Mag Bag: The Subtext of ESPN's Body Issue

The Subtext of ESPN's Body Issue

If you want to get publicity and sell magazines, naked flesh is still the way to go -- as demonstrated by Rolling Stone's recent cover story on "True Blood." The same strategy is working for ESPN The Magazine as well: USA Today interviewed editor Gary Belsky about the goal of the second annual "Body Issue," featuring celebrity athletes posing nude, save for various carefully placed pieces of sporting equipment. It hits newsstands Oct. 8.

Among other things, the interview covered a question of obvious interest to media types: Is the Body Issue intended to compete with Sports Illustrated's legendary Swimsuit Issue?

Belsky claims "this is not about competing with the Swimsuit Issue... One is mostly models who are in swimsuits. We are only athletes who are often in far less than swimsuits. More importantly, it's an exploration and a celebration of the athletic form. This is about athletes. The Swimsuit Issue is about swimsuits. It's certainly been a boon to our business."



I must regretfully disagree with some of these statements. In particular, it's clearly not true that "the Swimsuit Issue is about swimsuits"; it's about hot babes. I would suggest that the proportion of Swimsuit Issue readership composed of women actually browsing the swimsuits is vanishingly small. Indeed, in light of how ludicrously skimpy the "swimsuits" tend to be, it might be more accurate to say that the Swimsuit Issue is about the relative absence of swimsuits.

Let's be honest: this is about naked people. On that note, Belsky's attempt to distinguish between ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue was interesting, as much for what he didn't say. In fact, he skipped what seems to me to be the most obvious difference: the Body Issue includes photos of men, and the Swimsuit Issue doesn't. True, the now-defunct Sports Illustrated for Women used to have a Swimsuit Issue (featuring male athletes rather than models), but this always seemed like a half-hearted attempt to even the gender exploitation score, especially in comparison to the media event that is the female Swimsuit Issue.

I don't know why no one ever mentions this important differentiator for the two titles. Maybe they don't want to remind (straight) male readers they will have to flip past some naked guys. I'm pretty sure most straight men still don't believe it's possible to abstractly appreciate beauty in their own gender, whereas women do all the time. But the fact remains, dudes: you're looking at dudes.

Better Homes and Gardens Gets Revamp

Meredith Corp.'s flagship Better Homes and Gardens is getting a makeover with the October issue, intended to give the magazine a "more impactful, contemporary and friendly look." The redesign, a result of collaboration between staffers and Pentagram, a leading design firm, includes updated navigation, a friendlier approach, easier-to-read formatting, and new graphics that allow ideas and photography to stand out. On the content side, the revamp includes a new "Know-How" feature that delivers practical solutions in home, garden and food. According to MIN, the magazine is up 3% in pages through October 2010.

Future US Launches Maximum Tech

Future US, a special-interest media company, has unveiled Maximum Tech, a new quarterly magazine and online channel covering personal technology. With print and online editions, Maximum Tech is designed to help readers make informed buying decisions and get the most out of gadgets and technological advancements through in-depth reviews, hands-on lab testing, Maximum PC-style "techsplanation" articles and how-to guides. The quarterly magazine has a cover price of $9.99, while the site content is available for free online at Key advertisers supporting the print and online rollout include Sprint, Samsung, Intel, nVidia, and Patriot Memory. 

Aubry Promoted at Here Media

Jonathan Aubry has been promoted to publisher of The Advocate Group by owner Here Media, a leading gay media company, from his previous role as senior director for branded entertainment and partnerships.  Aubry will be responsible for directing advertising sales and strategic partnerships for The Advocate, as well as its various brand extensions, including its popular Web site and its new TV and online newsmagazine, The Advocate On-Air. He will also oversee the brand's new branded entertainment and mobile platforms.

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