You remember magazines, right? They can still be found, on racks in bookstores and in airports. That’s where I got my latest, the October/November issue of Esquire, while Sue and I were waiting for our flight from Minneapolis to Miami, by way of Atlanta. I bought the magazine for two reasons. First, I had been a subscriber a long time ago, before ending my association with the publication due to its increasingly smug, left-leaning politics, but found myself curious about what it had to say nowadays. Second, it had Idris Elba on the cover (“The World’s Coolest Man”) and a sidebar promised an article about “The Raw Truth about the Forever War.” Having written about Afghanistan and our two-decade conflict there, I was interested to see what this writer’s take on it would be.
The cover price, $6.99, was somewhat daunting, but I bought it anyway, along with a bottle of tea and a small bag of beef jerky. Sue had already vetoed the idea of having lunch, even as we walked through the gate and past people dining on what looked to be entirely acceptable burgers and French fries. We will be sailing tomorrow on Richard Branson’s new cruise ship, Scarlet Lady, and I am informed we will be all about fitness on this voyage, taking advantage of the ship’s advertised focus on exercise classes and healthy eating.
But I digress, a nasty habit that readers of this blog may have noticed (in earlier entries, at least; I think I’ve improved on that in recent years). I already had the two most recent issues of Men’s Health in my carry-on briefcase, but I thought that the venture into the pages of today’s Esquire, brief as it might turn out, would be entertaining and perhaps even informative.
Within a few minutes of sitting down with it, I found that some things had not changed from my heyday as a subscriber back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. The pages are still chock-full of ads for liquor, men’s clothing and wristwatches. The vibe is definitely geared toward a reader who would identify with the Millennial crowd, meaning I’m at least one generation too old to be considered hip enough to be acceptable as a reader. Glancing around to see if any 30-something men were frowning at me and finding none (they were all staring at their phones), I continued my exploration.
There were things that were entirely alien to me. A short piece entitled “No One Saw It Coming” had a subtitle that was in English, but might as well have been in Sanskrit, for all the sense it made to me: “Loro Piana’s collab with Hiroshi Fujiwara might seem like a strange pairing. That’s exactly why it’s so good.” The article, it seems, has something to do with fashion. The accompanying photos were of two young men and one woman, wearing clothes that my wife and I wouldn’t wear in a hundred years. The next article was something even scarier, describing the joys of using a “carryall,” which is basically a purse for men.
Ironically enough, the next page featured a full-page ad for yet another wristwatch, this one endorsed by Aaron Rodgers, quarterback of the Green Bay Packers. He has been much in the news in Wisconsin this week after it was revealed he had tested positive for COVID and had not been vaccinated. He will miss tomorrow’s game in Kansas City and perhaps next week’s against Seattle. On the radio the other day, Rodgers defended his decision not to get “vaxxed,” claiming his medical team had advised against it, citing his allergies to certain chemicals in two of the types of vaccines, and the health risks, albeit small, of the one he apparently wouldn’t be allergic to. His defense, though, wasn’t nearly enough to placate the moralists in the sports-media class, especially Nancy Armour of USA Today, who seems to have been on a shrill crusade to tear down almost everybody in the sports world since her all-time favorite player, Colin Kaepernick, was cut by the 49ers. (Shrill to the point where I had started to wonder whether she might be sleeping with Kaepernick, but rather than wonder about that too much–the imagery is kind of scary–I simply stopped reading her paper.)
There were several pages featuring evaluations of men’s skin and hair products, which I found useful, as Sue has long since convinced me to take better care of mine. Since I have a full cabinet of said products at home I breezed past that one, coming to the long-form-article section at last. Leading off was a piece by a gent named Joshua Ferris, who I found out is 40 years of age and a writer. He titled his article “The Beauty in Lying to Yourself,” and it’s a several-hundred-word lament about his father’s death and his own apparent helplessness in the face of modern challenges like “broken government, police brutality, a global pandemic, climate change,” as his subtitle suggests. Inside, he started losing me when he noted that Donald Trump was elected on the day Ferris turned 42: “How many illusions vaporized that day?” Two paragraphs later, he notes, “Men like me—white, straight—had to abandon the illusion that we stood for anything good.” I sighed. Same old Esquire, I thought, starting to think about what else I might’ve been able to buy with my $6.99.
