The National Magazine Awards: 3 Hours Better Spent Reading Magazines

Illustration for article titled The National Magazine Awards: 3 Hours Better Spent Reading Magazines

Cindi Leive, the editor-in-chief of Glamour and president of the American Society of Magazine Editors, is very attractive. She is very well-liked. She is, by all accounts — and I have more accounts of Leive's bedside manner than I ever asked for — a terribly nice, and intelligent, person. But Glamour is a essentially dumb and frivolous magazine and that fact, coupled with its nomination in the largest-circulation General Excellence category, probably inspired me to pay particular attention to her speech at last night's generally boring National Magazine Awards. And Cindi obliged my cynicism, opening the ceremony with comment to the effect of thanking all the ASME judges for all the many thousands of hours they put in reading magazines. "Thousands of hours of work," was, I believe, the phrase she used, followed by something to the effect of said "work" being performed, voluntarily, by very high-placed and important editors.


Now. I know you might want to read about Padma Lakshmi's dress or the new shoes I regretted buying or all the booze and the chocolate fountain or this 30 Rock guy I talked to or Obama Girl but the fact is I didn't get into this fucking business to do work, I did it because I loved magazines and it actually sort of saddened me to be reminded how much of a pain it is for editors to actually read magazines; to sit down and ponder stories that other editors had deemed good enough not simply to assign to a writer; not simply deem fit for publication in their storied professional magazines; but enter for consideration to the National Magazine Awards.

I have never understood awards shows. I hate watching the Oscars, for instance, because I have never seen enough decent movies, and feel the same way, but exponentially, about words that are worth reading. It was worthwhile only in that I will carry with me the misery of sitting on a dark balcony wearing a dress through an excruciating two-hour sermon on the Things I Could Have Read Last Year that weren't TMZ posts on Brandon Davis' fat brother.

Later in the evening an award was given for some sort of internet feature. Before the winner was announced, a presentation of the nominees cited the "Primacy of Digital News." I didn't catch this; my brain was preoccupied by the all abiding alcohol anticipation anxiety that generally follows a worshiping at the altar of the Primacy of Digital News, but an editor at a monthly magazine was annoyed. "Who do they think they're fucking talking to?" he asked. Perhaps they hadn't read Autumn of the Multitaskers, Walter Kirn's ASME-nominated essay on how "infinite connectivity" is "dumbing us down and making us crazy," or, for that matter, Stephen King's Last Word On Harry Potter, a nominee in the same category that appeared last summer in Entertainment Weekly:

The very popularity of the books has often undone even the best intentions of the best critical writers. In their hurry to churn out column inches, and thus remain members of good standing in the Church of What's Happening Now, very few of the Potter reviewers have said anything worth remembering. Most of this microwaved critical mush sees Harry — not to mention his friends and his adventures — in only two ways: sociologically (''Harry Potter: Boon or Childhood Disease?'') or economically (''Harry Potter and the Chamber of Discount Pricing''). They take a perfunctory wave at things like plot and language, but do little more...and really, how can they? When you have only four days to read a 750-page book, then write an 1,100-word review on it, how much time do you have to really enjoy the book? To think about the book? Jo Rowling set out a sumptuous seven-course meal, carefully prepared, beautifully cooked, and lovingly served out. The kids and adults who fell in love with the series (I among them) savored every mouthful, from the appetizer (Sorcerer's Stone) to the dessert (the gorgeous epilogue of Deathly Hallows). Most reviewers, on the other hand, bolted everything down, then obligingly puked it back up half-digested on the book pages of their respective newspapers.

Maybe it's time for a new tradition: Shit You Should Print Out. The weekend Bulk Pack. Shit too intelligent for me to find time to formulate anything remotely intelligent to say about. The full list of nominees is linked here.

