You can spot those women's magazines from a mile away on the newsstand: pouty lips, perfect complexion, hair long and blowsy, dark blazing eyes staring directly at the camera, first three buttons on the blouse open to show JUST ENOUGH cleavage, mouth slightly open, all sex and power and confidence and . . . uh . . . wait a minute, those aren't women's magazines, those are MEN'S magazines.
I mean, they're women's magazines, too. For the first time in history, you can't really tell the DIFFERENCE between the women's and the men's magazines.
Or maybe they're all just women's magazines read by men. What's going on here?
Of course, 14-year-old boys since the beginning of time have been swiping their mom's Cosmopolitan to browse the hot babes inside, but these aren't magazines for 14-year-old boys. This month, for example, two of the hottest-selling men's magazines, Stuff and Maxim, have covers showing Sofia Vergara in a string bikini and Kelly Hu in shiny skin-tight shorts that are all of two inches from top to bottom with a matching white jacket that is zipped all the way open.
Kelly Who? How can you even ask? That would be the Rock's costar in "Scorpion King," who prior to that was famous as a Miss Teen USA and the star of an Italian cream-cheese commercial. Sofia Vergara, on the other hand, is the famous Univision hostess turned Web site cheesecake girl.
But it's not what you think, because, on the inside pages, they're NOT EVEN NEKKID. This is not a Playboy/Penthouse kinda thing. In fact, Playboy and Penthouse are suffering mightily, with Penthouse expected to cease publication sometime this year. No, the girls of the modern men's magazine are not THAT accessible, and their primary purpose seems to be, not a sex fantasy, but a GIRLFRIEND fantasy. Half the articles in the magazine are some version of "What if THIS girl were MY girlfriend?" (Sample questions for our cover girls: "Ever fantasize about having sex in a public place?" "How old were you when you first tiptoed through the garden of deflowerment?")
Remember when men's magazines sort of just ASSUMED you had a girlfriend, or, if you didn't, you didn't really WANT or NEED one? There was also the assumption that women were not entirely to be trusted, especially BEAUTIFUL women. I can remember Sean Connery on the cover of Esquire --- back when they put MEN on the covers of men's magazines --- and I can't imagine that Sean had any trouble asking the latest ingenue for a date WITHOUT knowing about how she deals with a Brazilian bikini wax or whether she sunbathes topless. I also can't imagine him being BESTED by one of those women.
In those days the guy who read a men's magazine read it to be more like Sean, under the theory that, if you established the basics of wardrobe and, say, martini consumption, the girlfriends would follow. These younger magazines seem to have reversed the formula, as if to say, "Since we all know we'll never date Sofia Vergara, let's act like the geek at the end of the bar who sends her fruity drinks and tells Polish jokes in the hope that she'll take pity on us."
In other words, these strike me as Bibles for men who regard themselves as powerless. In fact, the up-close-and-personal interviews with the sirens of the month go into great detail about their various celebrity boyfriends, apparently in some masochistic effort to find common denominators for guys who are hopelessly barred from Monte Carlo night clubs but able to do enough ab-flattening and mouth-freshening to hope they'll bump into a supermodel in a subway somewhere.
The subtitle of every article should be "How to Trick a Girl into Having Sex with You." You think I'm exaggerating. Maxim has one this month entitled "How to spot the girl with a condom in her purse." (Would that be . . . uh . . . THE HOOKER?) Stuff weighs in with "The Liar's Bible: 400 fibs you can get away with." Why don't they just call it "Ways To Appear Less Pathetic and Miserable and Desperate Than You Really Are"?
Okay, so my question is: Since the heyday of men's magazines in the 60s, did MEN change or did WOMEN change?
One clue is that many of the advice columns in men's magazines are written by women. In a four-page spread called "Sex Spy," Stuff's resident "sexologist" Dawn Yanek asks five girls dressed in heels and lingerie such stunners as "How can a guy tell if you're into him?" and "How can a man screw it up instantly?" Let's translate:
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE be into me.
I never learned to have a conversation, so will you please overlook that and HAVE SEX?
Of course, this attitude is not that different from what's prevailed in Cosmo for years, where every article is some version of "How to Hook a Man." The difference is that there was a time, not that long ago, when you had men who were skilled in AVOIDING THE HOOK. How hard can it be to hook the guy who sent in the following question to Maxim's sexy bikini-clad medical advice columnist: "Why do my boogers turn green when I have a cold?" My guess is that you don't have to speak three languages before you can get that guy's attention.
Are there really hordes of sex-crazed women out there just WAITING for that perfect Booger Question? Maxim and Stuff imply that, yes indeed, there ARE. Here's some advice --- remember, ALL advice in these magazines is from WOMEN --- from the 90-percent nekkid L'Oreal billboard girl, April O'Brien:
"If you don't have trust in a relationship, you don't have anything. Jealousy doesn't go over well at all. Some guys are intimidated by my work, but they shouldn't be. This is my job, and they're aware of that before we even start anything. If you want me, just chill out and hang in there."
The unwritten subtext here is "Even YOU can have me."
Of course, the subtext BELOW the subtext is, "If you don't SCREW UP."
I have an idea. One thing you could do is TALK to the girl. DECIDE whether you like her. ASK her to dinner. Use the dinner to FIND OUT WHAT DEMONS RESIDE BENEATH THE CHEESECAKE. And if she's not 110 kinds of excitement, find another girl and REPEAT THE ABOVE.
Notice that I didn't mention boogers. What a throwback I am.
Joe Bob Briggs writes a number of columns for UPI and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website at joebobbriggs.com. Snail mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, TX 75221.