Cigar Aficionado

A few minutes into my first read of Cigar Aficionado, I have but one burning question: Who the hell is Marvin R. Shanken, the mag's editor and publisher? Talk about vanity rags -- pictures of Shanken, an elderly bearded gentleman with a pudgy-mogul vibe, seem to be everywhere in CA's pages. He loves to pose with celebs and give himself silly names. There he is, the self-proclaimed "Shotmaker," on the golf course with Michael Douglas and Luis Tiant, in a story on weekend putting that walks the line between cutesy and annoying.
And guess who's doing the Qs in the cover Q&A with Arnon Milchan, the movie producer whose 120 or so films include "Pretty Women," "L.A. Confidential" and "JFK"?  As the story's intro informs us, this is the latest in Shanken's "ongoing series with men who normally don't give interviews" -- among them Fidel Castro and Michael Jordan.

In a quick Google search, Shanken comes up only as editor and publisher of CA and Wine Spectator magazines -- hardly heavy-duty journalistic chops. In fact, CA reads partly like the most boring of trade magazines. It has 15 pages of cigar photos and ratings, several long interviews with cigar manufacturers, and five pages of readers posed with their stogies, described in leaden captions ("The Buffalo Club Tobacco Commission continues its tradition of cigars with its annual black-tie cigar dinner held at the venerable Buffalo Club in Buffalo, New York.")

So is there something in the cigar smoke -- testosterone? -- that attracts such heavy-hitters to CA's pages?

Certainly, with its tagline "The good life magazine for men," CA uses the stogie as a symbol of all that's stereotypically masculine -- from sports to business to real estate. Everything, that is, except a heavy-breathing focus on women  -- who don't really exist in these pages except in a few shots of female cigar smokers.

In this leather-lined club car of a world I, with my girly-girl interests, feel lost. So I skip the "2008 Football Forecast," except to note that, along with the rest of the book, it features serviceable graphics. The interviews with sports figures like Keyshawn Johnson are also serviceable, if kind of long and bland. I look at the Jason Giambi article more carefully, wondering if he's got anything newsworthy to say about this year's baseball steroids hearings (see? I do know something - even if it's vague -- about sports). The piece jumps back and forth in time confusingly; I have to check other sources to realize that Giambi's apology about steroid use was several years ago. So all in all, there's nothing earth-shatteringly relevant in any CA articles.

The one exception is the aforementioned interview with Milchan, the showpiece of the mag. Here the long format, which otherwise had me itching to edit out extra words, works well. Milchan's full, verbatim responses provide a strong sense of the man's no-bullshit good humor and intelligence. His real-guy insights into movie-making include some good anecdotes, like a literal peeing contest between Robert DeNiro and director Sergio Leone. But what moves the interview beyond the voyeurism of most  film industry pieces is Milchan's fascinating take on Middle Eastern politics. An Israeli who worked behind the scenes in U.S.- Israel arms deals, Milchan says he'd broker peace the same way he got Rupert Murdoch and his arch competitor, Australian publisher Kerry Packer, to work together -- by focusing on the common interests of both. And I start to believe in him.

Reading that Milchan is also Shanken's friend makes me feel friendlier toward the narcissistic celebrity hound publisher. After all, he did bring me an interview with someone who can both talk profoundly about world politics and gossip about how his movies "make couples" --  like "Pushing Tin" and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," where Angelina first bonded with Billy Bob and Brad, respectively.

Published by:
M. Shanken Communications, Inc.
Frequency: Monthly
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