Commentary

Southern Living

A regional magazine rises and falls on the enthusiasm of its constituency, sort of the way Dixieland did. Maybe that's why an awful lot of periodicals in this category have floundered over the years, yet Southern Living has continued to roll off the presses since 1966.

Perhaps it's because there just seems to be something different about the South. You don't often see T-shirts bragging about the Pacific Northwest or bumper stickers proclaiming the greatness of the Mid-Atlantic States. Quick! Name a ballad about the Great Lakes States. For better or worse, the South occupies a singular niche in American culture. So of course it was one of the first localities to propagate its own magazine.

And that magazine plays to such demographic strengths. This happens to be an excerpt from the "Keeping it Southern" editorial by Editor in Chief Eleanor Griffin in the June issue, but it might just as well be the mission statement for the publication itself: "[T]ransplants to our region may not go for sweet tea, but they surely go for our kinder, gentler approach to life." Like a lot of born-and-bred Yankees, I can't help approaching such a declaration a little squeamishly, while recalling all the un-kind, un-gentle moments in the history of the former Confederacy. But, hey -- this mag is about sections dubbed Home and Garden and Food and Healthy Living, so it's only fair to focus on the topics at hand.

And for the most part those are topics Southern Living covers well. What strikes you almost immediately is the art direction. The design is first-rate all throughout, and flipping these pages feels as breezy as sitting on an open veranda; nearly every image is bright and clean and colorful, and pastels rule. I'm a guy and I don't usually notice colors (to many, such a statement is redundant) but color seems to be an intrinsic editorial component in SL.

As for the words that bracket those colors, it's clear this is a staff that takes every assignment seriously. Unfortunately, so many regional mags feel quite fluffy -- many pages read like press releases have been cut and pasted and passed off as "content." Not so with SL. Take "12 Ultimate Trips for Kids," which includes age-appropriate advice and compelling reasons to visit such venues as Sun Studio in Memphis and -- credit where it is due -- the Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery.

Such meticulous attention to detail spills over into all the sections. What's more, while I don't think anyone would read SL without an interest in all things Southern, the magazine does seem to reach two audiences: those who live in the South and those planning on visiting.

Two features in this issue stand out. "How We Built Our Dream Cottage" contains eight full pages of photos and text detailing how one family remade a gorgeous beach home on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Many other magazines would cover this with two pictures and a sidebar, but SL clearly loves the nitty-gritty. The other feature -- "Float Through the Heart of Texas" -- is a good concept wedded to a strong execution. Author Les Thomas traced the Guadalupe River across Texas and details a multitude of interesting stops along the way.

A first-person account dubbed "My Week at Surf Camp" by Amy Bickers effectively offers the twin perspectives of a mother and her young son when they learn not to be afraid to fall. And the food feature of the month offers more than you ever considered doing with both blackberries and peaches.

That said, however, I have to take gentle exception to "BBQ 101." There's no question author Chris Lilly is an expert in the field, and his detailed recipes are ripe for emulation. But in the South barbeque often ranks much higher than mere sustenance and only slightly lower than the most firmly held beliefs. There's dry rub and wet rub, vinegar-based and tomato-based, sweet and smoky, and on and on. Tastes vary not just by state, but even within specific regions of certain states, such as North Carolina. So while Lilly's creations are first-rate, they represent a sliver of Southern barbeque, not the entire plate; it's as if a regional magazine in Dublin highlighted only one lager.

In the end, most SL readers will forgive such sins. Is today's South truly kinder and gentler? I'm not sure. But these pages are, and they transport the reader to such a place -- even if it doesn't exist.

MAG STATS Published by: Southern Progress Corporation (Time Inc.)

Frequency: Monthly (with extra Best Of Southern Living issue in December)

Web site:http://www.southernliving.com

6 comments about "Southern Living ".
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  1. Monica Bower from TERiX Computer Service, June 25, 2009 at 2:22 p.m.

    LOL are all Germans evil nazis and all Britons selfish freedom-hating monarchists too? Good review but the 'wow, people from the south are all bloodthirsty racists but this magazine is great' tone is nothing short of bizarre.

  2. Andrea Boettcher from GSD&M, June 25, 2009 at 2:49 p.m.

    Agree with the above comments - as I read the article, I kept thinking that this person seems to have not spent any decent amount of time in the South. Perhaps that's why he doesn't get it - those of us who were born and bred here get it, and the magazine makes more sense to us. What region of America doesn't have it's unkind, ungentle moments in the past (or present, for that matter)? I guess 'the south' brings up some bad imagery for the people who don't live here, it's just strange to see it emphasized so much in a review like this. The kind, gentle South does indeed exist.

  3. Michael Bowen from TMPG, June 25, 2009 at 5:28 p.m.

    As a North Carolina native now living in New York state, I think I'm allowed to say this: if the South is no longer the land of Confederates, why is the Confederate flag so universally displayed?

  4. Carolyn Hansen from Hacker Group, June 25, 2009 at 5:58 p.m.

    "As cruel as racial bias" -- seriously?

  5. Michael Perry from MHP Enterprises, Marketing Communications, LLC, June 26, 2009 at 8:21 a.m.

    Im confused. Is this a social comentary on the South or a review of Southern Living Magazine? I can't wait to read what he has to say about "Sunset Magazine."

  6. Andrea Boettcher from GSD&M, June 26, 2009 at 4:36 p.m.

    Mr Bowen - Maybe the confederate flag is 'displayed universally' where you grew up in North Carolina, but I assure you the majority of the south you will not see it displayed, and most people here look upon those who do with disdain.

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