A page later, an old acquaintance greets me. He’s Charles P. Pierce, a columnist I seemed to remember from my earlier romance with the mag. A flaming liberal in those days, it seems he has grown even grumpier in the decades since, which I’ve found to be a common thing among many liberals these days. Things apparently aren’t going according to plan, and Pierce takes a few hundred words and most of a page in a sarcastic rant about the current makeup of the Supreme Court, and the certain calamity it is beginning to inflict on the country. The unspoken conclusion Pierce wants us to draw, evidently, is that if the court were tilted in his preferred direction, an age of enlightenment, peace and reason would surely follow.
Ah, well. Getting past Pierce, a few pages later is a welcome sight: the alluring face of Padma Lakshmi, the Indian-born celebrity chef and model, with her contribution to what was my favorite part of the magazine, a section called “What I’ve Learned.” Finally, after Padma, is the article on Elba, in which I learn that he’s not being seriously considered for the role of James Bond, now that Daniel Craig has taken his last turn as 007. Elba, 49, thinks he’s too old to play the part, thereby avoiding the certain cries of reverse-cultural-appropriation that would come if he, a man of African descent, were to play the part of a man who has for nearly seventy years been portrayed in books and movies as a Caucasian. Elba is the son of West African immigrants and was raised in London, so at least he has the English thing going for him if Bond is in his future; most of the actors who’ve played Bond, and even more who’ve been considered for the role, have not been English.
Would it bother me to see Elba playing Bond? Not really. He’s a fine actor and could definitely pull off the important parts of Bond’s persona: the suave look, the action, even the romance, fleeting as it is. I don’t get bent out of shape when filmmakers decide that their take on a fictional character is going to be a different than previous versions. For real-life characters, that’s another thing entirely. You wouldn’t have a short, fat guy playing Abraham Lincoln, after all. But then again, the creator of the hit musical Hamilton made a deliberate decision to go with an all-black cast portraying historical figures who were all white, and nobody said anything about that. Around that same time, though, the Marvel TV series Iron Fist was criticized by culture warriors for hiring a Caucasian actor to play the lead role of Danny, a young man trained since childhood in Asian martial arts. Even though the source material in the comics did indeed have Danny as a white guy, that was not how it was supposed to be, they said: a master of Asian martial arts should be Asian. Double standard, anyone?
I closed with the well-written reflection of our recently-concluded war in Afghanistan, in which the author, Matt Gallagher, a veteran himself, talks to fellow vets ranging from General David Petraeus, at one time commander of all U.S. forces in country, to a young soldier still on active duty who was deployed there very recently. Also interviewed are an Afghan man who once served as an interpreter for our troops before being awarded a special visa to emigrate here, and a young woman who had just fled the country in the wake of the Taliban takeover. As balanced as the article seems, though, the writer can’t help but praise President Biden’s decision to withdraw our troops from the country, after nearly 20 years; perhaps it’s a requirement by the magazine’s editorial board that any contributor must write at least a few words supporting the magazine’s politics. To be fair, only a paragraph later, Gallagher criticizes the “lack of planning” that was obvious to virtually everyone who was paying attention. “Did it have to end like this?” he asks, and then answers the question as we all know it should be, even if our leaders don’t want to acknowledge it: “No, it did not.”
Interestingly enough, Gallagher also makes an appearance in one of the Men’s Health issues I brought along, and in this piece he also takes on the Afghan War. This time, though, he lets his subjects do the talking: a veteran from each of the four major US armed services. There’s not a whiff of politics in Gallagher’s introduction to the men and their stories.
I finished the magazine during the two-hour flight to Atlanta. Gallagher’s piece was informative, but not enough to convince me to re-subscribe to the publication, even though the annual rate would certainly be cheap. Back in the days before I took up housekeeping with Sue (a rather dedicated non-reader of magazines), I subscribed to so many that I actually lost count. It seemed that every other day I was writing a check to renew a subscription, or filling out a card to get another one coming to my mailbox. Finally, I decided it had to end. I quickly culled the herd down to a select few, and even discarded my 40-year collection of Playboy magazines, which made Sue and our trash collector very happy.
I guess I’m not that much of a magazine guy anymore. Even the very few I get tend to pile up in my rack at home, and they do cost a few bucks, and let’s face it, most or all of their content can be found online, and even if you have to buy a subscription to get it, it’s still probably cheaper than the print version. In a way, it’s sad. Magazines were once the kings of American lifestyle journalism: Life, Look, Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, and yes, even Playboy. But this is a new age, as my fellow travelers seem to remind me as they burrow ever deeper into their phones.