The New York Review of Magazines The New York Review of Magazines Mon, 28 Jun 2010 15:19:22 +0000 en hourly 1 Back From the Dead Mon, 28 Jun 2010 15:04:48 +0000 Marvin Anderson Vibe is alive and hip-hopping.]]> By Marvin Anderson

After Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009, people around the world paid homage. He was a black icon who sprouted out of rubble and crossed racial boundaries in ways unlike any of his musical predecessors — a feat that was, in its own way, duplicated by Vibe magazine. In the infancy of their careers, both struggled to grow in a demanding marketplace. Both redefined their images to reach a diverse group of fans.

And both died in the same week.

On June 30, 2009, Vibe’s staff learned that the magazine it had lovingly nurtured was folding after 16 years. It had climbed to a high position in the crowded music magazine industry, elbowing competitors out of the way as its circulation rose to more than 800,000 by the end of 2008. But as the recession increased in severity, Vibe was hit hard. Circulation and ad sales dwindled. Staff reductions and other budget-cutting tactics by the owners, Vibe Media Group, were not enough to keep the magazine alive. When its closing was announced a year ago, circulation numbers had shrunk to little more than 600,000, The New York Times reported.

Danyel Smith, who was Vibe’s editor when the end came, e-mailed a letter to various media outlets: “On behalf of the Vibe content staff it is with great sadness, and with heads held high, that we leave the building today. We were assigning and editing a Michael Jackson tribute issue when we got the news. It’s a tragic week in overall, but as the doors of Vibe Media Group close, on the eve of the magazine’s sixteenth anniversary, it’s a sad day for music, for hip hop in particular, and for the millions of readers and users who have loved and who continue to love the Vibe brand. We thank you, we have served you with joy, pride and excellence, and we will miss you.”

Vibe was just one of 428 magazines that closed in 2009 (according to, but for a generation of hip-hop, rhythm and blues, and neo-soul music lovers, it was a shocking loss. Vibe had been a platform dedicated to their lifestyle, a voice for a previously overlooked segment of magazine readership.

It began in 1993, when Quincy Jones joined with Time Inc. to create the publication. “You had a lot of thriving black culture,” said Emil Wilbekin, one of the founding editors. “There wasn’t anything to really cover that world. You had bits and pieces dedicated to this, but you never had a magazine dedicated to this. We were creating something that was culturally moving the needle.”

What started as a small venture turned into a multimillion-dollar enterprise with not only a thriving magazine, but award shows and multimedia components as well. The publication launched in the midst of hip-hop’s rise and it chronicled its evolution — and its assimilation into the pop-cultural mainstream.

Vibe helped to legitimize the culture,” said Erik Parker, former music editor at Vibe. “The music was legitimized by the record sales, but Vibe did a good job of putting this on the map.”

As Vibe grew and hip-hop was recognized as a genre, not just a phase, competing publications appeared, but Vibe was always a step ahead with its professional page design, crisp photos and exclusive access to artists. By the time the millennium arrived, Vibe had grown into something that was more than a magazine. It had become a quintessential part of the culture it covered and a recognizable brand.

Vibe to the hip-hop community is like Meet the Press for a place of political discourse,” said Parker. “It’s a measuring stick for culture.”

The news of its demise caused a stir in the power center of  the music community, where some of its greatest fans — writers, publishers and media moguls — work. They refused to let it stay in the grave.

Rumors of a relaunch started almost as soon as the death notice had been posted, beginning with Quincy Jones, who talked about repurchasing the magazine. Ultimately, however, it was a private equity fund, Intermedia (which also owns Soul Train, and Latino and gospel music channels) that bought Vibe and all its assets in August 2009 and immediately relaunched it – online. Then, on Dec. 8, the magazine reappeared in print, as a quarterly.

The 120-page relaunch issue had singer Chris Brown on the cover 10 months after a physical brawl with his former girlfriend Rihanna, an R&B and pop singer, led to his arrest and, eventually, a plea-bargain sentence of community service and probation. Some readers and journalists thought it was risky for Vibe to return to the magazine racks with a cover subject who was tainted with reports of abusing his ex-girlfriend, but Vibe’s new editor, Jermaine Hall, saw the Brown cover as the perfect setup for success: something dramatic, informative, with a sexy element. “I wanted to give the guy a chance to apologize and give him a chance to tell his side of the story in a place he feels comfortable,” he said. Although he declined to release specific sales figures, Hall said, “The numbers look good.”

