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Jewish World Review Sept. 27, 2002 / 21 Tishrei, 5763

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Consumer Reports


Analyzing Esquire, GQ is not for the squeamish


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Try this experiment in magazine deconstruction.

Buy the October issues of GQ and Esquire. GQ's special sports issue features NBA star Kevin Garnett on the cover, showing lots of cleavage. Esquire's not-so-special "Women We Love" issue has Jennifer Aniston on the cover, showing lots of cleavage.

Carefully place both magazines side by side on the kitchen table. You might notice a stinky, death-like smell coming from Esquire. You're on to something, but we'll explain what it is later.

For now, let's flip through both magazines simultaneously.

As we plow past the Armani, Ralph Lauren, Mercedes, Gap, Prada and DKNY ads, it's obvious that both mags are aimed at single, white, city-dwelling men in their early 30s who put too much stock in expensive clothes, cars and watches but are too grown up for Maxim.

GQ's ads are noticeably more upscale. It knows better than to insult its readers with a lowly Saturn ad, as Esquire does. GQ's first readable stuff - short sporty items about Montreal goalie Jose Theodore and Donald Trump's new golf course, etc. - shows up at Page 65.

Esquire's "Man at His Best" offerings begin at Page 55 and go on and on. If the items about expensive cars, booze and beef seem tedious, dull, over-written and annoyingly smarmy, it's because they mostly are. And yes, two cartoons are crude enough for Hustler.

For the next 126 pages - all the way through an unreadable travel story about Senegal, Tom Junod's typically self-indulgent piece on bullies and the ads for sex toys in the back - Esquire stinks.

This stinkiness is nothing new. The once-great magazine has been brain dead for at least a decade. Its "Dubious Achievement Awards" stopped being funny in Reagan's first term, and its annual "Women We Love" idea is not just mined out after 15 years, it's an embarrassment to dirty old men.

When you compare Esquire page-for-page to GQ, it's easy to see how unfunny, uninteresting and forgettable it is. It tries hard to be hip, clever and young but often ends up being tasteless, weird or stupid.

Take, for example, a strange double-page photo of Aniston. She is posed in a nightgown, on her back, legs awkwardly bent back under her, with her eyes staring into the sky. She doesn't look sexy; she looks dead and crumpled, as if she's been dropped from a plane.

Meanwhile, GQ's pages are packed with excellent writing and interesting editorial fare, even though it's 100 percent jockstraps, helmets, pucks and NASCAR.

Guy Lawson's profile of Jarome Iginla, the NHL's only black star, is an excellent read. So is "How to Fix the Sports Pages," the transcript of a conversation with ex-sports writers Alan Richman and Peter Richmond and current New York Times sports columnist Harvey Araton, which is loaded with lots of laughs and good ideas about energizing America's dull and predictable newspaper sports sections.

And, speaking of Richmond, his profile of Greco-Roman wrestler Rulon Gardner is a textbook example of great magazine writing. It is, sad to say, far better than anything you'll find in the October Esquire, a magazine that once had a monopoly on such excellence.

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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald