Mean isn't "mean" in any sense of the word. In fact, the March/April issue offers plenty of clever and airy fare, its hipster pretensions notwithstanding. My problem with the publication may be precisely that: Tonally, it's a bit too welcoming, especially given the cultural-influencer 'tude it frequently affects.
Mean rarely ventures into the realm of the critical, preferring instead to let entertainment-world personalities speak for themselves. So when the mag highlights an "edgy" quote like "I'm an ass-kicking nerd!," it comes across as more desperate than caustic. An editor's-note quote from an Iggy & The Stooges song? Ooh, fierce!
I'll say this: Mean looks as striking as any title on the newsstand, with imaginative photography and high-end production values to spare. Take the elegant Samuel L. Jackson/Christina Ricci spread, which features the most immaculately airbrushed armpit in the history of modern publishing, or the shots of Jennifer Love Hewitt look-alike Mary Elizabeth Winstead frolicking in the forest. All artful, all good.
But while Mean might resemble an uber-sleek cultural journal in its design, it sure reads an awful lot like Entertainment Weekly. The main concern? Its choice of story subjects.
The folks behind "Black Snake Moan" and "Reno 911!" haven't been shy about promotion in recent weeks, so the mag's by-the-book interviews with them fall short of illuminating. Ditto for the sit-downs with Rainn Wilson, Paolo Nutini and David Lynch, all of whom are totally psyched (in the most jaded, artistic way, of course) to talk about their latest endeavors and not much else. Supposedly above-the-fray publications usually pride themselves on digging a whole lot deeper.
Mean also seems to have downed whatever magical potion Yoko Ono's record-label publicist has been pushing, as the March/April issue features yet another revisionist take, probably the 25th I've read in the last month, on the "musical legacy" of Ms. Lennon. Like everybody else, the mag presents a case that she was ahead of her time. News flash: No, she wasn't. Her music has always sounded and will always sound like the agonized shrieks of a recently de-tusked walrus. Enough.
More troubling is Mean's refusal to do a whole lot with the individuals on hand. Q&As, as anyone who has ever assembled one knows, are easy; they're the editorial equivalent of a peanut butter sandwich. Mean, however, presents Q&As and not much else, which suggests either a profound lazy streak or a stubborn refusal to consider the possibility that its readers want a bit more in the way of insight.
This sounds dopey coming from a guy who writes "mean" things on a regular basis, but I went into today's exercise wanting to like Mean. I loved Movieline during its Joe Queenan/Lawrence Grobel glory era; everything I'd heard about Mean suggested that it was a worthy heir to that wit/wisdom throne. Judging from the March/April issue, Mean has a long way to go before it can be mentioned in such lofty company.
Check out our previous take on the magazine here.