I was quite disappointed when, two weeks ago, news of Vitality publishing’s dire finances was met with celebration. Vitality, who acquired Loaded magazine off IPC in 2010, were selling off its titles after going into administration, and if a buyer couldn’t be found, titles like Loaded may cease publishing, prompting people to cheer, whoop and stir more newt eyes into steaming cauldrons across the Twittersphere.
The story takes a bizarre turn, however, as it’s been reported that Loaded’s been bought - by Paul Baxendale-Walker, a multimillionaire businessman whose hobbies include creating unusual tax schemes and directing, producing and starring in adult films (the adult film industry can be a bit hard to break into, so for any budding porn actors reading, I say follow Paul’s advice and build your own sexual media empire first. Even if you have man-tits you can be sure you’ll land a part).
The idea is that Loaded can be married into an existing multi-platform brand of adult films, TV channels and social media strands so that it makes enough money to stay afloat.
To me, it doesn’t sound like a happy marriage at all - it sounds like a grizzly arranged marriage where the groom (/Loaded) is an ill fit for the bride (/porn company) and everyone wonders if the groom will run away with that woman (/small independent media company) he had his eye on two weeks ago.
But, like the most watertight of arranged marriages, money talks. So Loaded is going to have to make a few changes to fit into this new family, including more ‘Page 3’ content and branded TV channels. Does anyone else feel like it’s taking the magazine backwards a few years?
There have been countless attempts to tackle the problem with male magazines, stemming from an urge to re-correct or redefine modern masculinity and male sexuality. A ‘new man’ emerged from an age when we had the internet for things like glamour models sitting in a bath full of baked beans. The new man got his rocks off for free, so magazines USP of having beautiful women wasn’t enough anymore. Magazines had to be more, and mean more, while reaching more people than ever. They had to reflect a ‘man’s lifestyle’.
But I think there’s always been a lack of understanding about what men need, or indeed want, from their magazines, leading to countless buzzwords and ideals being lit and hurled into the air like rogue fireworks. Which one will catch on? Which ones will scar male identifies? Let’s find out!
Do you moisturise? Of course you do. But are you metrosexual? Probably not. And even if you are a tan-smearing, tooth-bleaching, eyebrow-plucking modern man, you’re unlikely to conform to the idea of being metrosexual because it’s not an aspirational lifestyle; it’s an object of ridicule. People use it as an insult. As they do with manbags, bromances, mandom (it’s our Girl Power, I’m told) and SPURMOs (Single, Proud, Unmarried Man Over thirty). These aren't tribes to be affiliated with because, quite frankly, they don't exist. Men are made of more than the sum of their traits.
A media-led ideal of creating and naming male tribes has been more damaging than ever, but it’s the only way companies can justify their product, arguing they are relevant because they are the only men’s lifestyle title doing what they do. ‘Us? We’re the only pan-ironic take on pseudo-street culture’. Or whatever.
Pigeon-holing men and their habits fails to look at the way we react with different people in different places and at different times of the day. In one of my old offices, there was a big poster on the wall declaring WHO our reader was. They have a car. They spend money on things like Ralph Lauren and read the Financial Times. They DO NOT read the Mail Online Sidebar of Shame, presumably because mindless gossip, scandal and Miley Cyrus walking down the street drinking a Starbucks isn’t for clever, wealthy men. Oh, you can see her thong? No, no, Mail Online is trashy, men wouldn’t want to see that, or Rihanna’s holiday pictures. What tosh. Let’s read about cars and how to make money picking your nose.
My point is that many male lifestyle magazines have tried valiantly to validate themselves by pinning down specific male demographics. How old, where do they live, what do they earn, what do they think. This in a world where I wear the same aftershave as my dad, he lends me CDs and our interests and lifestyles are more similar than we’d care to admit. I’ll ring on a Sunday and ask what he thought of That Column in That Supplement we get in our newspaper. We’ll text during Later With Jools Holland, and when I go home I’ll drop off any of the magazines I’ve been reading.
The lad culture that was so persistent (and marketable) in men’s lifestyle titles has shrunk its head of late; FHM’s redesign last year saw it embrace street culture and a big redesign, while even upmarket titles such as Esquire changed their image. Since its inception as the first 'lads mag' Loaded has carried more than just adult content, with interesting interviews (Gary Oldman was on the cover of the launch issue in the 90's) and strong opinions that, if you took the time to read, would challenge what lies within the hallowed pages of these mens magazines (German Greer, Oliver Reed and Paul Smith
have also contributed to the magazine).
Loaded carried clever, interesting articles from clever, articulate people. Revamping it to a model that many men feel distant towards may undo much of its progress, and tying it together with a porn company? It couldn’t be less aspirational if it tried.
Though it will be easy to judge the result by its cover, it’s important to remember that as a magazine, there can be more to Loaded than the baked beans dripping down the fron. And though they might be embracing the Page 3 culture many magazines have now shyed away from, heres hoping Mr Baxendale-Walker leaves some of the good bits in.