I need a breath of Oxygen
When I look at “women’s magazines” I see one message front and center, every time: buy. No matter how many pages the volume is in total, you can guarantee that you’ll have to wade through no less than a dozen (and often upward of 100) pages of advertisements before you reach the Table of Contents… which is followed by still more ads. Once the articles start the distribution is more even-handed, but what qualifies as content?
There are teams of people who laboriously compile and arrange these spreads, featuring products so that other women will want to buy them. Sure, sometimes it’s ‘get the look for less’, but even in this economy you will get a page like More’s “Cuff Love”. Every bracelet save one is listed as “price available on request”–meaning they’re all well above the $3,995 of bracelet #6. It’s a beautiful picture–of things you cannot, and will never be able to, afford. Still, it tempts you–call and ask about that price, reader. You know you want to. You know you want to purchase a new wardrobe. That’s what being a woman is all about.
Nowhere have I seen this more blatantly, shamelessly on display than the Oxygen network’s 2011 “Upfront” campaign. These images were recently plastered all over New York City, and online. The ads are so sales-oriented one wonders if Oxygen’s ad agency assumes that all NYC residents are looking to buy advertising on the network. (And no, I’m not the only person to find them offensive and stupid.)
Must Watch. Must Connect. Must Buy.
Buy, buy, buy, as though that’s a compelling reason for us to tune in. Buying is equated with entertainment. Don’t worry about developing rich social commentary or enchanting fiction (you can just syndicate Glee and hijack iconic shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer), we, your target audience of women ages 25-34 (the so-called “Generation O“), will be quite happy with the weakest of reality TV. Oxygen’s featured lineup consists entirely of reality shows, with such gems as:
- The World According to Paris - Find out what Paris Hilton is really like with her family, friends, and love life, as she reaches a major turning point in her life.
- Tori & Dean: sTORIbook Weddings - Tori Spelling combines her party planning flair with her husband Dean McDermott’s bring-it-on attitude to take 8 lucky couples’ weddings from ordinary to extraordinary.
- All About Aubrey - With the support of her best friends and a team of industry professionals, Aubrey O’Day is ready to make a comeback and achieve her goals.
- Snapped - Oxygen’s hit true-crime series profiles the fascinating cases of women accused of murder.
- Top Model Obsessed - Now you can go behind-the-scenes of America’s Next Top Model.
- Jersey Couture - Jersey Couture is the ultimate dress-up show where running the family business means having a flair for fashion and accessories.
Paris Hilton, Tori Spelling and Aubrey O’Day (speaking of, who the fuck is Aubrey O’Day?!) have little to offer us besides their coy smiles and their ceaseless attempts to make still more money: they want us to buy their shit. Their shows are self-indulgent, voyeuristic commercials.
I won’t argue that there isn’t a market for this substanceless amusement. People enjoy peeking into the lives of others, and the cult of personality can push any product from insurance to shoes. Market forces prevail.
So what happens to the rest of us, who want something more than TV-lite? What is there for us to watch, or to read? I gave up on reading women’s magazines in 2004, before editor Jane Pratt left Jane magazine. Never a big player, the new editors tried to appeal to a wider audience—by putting ‘big seller’ starlets on the cover. Nicole Richie, Miley Cyrus and a wet-breasted Lindsay Lohan took over the space where Drew Barrymore and Jeanine Garafolo once reigned. Jane folded after a year of this pandering marketing strategy, but I stopped reading much sooner. I couldn’t drum up any interest in something with pre-divorce Jessica Simpson on the cover. The magazine failed when it alienated its core readership in an attempt to broaden its appeal.
I subscribed to Jane magazine because it was different (though Bitch magazine complained it wasn’t different enough, it was still better than the going standard). I was in high school when it first appeared, and I was overjoyed that these women were willing to print the word fuck (now everybody’s doing it, but it was fantastic back then). I loved that they were irreverent and funny. They were also serious, keeping tabs on politics, womens’ rights, your health, and even making sure readers knew how to change a tire. Though it had its share of ’20 ADORABLE dresses for summer!’ they were usually all priced within the tiny budgets of women starting out on their own, and the push to buybuybuy was never overwhelming. I could tell where advertising stopped and real content began.
I promise you here and now that Subterfuge will never go this route. We are a magazine, supported by ads, but not beholden to them. We’re here to feed our hearts and souls, not someone else’s wallet. Our dream is to grow into something influential and profitable (our editors and writers have bills to pay), without selling out.
Read. Connect. And fuck consumerism disguised as entertainment.