Perhaps this explains why I've never seen AARP The Magazine on their coffee table. I understand that AARP has an enormous audience to satisfy -- the publication bills itself as "the world's largest circulation magazine" -- but in shooting broadly, it comes across more as Aging For Dummies than as the all-things-for-everybody resource it clearly aspires to be.
As painfully well-intentioned as most of the March/April issue's items are, few show much in the way of creative thinking or editorial foresight. The mag leads with the 746th "Helen Mirren is totally a grand dame, y'all" feature that has run in a print publication in the last six months; as the last to the table, it offers nothing new. It checks in with Joan Didion a full 14 months after The Year of Magical Thinking was originally published and conveys little that wasn't included in earlier stories (not to mention in the book itself). The "Movies for Grownups Awards" annual feature might have personality to spare, but if there's one thing this readership needs, it ain't more movie reviews.
AARP does worse on the advice front. Again, I realize that a gazillion-circ mag can't assume high intellectual capacity in its every reader, but many of the tips cross the line between practical and insulting to individuals with a double-digit IQ. Comfortable shoes and socks are identified as must-have accessories for any walking regimen, caffeine before bed is touted as a no-no for those with sleep issues, and a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is recommended for anybody interested in nutrition.
Get all that, Dad? By the time the March/April issue gets around to passing along remotely useful information (in the form of tech-y pieces about online medical information and digital music) most readers will long since have put down the mag and taken a nap. I kid, I kid -- they'll have written a lengthy letter to their Congressperson to complain that the sitting room has gotten drafty.
(If somebody can tell me how such cheap oldie-old-old gibes are any more demeaning than a duh-really pronouncement that "Junk is an impolite way to characterize heavily processed foods such as soft drinks, candy and snacks," I'd love to hear it.)
Odd decisions abound. For every well-rounded profile, like the one on an 86-year-old lifelong beach bum, AARP throws out three simple-minded items. The nadir is the piece in which some dude tells readers that we can better understand radical extremists if we just, like, sit down and rap with them, man ("We can see into the souls of others only if we take the trouble, and risk, to visit one another"). No, the piece wasn't authored by David Crosby.
On the design side, the mag throws out a bunch of illustrations, weirdly conveyed statistics (the mag orients the number 20 sideways as part of its attempt to note that 20 million Americans are afraid of needles) and, occasionally, an image so bizarre and inappropriate as to almost tantalize. I direct your attention to page 60 of the March/April issue, in which a woman who looks like Lt. Uhura from "Star Trek" sits wide-awake in bed as men dressed in full-body bunny rabbit costumes surround her, holding an alarm clock and a platter of milk and cookies. I'm not making this up. Maybe the bunny rabbits are supposed to be sheep? Whoever greenlit this pic needs counseling.
Perhaps these comments are a little unfair, as AARP The Magazine has an awful lot of members to take into consideration. Still, we're not evaluating AARP as an organization (nice work on the pharma lobbying, kids!); we're evaluating the way its flagship publication serves its readership. And in this regard, AARP The Magazine flails aimlessly. If you're sharp and reasonably informed, stay away.