Commentary

Shock

In case you haven't heard, I officially became a publishing-world power broker last week. One day after I said some not-nice things about a dumb stupidhead magazine, its corporate sugar daddy decided to shut the darn thing down. Clearly anxious about crossing my path, the company even H-bombed another of its publications that morning, as if to preemptively appease me -- the way a deposit of virgins in grass skirts might appease a bubbling volcano.

Never mind that this column boasts a circulation of eight, nor that the recently deceased had to have known they were in deep doo-doo (they weren't invited to relocate to mom and dad's shiny new tower with their successful siblings, according to one report). No, it was my words that sparked the removal of the feeding tube. It was me. Me. Me me me me me me. Me! Let this be a lesson to every publisher in this or any other galaxy: you exist only because, in my infinite mercy, I allow you to.

Today, then, I cast my feral, rabid gaze upon Shock, a publication that seems to be doing quite an admirable job of shooing away readers and advertisers without my assistance. The mag's defining motif is shocking photos -- which, as the magazine makes abundantly clear on both its cover and in its October editor's note, have not been altered in any way. These photos, the mag claims, "will blow your eyes out of their sockets."

Here's the thing, though: While some of the depictions might offend people of delicate sensibilities (yo, great-aunt Helen -- holla!), most will not. And nothing between the covers of the October issue will make the likely audience of 20-something males, numbed by years of BIZARRE and OBSCENE crap on the Internet, so much as bat an eyelid. Indeed, Shock has given itself the unenviable challenge of shocking the unshockable.

It doesn't help that the magazine makes promises it doesn't keep. Take the October cover: On it, Shock touts "Carmen Electra Wet and Wild" and "Celebrity Assaults." The former item features the fetching trollop-about-town with a wet spot on her tush, which the mag hypothesizes has something to do with the involuntary vacation of her bladder. The latter, on the other hand, offers a few tame shots of celebs like Nicole Richie and Bruce Willis throwing water at the paparazzi. Dude, if a mag named Shock promises me "assault," I'm expecting blood, sputum and fragments of bone and sinew, not Jude Law in the throes of a mild hissy-fit. The mag earns further demerits for the sad little caption that accompanies the Willis pic ("A scene from 'Die Hard V: Lame Vengeance'").

As for the supposedly shocking photos, let's rank them in terms of offensiveness. There's one of a storage room containing neatly stacked and covered bodies from a years-ago massacre in Bosnia (wait a second -- people are capable of great cruelty to one another? There's no historical precedent for this); one of a developmentally disabled girl chained to a chair (ditto); one of an armless guy riding a motorcycle (isn't that more inspiring than shocking?); one of a farmer with two lizards dangling out of his mouth, ostensibly as a "bizarre cure" for his sagging libido (what, he can't just watch Rachael Ray like the rest of us?); one of lambs caught in a mudslide (mud is icky); and one from Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series (whoa! Karma police, arrest these men!).

Each of the photos is appended with a cookie-sized chunk of text that, oddly, downplays the prurient/grisly/distasteful content in favor of sober-minded explanation. I mean, somebody has told these guys that the Fox network exists, right? That any number of Internet sickos probably post far, far worse on a daily basis?

Shock isn't beyond salvation. The magazine can be extremely clever at times (a "Robots -- They're Just Like Us!" spread) and serves up saucy Q&As with a former FBI terrorist official and the proprietor of deadbodyguy.com. Also, given that the mag consists primarily of photos plucked from the wire services -- and thus probably costs about 72 cents to produce -- it looks surprisingly sharp. Most of the photos are afforded ample space, plus the designers have devised a layout equal parts tabloidy and traditional.

Still, until Shock either gets considerably nastier or ups the giggles at the expense of the grody, it likely won't find much of an audience. Nobody's aspiring to great art here, but I imagine the editors would prefer that readers react with something other than a yawn.

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