Then as now, I had no idea what makes teenage girls tick. That's why any romp through a magazine like Justine is inherently a high-risk activity for me, not to mention MediaPost's attorneys. I'm not a teenage girl. I don't know any teenage girls. I don't interact with teenage girls, at least not knowingly. Hence there's a possibility that the magic of Justine is lost on me and my cassette Walkman.
I don't think so, though. Why? Because crap transcends generational differences. You don't have to be a Hannah Montana cultist to appreciate (or not) Justine's bland recommendations, its by-the-numbers organizational framework, or its overcaffeinated layouts. You don't have to be able to text-message at the rate of 90 words per minute to cringe at the sad attempts to sound contemporary (about a Justin Timberlake line of backpacks, the mag writes, "The cool designs, plus the functional storage for your iPod or laptop, will make your first day back in school 'Justified'). Hear that, kids? Grandma said "functional." By the time you hit page 20 of the August/September issue, it becomes abundantly clear that Justine has no more idea how to connect with teenage girls than Henry Kissinger does.
Truth is, the mag dooms itself from the start, courtesy of its inexplicable decision to target two very different audiences: girls who haven't yet entered high school and those who are on their way to college. The anecdotal evidence suggests that quite a bit happens hormonally and emotionally during those years, yet Justine lumps every girl between 11 and 19 in the same basket. Worse, the mag chooses to dote on easy-to-digest surface issues (fashion, makeup, etc.). In Justine's world, things like sex and alcohol and acne and smothering peer pressure don't exist. It's a magazine for shut-ins, fantasists and reality deniers.
What troubles me even more about Justine is the giggly message it sends: Namely, that looking cute and doing whatever it takes to bag that double-dreamy third-seat trombonist is all that matters. The "Playing the Field" fashion spread notes how "not-too-bulky sweaters and tops will keep you warm and toasty while you cheer on your crush," while the one set on a ranch stresses how "that cowboy's not gonna flirt with himself! Grab the eye of any guy in your perfect pair of jeans." Why use your mind when your ass can do the heavy lifting, right? That's how I got this job.
Justine's memorable moments, ironically enough, are the ones it underplays. "10 Things I Learned in High School," written by a recent mag intern, feels authentic; it's the only evidence in the August/September issue that Justine employs anyone under the age of 45. Despite my jerkhead inclinations -- must...fight...urge...to...mock...teetotaling...nerdlings -- the profile of the S.A.D.D. (Students Against Destructive Decisions) kid o' the year shines the spotlight on an individual richly deserving of the attention.
On the other hand, when Justine stumbles upon a story idea that should be right in its wheelhouse -- visits with a trio of teenaged Broadway stars -- the mag practically wets itself: "Keep up the hard work and determination, Alexa, and we know you'll go far. You've got the talent -- just leave the big hair on Broadway!"
Listen, nobody expects profound meditations on the adolescent condition from Justine. But come on: a little fashion, a little celebrity, some generic coping tips - this magazine should write itself. It's a moot point. By glossing over the realities of circa-2007 teenage life and haphazardly targeting two different audiences, Justine confines itself to a pretty little fantasy world, and not a particularly interesting one at that.