He also said the magazine is performing well online, at, with help from social media like Facebook and Twitter. Again, however, he would not reveal specific numbers. Before Vibe relaunched, said Hall, “The magazine was the focus and the website was secondary.” Then, just one person was dedicated to the website, but now, Hall said, he has a team of five people working on the site and related social media.

As for the print magazine, the new owners are planning to increase the frequency to six issues for 2011, but not beyond that. “That’s where we need to be for now,” Hall said, as he rubbed his brow. His eyes were slightly red and fatigue was written on his face. Bringing an iconic magazine back from the dead is hard work.

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NYRM Launch Party Tue, 18 May 2010 18:04:29 +0000 Tim Kiladze On Thursday May 13, The New York Review of Magazines’ staff held the launch party for the publication’s 2010 edition at Revel in New York City. The magazine is produced by students at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and this year’s publication is “an unabashed celebration of magazines, created by and written for the people who love them.”

Pictures from the event are below.

L to R: Derrick Taylor, Jeff Dooley

Sommer Saadi, Tala Al Ramahi, Rawiya Kameir, Joel Meares, Megan Gibson, Frances McInnis

Sruthi Gottipati, Fred Dreier

Victor Navasky, Cyndi Stivers

Tim Kiladze, Sam Petulla

Candice Chan, Susie Poppick

Spencer Bailey, Ellen London, Joel Meares

Zachary Sniderman, Victor Navasky

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The American Conservative Devotes Space to Israel Thu, 13 May 2010 16:55:09 +0000 Ali Gharib By Ali Gharib

For my piece in this year’s New York Review of Magazines “In Review” section, I discuss the topic that initially brought The American Conservative to my attention: Israel. TAC delivers the sort of badly lacking attention to U.S.-Israel relations anyone yearning for a good, honest and critical debate would hope to see. And they ain’t backing down anytime soon.

The May issue of TAC (a magazine founded by Pat Buchanan to promote his “old right” — aka paleoconservative — agenda) has two feature articles on Israel. The cover shows U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu standing nose to nose, looking determined, with the words “Will He Blink?” between the two. It’s referencing Obama’s challenge to Netanyahu for a halt to settlement construction, which contravenes international law and U.S. policy.

But the articles, by Philip Weiss and Scott McConnell, two of my interview subjects for the magazine review, are not about Israeli colonies. Rather, in keeping with the name of the magazine, they focus on the U.S. angle.

McConnell, a Buchanan acolyte, offers bits of history in the U.S.-Israel relationship — including a precedent for the tough task of confronting Israel — and recounts some of the changing debate in Washington. He includes a shift in the mainstream media, until recently a dependable ally willing to affix a fig leaf to Israel’s more nefarious policies, or ignore them altogether. McConnell writes of a new set of critics that, “far too diffuse to be called a coalition, includes some anti-Zionists, but its vast majority favors a two-state solution. It is composed of Christians and Jews and an increasing number of Muslims.” McConnell goes on:

“Whereas informed skepticism about Israeli claims was once limited largely to American diplomats who served in the region, today its base may be ten times larger. For the first time in U.S. history, the pro-Palestinian side has a competitive voice in the public discourse—far smaller than the Israel lobby’s but growing every day.”

The so-called Israel lobby is exactly what Weiss takes aim at in his piece, helpfully titled: “Out From the Shadows: AIPAC Confronts its Worst Fear: Daylight.” AIPAC, of course, is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the flagship of the lobby — considered one of the most powerful groups in Washington. The daylight theme is a double entendre referring to both the lobby meme that there should be “no daylight” between the U.S. and Israel and the notion, articulated by longtime AIPAC official Steve Rosen (no longer), that “A lobby is a nightflower/ It thrives in the dark/ And dies in sunlight.” Though Weiss unfortunately declines to make the second reference clear, he heaps the sunlight on AIPAC, something he’s done before for TAC.

Weiss, a friend who runs the blog Mondoweiss (which — full disclosure — I’ve contributed to), comes at these issues from a left/liberal perspective. His website, filled with his thoughtful anti-Zionist musings about Jewish identity and Israel, has become a clearing house for progressive news and opinion on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Israel lobby is a common foil for Weiss. The topic was once taboo — even as recently as 2005, when The Atlantic refused to run an article it had commissioned by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer (who is quoted in Weiss’s latest TAC piece), international relations professors at Harvard and the University of Chicago, respectively. “We believe they rejected it because they came to believe the subject was too controversial and would cause problems,” Mearsheimer told CounterPunch. They had to take it off-shore to the London Review of Books. And here’s Phil Weiss, well to the left of these center-right realist scholars, taking their reasoned arguments to the pages of a conservative magazine just three years later.

