True or not, Caruso probably got out at the right time, as the November issue suggests that the title is well on its way to becoming a parody of itself, sort of like Details with more boogie boards and slightly fewer tweezed eyebrows. So as the mag searches for a new editorial capo, I figured: Hey, it's called Men's Journal. I'm a man, technically speaking. I'm a journal...ist. Maybe I can help. So here's my five-point plan to resuscitate a title that, only issues ago, was quite the phlebotomist's-reception-room companion.
1. For the love of all that is holy, ditch the "Live the Adventurous Life" tagline. Even before the magazine expanded its editorial embrace to accommodate sweater spreads, the line sounded like something out of the North Face catalog. Now, with features like "The 50 Greatest Health & Fitness Websites" (ooh--mouse-clicking peril!) and "The 10 Coolest Mountain Towns in America" (rewritten press releases accompanied by images lifted from Coors Light print ads!), the tagline doesn't describe, encapsulate or inspire. I'd replace it with something that echoes the affirming, vaguely manly tone of nearly every item, maybe "Stories About Things!" or "Hey, That's a Great Belt!"
2. At least pretend that the editorial-product-placement folks aren't breathing down your necks. Part droopy travelogue, part warm-and-fuzzy road test, the "Adventure: Road Trip" piece on driving in Barcelona contains uncompromising commentary like "I've got the 2006 Range Rover Sport SUV at my disposal--and an epic landscape to test it on" (preposition police, cleanup in aisle four) and "In the mud, the Sport is a champ." The message sent: We can't write or drive credibly.
3. "Gear" is merely another word for "stuff." Please stop saying "gear." Please. You want to worship at the altar of winter skin therapies and home fitness equipment, that's fine. Just stop making "gear" the default phraseology for jackets, skis, snowboards, toques, knapsacks, gun racks, bathroom-tile grout and the contents of whatever other semi-related product category you choose to flog.
4. Take it easy on the anecdotal leads. Caruso's "Secrets of the Deep" swan song begins with the following Expository Writing 101 doozie: "Scuba diving is like waking up in a dream: Fantastic colors and shapes drift by, everything moves in slow motion, and the only sound is your own breathing." Not to be topped, the mightily surnamed Matthew Power starts his meditation on filming ski stunts in Kashmir with, "I am standing in waist-deep snow, in a forest beneath the glaciated peaks of the northern Himalayas... In front of me a cabin with a chimney pokes out from a mound of white powder--it's like being inside a gingerbread fantasy, or a snow globe." Both practically scream I AM WRITING! WATCH ME WRITE!
5. More personality, less personalities. Devoting six pages to a Phil Jackson motorcycle trek through New Zealand is the mass-market-journalism equivalent of self-mutilation. The November issue connects, however, with two pieces that highlight the writer's wit and eye for detail at the expense of extreme-buff-outdoorsy-sports-guy cliché: slumming gossip guy George Rush's account of Tunisia's annual Festival of the Sahara, and "The End of the River," a muted recollection of a river expedition gone bad. The latter in particular adds a human dimension missing from most of Men's Journal's accounts of globe-hopping shenanigans.
That's all I've got. Thank me later. Or don't.