I'll start with Pat Dollard's War On Hollywood, the 23,000-word Vanity Fair profile of a stoner-turned-Hollywood agent-turned-documentary filmmaker-turned-crackhead who also happens to be a left winger-turned-right winger. He's friends with Ann Coulter; Billy Bob Thornton says he's the only guy in Hollywood crazier than him; apparently it gets really good in the middle; the tragedy is I don't know this, even though it not only won the award but was written by a guy I used to date. (Who is, incidentally, always trying to get me to quit drinking.) (And also: is now married and apparently didn't show up at the event because his wife had not been invited; times, they are tough.)

Dollard's target audience is the same as any rock band's: kids—the more disaffected the better. He aims to alter the course of pop culture. "What we've celebrated since at least the 1950s is the antihero," Dollard says. "Today, even though our country has been attacked, nothing has changed. If you are a young man in America right now, the coolest fucking thing you can aspire to be is like a gangsta rapper, or a pseudo bad guy. The message of my movie is simple: If you're a young person in America, the coolest, fucking most badass and most noble thing you can be today is a combat Marine. Period."

Breitbart believes Dollard is onto something important. "There needs to be a confrontation at the pop-culture level of the kids who are over there fighting versus the kids at home who are totally disconnected, immersed in this mindless Abercrombie & Fitch-MTV culture." Breitbart adds, "There needs to be a revolution, and Dollard is the man who can kick it off. I don't care if older conservatives are offended by Pat Dollard. I was not looking for someone pristine. He brings to our cause this whole spirit of, like, the Merry Pranksters Two."


So yeah, "the more disaffected the better" sorta rang out as I started reading the New Yorker's Azzam The American, which profiles a death metal loving youth-turned radical jihadi who became the first American tried for treason in over a half century, or something like that:

There is a certain stylistic uniformity to all forms of propaganda, but the personality of the propagandist is never far from the surface. Bin Laden's murmuring voice belies the contempt in his words. Zawahiri speaks in the confident, rhythmic clauses of a master strategist. Adam Gadahn, though he tries to adopt the composure of a statesman, exudes the zealotry of a convert, and of youth. Sometimes his syntax is so baroque, his sentiment so earnest, that he sounds like a character from "The Lord of the Rings." "The call has gone out," he proclaimed in one video. "The era of jihad and resistance has dawned in all its glory." Mostly, though, Gadahn sounds angry. In 2005, with his head wrapped in a black turban and his face covered with a black veil, he warned, "We love nothing better than the heat of battle, the echo of explosions, and slitting the throats of the infidels." Last July, while discussing civilian casualties in Iraq, he said, "It's hard to imagine that any compassionate person could see pictures, just pictures, of what the Crusaders did to those children, and not want to go on a shooting spree at the Marines' housing facilities at Camp Pendleton." In a feature-length Al Qaeda documentary that was released on the Internet on September 11, 2006, Gadahn referred to the United States as "enemy soil," and celebrated the September 11th hijackers as "dedicated, strong-willed, highly motivated individuals."


A lot of folks thought "Azzam the American" was robbed, but Dollard's story reminds me why I'm proud to be an American:

At the end of our meeting Dollard offers to become my manager. "Seriously, dude, I could get something set up for you like that," he says, clapping his hands to indicate how fast he is going to make a deal.

But Dollard never becomes my manager. In the coming weeks, he breaks several appointments. One day he phones. Rapid, shallow breaths come across the line. "Dude, I am so, so, so fucking sorry for not calling you." No explanation is required, but Dollard offers one anyway. "I was fucking kidnapped."
Dollard claims that members of an A.A. meeting abducted him after promising his wife to get him sober. Instead, they held him prisoner at a hotel in Palm Springs while plying him with call girls and coke. Meanwhile, they used his credit cards to charter a yacht and a plane for business deals they were conducting. The story is incredible, but Dollard's fourth wife later confirms its essential truth, adding, "I'm sure those A.A. people started with good intentions, but Pat twisted their intervention around until they thought the right thing to do was buying coke and hiring prostitutes for him."


Ha ha ha, happy weekend guys!