You still won’t see much of this sort of frank talk, even in major left-leaning magazines. The ostensibly liberal New Republic’s foreign policy veers hard-right under its neocon publisher Marty Peretz. McConnell discusses longtime TNR literary editor Leon Wieseltier’s assault on The Atlantic blogger Andrew Sullivan, who’s been more and more critical of Israel recently. But The Atlantic also publishes Jeffrey Goldberg, a former Israel Defense Force prison guard who is a both nuanced critic of, say, settlement policy and nonetheless a reflexive defender of Israel who tends to dismiss her critics as anti-Semites. (On the pages of TNR, Goldberg compared Walt and Mearsheimer to the 1930’s fascist-friendly anti-Semite Father Coughlin, later accusing their book of making an “anti-Jewish argument” and comparing it to Charles Lindbergh, another fascist sympathizer.)

TAC, in this sense, stands as a tower of intellectual honesty looming over other conservative magazines. As mentioned in McConnell’s piece, National Review long ago gave in to neoconservative (in lock step with Israeli right-wing) positions on Israel. The Weekly Standard and Commentary are that movement’s flagship publications.

Make no mistake, though. TAC is a conservative magazine. My politics make me averse to many of the views put forward by paleocons who contribute to TAC. But I’m encouraged that it’s not a magazine so obsessed with ideological rigidity that it’s unwilling to publish progressives — side by side with paleos like McConnell himself — on complex issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where progressives and paleos agree that the status quo is untenable.

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Behind Enemy Lines Thu, 13 May 2010 04:02:30 +0000 Ali Gharib

By Ali Gharib

In a nondescript office building on 16th Street in Manhattan, Nir Rosen is pruning his new book. He rests his bulky frame on the floor as his editor peppers him with questions. They’re in the process of cutting down the manuscript from about one thousand pages to five or six hundred. “I just wrote down everything I had,” says Rosen, smiling behind a dense black goatee, face fringed with a little stubble on his cheeks and neck. “I think it’s going to be better than the last one,” he offers, referring to his debut book on the Iraq War. Wearing jeans, a maroon T-shirt and an Adidas warm-up jacket, Rosen seems more relaxed than he probably ought to be — his second book on the war, which he’s covered for most of the past seven years, is more than a year and a half overdue.

He has made a career of staying relaxed in situations when he shouldn’t be — cool enough, for instance, while visiting a charred and blood-soaked Iraqi battleground in the summer of 2003, to notice a single deflated soccer ball. That image, used in a resulting Time magazine article, is an example of Rosen’s abilities as a war reporter — from a single, throwaway line, the reader immediately imagines the fighters kicking around the ball the day before the bloodshed. It’s only one of the innumerable telling details observed first-hand and then reported by Rosen in publications ranging from Mother Jones to The Atlantic.

He writes long in an era during which even the The New Yorker rarely publishes stories of more than than 10,000 words — he produced double that in a Boston Review piece on Iraq’s civil war. Commenting on Rosen’s stories, his editor at the Review, Deborah Chasman, says with a laugh, “They’re long. They start out longer.” It’s quintessential old-school magazine writing — lengthy, detail-rich scenes and blocks of analysis — but what makes his work unique is often the hook: “If you propose something crazy,” says Rosen, “they’ll accept it.”

Sitting in the same room as Rosen, listening to his low, thoughtful speech, you don’t get the feeling he’s so crazy — not until he regales you with stories of his travels. Take his journey two years ago into Afghanistan’s war-ravaged south. It started as the sort of Hollywood elevator pitch that gets a freelance writer an assignment in four words: “Embed with the Taliban.” It ended with an article — published in the October 2008 issue of Rolling Stone, clocking in at more than 8,400 words and titled “How We Lost the War We Won” — that is a harrowing tale of a highway laced with craters and smoldering truck carcasses, leading to a Taliban-controlled enclave of wind-worn mud huts where, in a dangerous climax, Taliban fighters detain Rosen. After a few days, a high-ranking insurgent official checks in from Pakistan and orders his release.

Rosen regards the story as a “failure” because he wasn’t able to “embed” with the fighters. He intended to capture the Taliban in action — going on patrols and raids, and rendering services — not to be captured himself. But he’s undaunted. “I’m sure I’ll do it again,” he says, with a cautious grin, “but when I think about it, I get panic attacks.”

