Coming Clean

While I don’t subscribe, I read Esquire sometimes. But even when the situation is a five-minute wait at Supercuts and I’m just flipping through it, I feel kind of sleazy, because Esquire is gross in multiple ways that matter, all of them tangled such that it is difficult to theorize said grossness. But, a few theses.

First, it’s that the thing is called Esquire, which sounds like an all-schoolgirls wank mag from 1950s  Britain. (Hastag, Philip Larkin.) Second, it’s the high-definition postindustrial lifestyle they sell: men’s jeans that aren’t Levi’s and cost $200, beard lube, Dwayne Wade’s bowties, a main-page tab called “Women.” Sometimes the magazine verges on Maxim territory. Third, it’s the embarrassing fact that like a lot of young professionals (stop snickering) I am insecure about stuff like my tie pin and my car, which was built during the first Clinton Administration, and so I read Esquire and worry about my abs.

The rub, at least for this coastal intellectual, is that they employ serious writers like Charles Pierce and Stephen Marche, so you end up reading them even when you aren’t at Supercuts. Come on, they are covering the death of the mighty George Jones like crazy, which is the only way to cover No Show’s shuffle off the mortal coil. They published this little ethnographic masterpiece. They put D Wade in a magazine that sort of reviews a few books from time to time. Esquire was a reasonably serious publication for fifty years during the last century, and it still carries a little of that cachet.

A favorite piece is A.J. Jacobs’s “I Think You’re Fat” (2007), which I’ve used in a number of classes. America’s children love it. Jacobs investigates the fascinating Radical Honesty movement, which espouses the unworkable but compelling idea that even little white lies constitute an existential wimping-out:

The movement was founded by a sixty-six-year-old Virginia-based psychotherapist named Brad Blanton. He says everybody would be happier if we just stopped lying. Tell the truth, all the time. This would be radical enough — a world without fibs — but Blanton goes further. He says we should toss out the filters between our brains and our mouths. If you think it, say it. Confess to your boss your secret plans to start your own company. If you’re having fantasies about your wife’s sister, Blanton says to tell your wife and tell her sister. It’s the only path to authentic relationships. It’s the only way to smash through modernity’s soul-deadening alienation. Oversharing? No such thing.

Queasy? Me, too. Camus can do, Sartre is smartre, but Blanton is striking and Jacobs makes deft experimental use of the good doctor’s philosophy. Have at it. It will take you ten minutes. You dick.


3 thoughts on “Coming Clean

  1. I love Esquire. Maybe it’s because I don’t read the glossy – I just skim the online version whenever some blog I follow links to a piece in it.

    When I was teaching Writing 2, we did an exercise where we’d look at ads in different magazines and talk about audience/purpose/tone. I was surprised to discover that a lot of the lads’ mags actually have fairly decent long-form journalism, or at least content that touches on global affairs/politics/science/whatever. Such is NOT the case with mainstream women’s mags. It’s so unfair!

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