Former British Cosmo editor Linda Kelsey is "shocked, bewildered and disgusted" by British women's magazines and their cover lines like, "I breastfeed my puppy" or "Lesbian Incest: My Sister and I Want A Baby."
In her article in (where else) the Daily Mail, she talks mainly about publications like Closer, That's Life!, and Take A Break — magazines that probably have more in common with the National Enquirer than Marie Claire. And she chalks up their emphasis on violence, incest, and gross things coming of people's butts to a bad climate for magazines in general:
Perhaps magazines no longer feel they can compete, so they flail around desperately for the lowest, most lurid and degrading stories they can find - attempting to shock and titillate readers into buying their publications.
This shock and titillation is damaging, she argues:
[W]hen Pick Me Up runs the coverline 'Stabbed 32 times cos of cruel girly gossip', the words are illustrated with a shiny kitchen knife, giving the story as much gloss as gore. We talk about the threat of knife culture, but in their sell, the magazines glamorise the weapons more than condemn them.
Here in the gun-happy US of A, "the rise of knife culture" actually sounds like a welcome change. Less so is Kelsey's prediction that "women themselves, by buying these toe-curling weeklies, are colluding in the view of themselves as worthless." If reading crap makes you worthless, anyone with Internet access is pretty well screwed. And when Kelsey offers an alternative to "Incest Couple - Sex With My Brother Feels So Natural" and "I had sex with my car," it's not Chekhov and the Economist. It's… more women's magazines. She writes:
I am deeply troubled at the loss of women's magazines as what I used to think of as a safe haven for women. The idea of a magazine as a girl's best friend, an entertaining pick-me-up, an aspirational forum for advice on how to look and feel your best, get the job you want - and, yes OK, with a few sex tips thrown in for good measure - seems to have disappeared [...]
My hunch - or rather hope - is that as the recession bites, people will want to know once more what to do with their leftovers, and that knitting needles will be put to use in turning a ball of wool into a sweater, rather than for stabbing your best friend's eyes out and living to tell the tale in a tawdry magazine.
A steady diet of stab and sob stories is probably bad for the soul, but the "aspirational forum" Kelsey remembers is no "safe haven" either. We'd rather read "'What was sticking out of his bum?" than "8 Things in Your Closet That Make You Look Chunky" (Cosmo Feb. '09) — at least some guy's horrible butt problems aren't going to make us insecure about our bodies or convince us we have to buy expensive shit. It's probably more worthless to spend all your time thinking about your appearance and man-pleasing abilities than it is to fill your head with incest — at least the latter makes a good story. And to be honest, Cosmo sometimes makes us want to stab our own eyes out.