Those Cosmo Sex Tips? He’s Seen It All Before

Converting the trashy magazine from print to digital

I’m a fairly passive person. I don’t get angry easily, and I don’t hold a grudge. When others list pet peeves, I find it hard to relate. Really? You get mad about that? People have complimented me on my zenlike mastery over my emotions. I think I’m just really tired.

If I want to get angry, there are reliable triggers. One of those is Tea Party Republicans. (I was going to say all Republicans, but I actually have a soft spot for weepy John Boehner, and I confess to a pre-Jon Stewart attraction to Tucker Carlson). Another anger trigger for me is women’s magazines—not necessarily because I believe they’re degrading to women and pander to boring old heteronormative conventionality, but because they’re just so stupid.

The highest-circulation men’s magazine was, until the last couple years, Playboy. The highest-circulation women’s magazine has long been Cosmopolitan. They’re both ridiculous, but Playboy, at least, has a history of investigative reporting and pathbreaking nonfiction writing. Cosmo has always been trash. (As of 2010 the highest-circulation men’s mag is Maxim—which is so moronic, it makes Playboy look like Billy Budd).

Cosmo talks to women as if they’re just horny lovebots. I feel sorry for the girls who put stock in articles like “10 Sex Tips That Will Blow His Mind.” You know what? Nothing you can do will blow his mind—it’s 2011. He’s seen women making out with each other while wearing sheet metal panties and dildo bras on top of an elephant while being whipped with stinging nettles held in the gloved hand of a tiny dominatrix hanging from the basket of a hot air ballon. So … that little move with your finger? Honey, it’s old news.

Developing a web presence hasn’t helped dumb magazines get smarter. You might think they’d get creative with more room. Instead, they’ve just taken all the crappiest content and replicated it. For instance, with Maxim and Playboy, the online gambit has always been: more chicks. But you really can’t blame them. The online competition in hot chicks is stiff.

Cosmo has embraced its penchant for really flat, unbylined writing, making much of its content sound like a generic sorority girl filled out a “Women’s Writing for Beginners” Mad Libs. Even the sex blogger is affectless. All the photos are stock and the layout is so bland. It’s hard to tell what’s an article and what’s advertorial.

There are bright spots. One funny article online right now is “The Weird Way I Met ‘The One’” in which readers tell us their personal stories. I figured they might quote people who have been married for 25 years. Then you could argue the person was in “The One” ballpark. But here’s who they quoted: Amber, 18; Anna, 20; Tiffany, 19; (another) Amber, 22; Chandler, 21 … some of these girls are talking about their college boyfriends. Here’s a readers’ poll for women above the age of 30: How many of you are with the same guy you were dating when you were 19? Was he “The One”? The guy I was dating at 19 didn’t bathe. He told me he didn’t think he needed to. He wasn’t “The One.”

Of course, no one forces me to read Cosmo. I can buy my hoity-toity magazines (you know, The New Yorker, Harper’s, US Weekly) and whoever wants to read “The One Thing You Can Do to Keep Him From Having Sex With Your Best Friend in Some Weird, Kind of Gross Motel Room With the Teeny Soaps” can buy Cosmo.

But the landscape is shifting. Rumor has it Amazon will launch an affordable tablet this fall—thus providing another platform for magazine content. According to the Wall Street Journal, Amazon is in talks with publishers about pricing for single-article sales as well as subscription fees. If this is true, it could take digital magazine-reading mainstream. It could be a game changer, as they say in the tech industry.

I realize I’m putting the cart before the horse, as they say in the hansom-cab industry. We don’t even know which nonexistent content will end up on the nonexistent Amazon tablet via the nonexistent deals. But it is certainly moving us one step closer to what some say is the inevitable End of Print. And then what? What happens in a world without magazines—when all the glossy is on a screen instead of a page? Will a screen still be a page if we don’t have pages anymore? It’s quite philosophical, really. (But only if you’re a media junkie. Otherwise it’s just boring.)

I hope that when it all shakes out, magazine editors put forth the best of their content for the new-new digital environment. Perhaps magazines like Cosmo will find that a new marketing opportunity and editorial platform can be bracing and inspirational. If not, I’ll be pissed off. Well, at least for a week or two … per year.