After more than two years of publication, after the relentless pimping of its sole reason for notice, the vague sensibility of John Kennedy Jr., it’s fair to take a look at George magazine, specifically its September issue, in which the editor poses nude (as if you can tell), and see just what it has to offer.
The short answer: not much.
After a painful perusal of every word in the magazine - probably more than any of the magazine’s staff has done - I can honestly report that when the ideas are good, the execution is weak, and when the idea is weak, there’s no compensating glitter.
“Chelsea’s Guide to Stanford,” for instance, is a good idea. A sharp magazine would take it and run with it as a second-lead feature, but George throws it away in a single nondescript page.
Then there’s the question of celebrity skin. Kate Moss’ skinny butt is prominently displayed on the cover, and Cameron Diaz is shown in a skimpy bikini inside.
Now, far be it from me to complain about the presence of Cameron Diaz in any state of undress. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this - Esquire used to get a lot of mileage out of the same trick, and, while we’re on the subject, Esquire used to be what I suspect Kennedy wants George to be: glossy yet stylish, and political.
But it won’t work if the babes are divorced from content by an absence of wit and style. As it stands now, the babes are just a non sequitur.
The cover story, “The 20 Most Fascinating Women in Politics,” cheats all over the place, first by including such well-known political figures as Anne Heche - in a bustier yet, and looking sufficiently fetching to drive Alice B. Toklas away from the enveloping embrace of Gertrude Stein - and Patsy Ramsey (thank God they didn’t put her in a bustier).
Again, the idea is all right, but the vital matter of tone is absent. Each Fascinating Woman gets a blurb from a different writer rather than one unified voice - again, a lame attempt to rip off Esquire’s annual, and clever, “Women We Love” issue. What George needs is something pitched midway between Gore Vidal and Maureen Dowd; what George actually gets is a cacophonous slew of third-raters whose prose is never more than serviceable.
As for John Kennedy’s own much-trumpeted ruminations touching on his cousins’ hapless following in the family’s apparently genetic women-trouble footsteps, they sound-bite a lot better than they read; mainly, they’re so opaque and fragmented as to be incomprehensible.
It’s genuinely difficult to figure out what Kennedy thinks he’s doing with the magazine. Serious politics of whatever stripe are well-covered in The Weekly Standard, the New Republic, the Nation and a few others; intellectuals with a more social bent have The Atlantic and Harper’s.
Just what niche is George supposed to be servicing? As it is now, the magazine has all the heft of the 20-somethings peddling opinions on MSNBC, but then, they give MSNBC away - as well they should.
By far the best thing in the issue is Elayne Boozler’s last page stand-up routine, in which she tosses off a few amusing riffs: “Why don’t ‘the feminists’ support Paula Jones the way they supported Anita Hill? For the same reason ‘the blacks’ don’t support Idi Amin the way they supported Martin Luther King. Why don’t ‘The Republicans’ support Timothy McVeigh the way they support the NRA?”
Incisive, funny, dead-on. Everything the other 157 pages aren’t.
George is to magazines what “Weekend at Bernie’s II” is to movies.