP Gotham Awards in NYC!

 
 

_______gear and loathing

Magazine cover

Bob Guccione Jr. does the time warp in his post-Spin production.

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BY MARY ELIZABETH WILLIAMS

The world needs another men's magazine like Montana needs disgruntled gun nuts. But Bob Guccione Jr. is just crazy enough to start one anyway. He stares from the Publisher's Letter page of his new periodical, Gear, his fingers contorting his visage into an expression of singular oogah-boogah-ness, as he spouts how a magazine "must grow from the soil of the culture it plants its feet in." Guccione Jr. wants to be the wild man incarnate, the maverick explorer staking out new territory on the newsstand. But there's something about Gear that feels unmistakably not so fresh. The first issue is crammed with typical men's magazine fare like booze and stereo equipment; the great unseen gear in Gear is the vacuum in which the magazine seems to think its readers have lived their lives.

When the younger Guccione started Spin 13 years ago, he was met with a fair amount of derisive snorting from the publishing world. The guy whose dad made "Caligula" was going to take on the likes of Rolling Stone? But Junior carved out a neat niche with Spin -- he gave it a younger, edgier vibe than its elderly counterparts. He distinguished it as a publication that broke new bands and covered the AIDS crisis and drug culture with a penetrating, unsentimental eye. But in recent years Spin's luster was tainted with an in-house sexual discrimination suit. And when Vibe, an even more upstart music publication, came in and wanted to buy the works, Guccione Jr. decided it was time to Spin off and move on.

Now comes Guccione Jr. seeking to reinvent the Esquire and Details circuit. Guccione may be reinventing himself as a wild man, but he's not stupid. Sticking with what works, he's created a mag indebted to the old Spin -- Gear looks a lot like Spin and has poached an expected amount of its talent (William Vollmann, Celia Farber). The difference is that with Gear, Guccione Jr. seems more willing than ever before in his career to be, well, a Guccione.

Judging from the new rag's retro, below-the-waist orientation, Gear's founder has been waiting a long time to make the leap from rock 'n' roll to bump and grind. In a piece that reveals almost as much about himself as his subject, Guccione Jr. interviews self-professed Viagra enthusiast Hugh Hefner. A page devoted to Jewel and the Lilith Fair posse dismisses them as "Granola Ryders," while the rest of the magazine teems with fantasy figure superfoxes in near nipple-revealing dishabille. And what do you know? What these vixens really want is just a rugged, hairy, Gear kind of dude. "Where are all the real men?" snorts Peta Wilson, a woman who "takes big bites out of life and laughs with zest and pleasure as the juices cascade down her chin." Life juice -- is that what they're calling it now? Meanwhile, Denise Richards, who Gear says "sprung from the fevered imagination of a horny adolescent boy confined to his bedroom on a hot summer afternoon," purrs, "I like a man man." The sensitive new age guy is dead, long live the caveman.

When you start talking about the imaginations of horny teenage boys, you're well into Guccione Sr. territory, and indeed at times Gear looks a lot like a Penthouse production. Gear has lanky blond Wilson topless on a toilet; the current Penthouse has a lanky blond bottomless on a toilet. (Only the latter, however, is actually relieving herself.) And the hubba-hubba description of the brunet in the black push-up bra from the Penthouse Forum isn't far off in tone from the "stacked black girl" who fills her Lycra T-shirt with D-cup boobage in "Sex Files," Gear's obligatory chick-penned smut column.

But a funny thing happened on the way from the Forum. Gear, for all its ballsy swagger, understands intimately that it is not, in fact, an adult magazine. There are no terribly naughty photos, no shockingly explicit suggestions. Oddly, however, Guccione Jr. seems to be laboring under the belief that "not adult" somehow means "not yet moved out of your parent's garage." Or maybe Gear is for the lonely dude who just got divorced and needs a comforting catch-up while he fills his empty bachelor pad. Yes, Gear says, the world is just as you left it as a young man. Here, have a digital watch.

There's something charmingly naive about Gear's tabula rasa approach -- it's as if Guccione Jr. decided the way to make a mark in the men's magazine field was to create a guide for the guy who hasn't done anything or gone anywhere in a long, long time. If ever. There are tributes to Rod Serling and Emma Peel. A drink section that pays homage to vodka. A cars column that praises the Corvette, Mustang and Firebird. A fashion spread devoted to denim. Thumbs up for Smiths albums and Chekhov stories. A roundup of the all-time hottest movie scenes featuring "9 1/2 Weeks" and "Body Heat." All that's missing is a cover feature on "What to do now that you've come out of your coma." Future issues will no doubt explore the relative merits of Woody Allen, the Beatles, pizza and sleep.

Gear does, to its credit, take stabs at the kind of serious journalism that gave the old Spin its justified reputation for writing. But even Gear's beefier pieces have a seriously suspended-in-time kind of funk about them. Sadaam Hussein? George Bush Jr.? Run-D.M.C.? It all makes you want to party like it's 1989. Gear seems barely contemporary, except when it's devoting its considerable inches to Viagra. And hell, in another month that topic too will seem flaccid.

In an age of musical sampling, vintage clothes and movie remakes, Gear may be the first magazine to fully embrace the nostalgia Zeitgeist. And while it does make Gear somewhat different, it doesn't exactly make it anything new. "We have no idea where we're going," Guccione Jr. modestly admits in his opening manifesto. Maybe that's because it's hard to see where you're heading when your eyes are aimed backward.
SALON | Aug. 27, 1998

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R E L A T E D_.S A L O N_.S T O R I E S

Maximum confusion On the Web, a typo throws frat boys and feminists onto each other's turf.
By Janelle Brown
Aug. 5, 1998




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