New York

New York is a hell of a town, but it hasn't been much of a magazine for some time now.

For all its recent tottering on the precipice between relevance and irrelevance, however, it still enjoys genuine media cachet. I'm not sure why this is. Maybe a generation of pundits and marketers remember it from its 1990s glory era, when the publication actually anticipated trends rather than rehashing ones already identified elsewhere. Or maybe self-obsessed media types simply can't help but take seriously anything involving the words "new" and "york."

Whatever the case may be, the August 15 issue of New York showcases both the mag's best and worst tendencies. Clearly the publication has retained its sense of humor, as evidenced by the faux New York Post headlines chronicling Murdoch-related turmoil ("Bad Heir Day") and the snark-saturated "Approval Matrix," with its brilliant/despicable X axis and highbrow/lowbrow Y axis. Cultured chuckles abound; whether our sprat-witted non-NYC brethren will join the city elite in those chuckles, of course, is one for the sociologists to tackle.

Additionally, New York still boasts an incredibly agile fleet of writers, with Kurt Andersen's "The Imperial City" column remaining one of magazine journalism's mandatory regular reads. Here, he offers a sharp philosophical assessment of counterterrorist racial profiling in the NYC subways, likely inflaming the PC police with his suggestion that maybe the practice isn't entirely fascist or irrational. New York's arts critics are equally sharp - especially TV dude John Leonard, whose bright, involved appraisal of Showtime's "Weeds" is more than the "Desperate Housewives" knockoff deserves.

Alas, then one reaches the features. Maybe I caught New York on an off week (no, I don't subscribe), but the three showcase stories in the August 15 issue veer between unsuspecting self-parody and chasing-the-zeitgeist obliviousness. The mag first offers yet another humorless incantation about how Wal-Mart's presence may ruin New York City - but wait, kids, maybe it won't! Then there's the blatant, obligatory "Gary Sheffield doesn't do the conformity dance" story on the Yankee slugger... which, of course, has been written and rewritten by equally smitten reporters at each of his five MLB pit stops. To answer your question: Yes, all of us writer people are absolute suckers for hall-of-fame caliber athletes who don't seem to have a verbal filter.

These two features, however, feel like Economist material next to the mag's selection of the 50 Most Beautiful New Yorkers. On the cover - which offers a super-close-up of Lydia Hearst that makes her resemble Aimee Mann's blotchy younger sister - New York plays up the concept as mindless summer entertainment ("Superficial? Hey, it's summer. Sit back and enjoy the scenery."). Why, then, do the editors feel the need to accompany the oh-so-artful photos of waitresses and painters and salespeople with a multi-page essay on perception and beauty and other geocultural claptrap?

As for the Beautiful People, most of them appear to look an awful lot like you and me (well, you, anyway), except that their jeans hang off their hips just so. A twinkly-eyed shot of one of the candidates is accompanied by the caption, "Petite, cute as a button, and perfectly coordinated"; only the absence of an exclamation point keeps it from being Seventeen-worthy. I'm guessing that New York's editors would sooner discard their passes to the Fashion Week tents than see themselves mentioned in the same breath as a giggly girlie pub.

Ultimately, I have no idea where New York should be ranked in the magazine food chain. Alternately meatier than a Luger porterhouse and more sugary than any Coney Island concoction, New York seems to be in the midst of an identity crisis of sorts. Go ahead and wait it out if you've got the patience and/or a subscription commitment that doesn't expire until 2009. For me, it's waiting-room grist at best.

Next story loading loading..