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Michael G. Maudlin
Oscar Night for Magazines
While the Oscars got all the press, the magazine industry also held its recognition banquet this spring. A billion people watched Billy Crystal host the Academy Awards, but the National Magazine Awards had to make do with a short summary article in the lifestyle section of my morning newspaper. Perhaps Rodney Dangerfield hosted.
I will not harp on this evidence of humanity's fallenness. (Movies have their place, after all.) But it's important to listen in on magazines. Like no other medium, they document our cultural conversation. Their high-shutter-speed reflections show us what interests us, what we fear, what we long for, what we think at that moment. Of course, a new movie becomes the next obsession, or a war starts, or the stock market slides, and you have to throw out the old issues. Radio may glom onto the latest happenings more quickly, but it stays on the surface. Books go deeper but make us wait too long. Magazines are, therefore, the happy medium (I love this!): They stay current and can go deep. (If anyone wants to argue for the still amateurish Internet, I dare you to read a 10,000-word analysis of anything online. Discourse on the Net is the best argument I know for why we need editors.)
I say all this to justify my purchase (on expense account) of the May issues of this year's four winners in the "Gen-eral Excellence" category (by circulation level, from larger to smaller). The envelope, please:
Vanity Fair: A well-written, stunningly illustrated journal that celebrates all that Christians used to dismiss as worldly (riches, celebrity, power).
Outside: A monthly guide for restless rich people who long for adventure--at least vicariously.
Wired: The monthly guide to cyber chic (Rolling Stone for the plugged-in generation).
I.D.: A bimonthly that bills itself as "The International Design Magazine" (i.e., lots of cool stuff pictured).
What's most interesting (cover stories).
Vanity Fair: A you-are-there interview with movie phenom Liv Tyler ("Wearing ...