Which reminds me, one reason I don't generally read magazines is to learn about how to spend my time in ways that aren't reading. Nonetheless, eating and exercising and travel are all more valid topics, in my mind, than shopping and makeup application, which is my excuse for reading Women, Money And Friends Come And Go, But Dogs Are Forever, which won Men's Health an award in the category of "Leisure Interests."

Wolves, like men, come in an assortment of personality types. Some are naturally aggressive — a trait that hardly endeared them to Stone Age hunters. Such wolves learned to stay the hell away from humans altogether or they would have faced extermination by our Paleolithic forefathers. Those wolves blessed with a more peaceful nature, on the other hand, adapted better as the human population boomed. One theory holds that these laid-back wolves benefited from an easily accessible food supply: human garbage. We, in turn, benefited from their warning howls whenever predators or marauding tribes came near. At some point, perhaps following the adoption of orphaned pups by a Stone Age hunter, these pacified wolves stopped living beside us and started living with us. This most likely happened toward the end of the last ice age. In a grave near modern-day Bonn-Oberkassel, Germany, archaeologists discovered the bodies of a Stone Age man and woman and the first "morphologically unambiguous" dog, dating back 14,000 years. "People have been burying or otherwise ritually disposing of dead dogs all over the world for a very long time," says Darcy F. Morey, Ph.D., a zooarchaeologist at the University of Tennessee at Martin. His hypothesis: Humans at this point in history began to view these animals less as beasts and more as creatures imbued with spiritual qualities and thus deserving of proper burial.


Then there was New York Magazine's Cartography: The Complete Road Map To New York Street Food:

Until the seventies, the cart business was dominated by Greeks. Now, coffee carts are run mostly by Afghans. Bangladeshis man virtually all fruit stands and most hot-dog carts, though many uptown hot-dog carts are Dominican. The Vietnamese run smoothie carts. Nut carts are manned by Brazilians and Colombians. The trade is so ethnically fragmented that even Bangladeshis, the largest single group of vendors, make up less than 20 percent of the total number.


And if you like fun urban how-shit-works trivia like that, you'll love Engineering The Megacity, a theme issue of something (an electrical engineering trade publication?) called IEEE Spectrum that did not win an award in its category, but is still, I can fucking guarantee you, a more worthwhile read than anything you are going to read about what went down at the National Magazine Awards.

The Full List Of Links, Please Go Read Something Good And Tell Me About It; I'll Add More Here Later [Andrew Lavalle]
Autumn Of The Multitaskers [The Atlantic]
Pat Dollard's War On Hollywood [Vanity Fair]
Azzam The American [New Yorker]
Know Your Footprint [Popular Mechanics]
Women, Money And Friends Come And Go, But Dogs Are Forever [Men's Health]
Cartography: The Complete Road Map To New York Street Food [NY Mag]
The Last Word On Harry Potter [EW]
Engineering The Megacity [IEEE Spectrum]



@ladyM2000: You write about soldiers during a time of war because it is important to understand what these people are going through. It's important, because it makes one-dimensional war mongers (potentially) consider the psychological and phsyical effects of the war they so blindly support on Americans as normal and innocent as any of their children or family members; It's important because telling the stories of otherwise-faceless soldiers makes war a tanigble thing at home, especially when it's being fought solely aborad; and it's important because one day these soldiers are going to come home and they will not be the same as when they left.

And you write about them because dozens of them die every day, men and women who signed up for the military because they thought it would get them a college education and all it got them was death.

Sure, it's good to write about the peace movement, but when you write about the war, you get a better anti-war message. These articles profiling marines, battalions, even areas of combat (Vanity Fair had a great article along these lines, in the issue with Katherine Heigl on the cover, I can't remember the title right now) rarely glorify war in a good way — they underline it's horror, its unjustness, its random violence, its lack of solution. And there is nothing more debilitating to a war than a country that sympathizes with its soldiers too much to let them fight anymore.

And you write about them because chances are that article will be the only thing left of them one day.