Commentary

Family Circle

Just as I don't know anybody who watches Jay Leno or listens to Faith Hill, I don't know a single person who reads Family Circle. In fact, I don't think I've ever encountered the publication in a setting other than a supermarket checkout-line display. You'd think that maybe I'd have seen a copy laying around the dentist's waiting room or languishing on the perch behind my grandmother's toilet, right? Nope. When I grabbed the December issue of Family Circle (at the supermarket, natch), it was the first time I'd ever come in physical contact with the title. As far as megasummits go, this wasn't exactly Begin/Sadat, or even Hulk Hogan/Ultimate Warrior.

If somebody set out to design a magazine with the singular goal of warding off imbeciles like me, Family Circle would be it. Power-packed with recipes (I eat lots of toast), design ideas (my walls are whiter than Sigourney Weaver) and parenting tips (how was I supposed to know that my 17-month-old nephew can't ingest candy corn?), Family Circle touches on just about every aspect of suburban existence that doesn't remotely interest me right now. Too, it does so in a manner so cloying, so mawkish that I advise my fellow cynical fatheads not to open the magazine without some kind of bile receptacle at the ready. Me, I used a top hat.

For those with more of a homebody sensibility, however, the December issue of Family Circle delivers on its cover promise of "Christmas JOY" (note: not Chanukah or Kwanzaa JOY--Christmas JOY). The cover, in fact, is practically an ode to high-spirited, non-Semitic holiday jollity, what with a ten-pack of gingerbread Christmas trees arranged in the shape of--get this--a Christmas tree! The cover lines rhapsodize about "easy" entertaining and "perfect" presents, as opposed to "forced family mirth" and "trinkets bought on the cheap, their meager charms underscoring the emotional decay within our marriage."

Inside, the content is no less warm and affirming, right down to the aw-shucks-ain't-they-adorable snapshot of editor in chief Linda Fears and her family. The mag's target audience should find an awful lot to clip-n-save here, whether the pithy "Kids' Health" blurbs or the piece offering tips on how to avoid "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" scenes at the Christmas table (again: not the Chanukah or Kwanzaa or Boxing Day table). Family Circle also remains the rare publication cognizant of potential budget crunches among its readership: of the 33 products featured in a three-page accessories spread, only three boast a sticker price in excess of $100.

From a design perspective, Family Circle prizes clarity over artfulness. The "Holiday Hit List" feature doesn't pose a challenge to Lucky on the conspicuous-consumption front, but it presents the product booty clearly enough. Less successful are the few places in which the mag gets a bit flashier, such as the powerfully unsubtle illustration of a gas can inscribed with INDIGESTION (for a story about heartburn). If you're going that route, why not just use FART? The publication's design minions also cram a bunch of skin powders, gels and creams into a single shot, which resembles nothing if not a roadside pile of sediment.

Apropos of exactly nothing, how many times do you think the word "sex" has found its way into Family Circle during the mag's 70-odd years of publication? I'd set the over/under at 4.5... Come to think of it, the over/under for "over/under" would probably fall around 2.

So yeah, I don't "get" Family Circle--and as a booze-guzzlin', barb-slingin' member of the East Coast liberal media super ninja elite, I'm not supposed to. But if you're into huggy Christmas niceness (once more, with feeling: not Chanukah or Kwanzaa or Boxing Day or Festivus niceness), Family Circle should prove a delightful companion for your post-caroling cooldown.

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