• by December 12, 2008
A copy of Swindle had been placed in our room at a boutique hotel in Washington. OK, I thought as I began thumbing through the Los Angeles-based quarterly, it's one of those bicoastal magazines that doesn't show up in my native Flyover Country (Detroit). Turns out it can be had at Borders or Barnes & Noble; I might have missed it because it could show up on five different racks in five different stores: art, politics, popular culture, fashion, journalism.

Because it came at me from so many angles, I thumbed through it at random and the first few articles left me underwhelmed. But then I ended up reading the thing cover to cover.

My first impression of this mashup was Vanity Fair meets Mother Jones. What little advertising it carries is for the likes of Belvedere and Skyy vodka, Vans and Royal Elastics shoes and "Gossip Girl" must-haves like Fornarina and Tarina Tarantino. A pull-out, mini-poster-sized ad for Toyota's Scion brand featured the somewhat weird image of dozens of Scions lined up in the Nevada desert like hipster gridlock on the 405 or Cross-Bronx Expressway.

For the trust fund babies who haven't put it down by then, there are not-too-long articles about the Brown Berets ('60s-'70s agitators for Chicanos, a phrase I hadn't heard in decades); the gay Turkish community in Berlin; and an update on subway gunman Bernie Goetz, today a multifaceted activist mainly for vegetarianism and the welfare of New York City squirrels.

I came across a couple of clinkers at the outset. An article about the Communist graphical icon had this insight: "But the reality is that, for the labor movement, most workers no longer use hammers and sickles in their daily lives." There was a yawner of an interview with radio host and Ayn Rand wannabe Tammy Bruce. The cover story about oh-so-wacky "presidential candidate" Vermin Supreme plumbed depths of satire unseen since the heyday of Pat Paulsen.

But I pressed on and was rewarded, and it dawned on me that Swindle (this issue, at least) is about imagery and how it's used and abused. A piece about psychological operations (aka wartime propaganda) showed fascinating WWII images. There were stunning photos of "Miss Landmine," an actual pageant for women who lost their legs to landmines in the wake of Angola's civil war. There was a profile of Emory Douglas, who got his start with the Black Panther Party designing graphics and rose to become its Minister of Culture. And there were photos of New York subway cars in the '70s and '80s festooned with elaborate graffiti that Diego Rivera might have envied.

The most dramatic convergence of journalism and photography was Trevor Snapp's lengthy report on MS-13 and 18th Street, two gangs that have spread from L.A. to destitute neighborhoods in El Salvador, making virtual prisoners out of men like Diego, a former 18th Street member now trying to go straight by selling hot dogs from a cart. "The gangs are different here -- it's poorer, people don't dress nice, and they don't have a real code. They rape women here, cut people up, use grenades, leave heads on buses, and s--- like that."

All in all, time well spent (thanks to our D.C. hotel for what I presumed to be a "complimentary" copy of Swindle). I don't think I want to pony up $50 for six softcover issues (there's also a hardcover edition, putting Swindle in the exclusive company of coffee table books) but to my dismay I may not have the chance. When I clicked on "subscriptions" on its Web site, I was informed, "We are not currently taking any subscriptions at this time. Check back soon."

Hang in there, Swindle. You're good stuff. Maybe Fornarina could take out a double-truck?


Publisher: R. Rock Enterprises

Frequency: Quarterly 

Web site 

Next story loading loading..