Despite the gonzo assignments, this is serious war journalism, providing America with the rarest of perspectives on its numerous ongoing wars: the other side of the conflict. Reporting extensively from Iraq, Rosen gained access to both the Sunni insurgents and anti-U.S. Shia militia of Muqtada al Sadr. The Taliban experience speaks for itself. He has tried to embed with Somali pirates and failed — twice. Nonetheless, Rosen gets closer to more disparate active enemies of the United States than any other reporter working today.

He first tried to become a journalist in 2000. He traveled to Serbia after two years of dating a native and picking up the language. Then just 22 and, by his own admission, “foolish,” he was arrested at the border for trying to re-enter on a single-entry visa. His cellmates, a gang of neo-Nazis, did not take kindly to Rosen. But, thinking quickly, in a move literally stolen from a Val Kilmer movie, he splashed himself with water to simulate perspiration, did pushups to raise his heart rate and cut his own forehead. Complaining to the guards that he was sick, Rosen was taken to the hospital and then spent the rest of his 10 days in the clink in cushy conditions sipping coffee and watching television.

Rosen wrote that hospital duty was a “charmed life.” Considering all the situations he’s slipped into and out of over the ensuing years — not to mention his professional successes — the phrase is something of an understatement. Rosen, now 33, has been detained five times, mostly by non-state actors.

Charmed or not, his life began in Manhattan, where he was raised by a father from Iran and a mother from Jerusalem. He went to the High School of Music and Art, where he met his future wife; they have been married for five years now and have a three-year-old son. After high school, he attended American University, where he studied pre-law. But it didn’t agree with him, and he dropped out. He got an unpaid research job with Scott Armstrong, a former investigative reporter for The Washington Post and the founder of the National Security Archive, and he worked at nightclubs to make ends meet. Both jobs would prove fortuitous. Armstrong had contacts. And at the doors of the clubs, Rosen met members of D.C.’s large Middle Eastern population and built up a store of knowledge about that part of the world.

When the invasion of Iraq became imminent, Armstrong hooked him up with Time and Rosen headed to the region for take two of his journalism career. He fibbed about his reporting experience, overstated his grasp of Arabic, and on April 13, 2003, three days after Baghdad fell, he arrived in the country where he would spend the bulk of his time over the next seven years.

Rosen’s rise to elite war correspondent — and to his unique position in the journalism profession — was sudden, if not meteoric. Just six days after his arrival, he had his first byline in Time on a piece called “Marines Cast as ‘Mongols’ in Baghdad.” The story recounted an incident that foreshadowed the oncoming disaster for the occupying Americans: With no maps, a Marine platoon had haplessly interrupted a massive Friday prayer ceremony spilling onto the street in the Adhamiya district. None of the soldiers knew Arabic, and they couldn’t read the banner that said, “We reject foreign control.” The Iraqis began to stand up, put their shoes on and become visibly angry. Rosen sprang into action: “I ran to advise the Marines that Friday prayers was not a good time to show up fully armed,” he wrote. “They referred me to their lieutenant, who appeared oblivious to the public relations catastrophe he might be provoking, and merely responded, ‘That’s why we’ve got the guns.’” The tale says much about American hubris and lack of preparation, as well as about the Iraqi resistance organized around the mosque — the imam preaching that day had compared the United States to Baghdad’s Mongol invaders of yesteryear.

But Rosen had misgivings about his professional arrangement. He says he felt that Time focused too much on the English-speaking elites of Iraq. And his editors wanted him to write stories about the atrocities of the previous regime — he cites an assignment to profile a woman raped by Uday, the notorious son of the fallen dictator Saddam Hussein. “In postwar Iraq, and everywhere in the world — I hate to use the word the ‘street’ — but I thought that was much more important.”

Rosen’s view of his work hints at an attitude of transparency that is relatively uncommon in his sort of reporting. In Baghdad, he quickly befriended a group of Iraqis of his age group. “They ended up being very useful,” he says. Eventually, they started introducing him to people in militias. His access and stateside profile began to rise in tandem, culminating in an article for the July 5, 2004, issue of The New Yorker, a nearly 5,000-word story detailing life in insurgent-controlled Fallujah in the aftermath of a major battle there in April. In early May, U.S. forces withdrew and, soon after, Rosen went in. The strength of Sunni fighters at the time Rosen visited was demonstrated after he left, by the Second Battle of Fallujah in November and December — the heaviest urban fighting Marines have engaged in since Vietnam.

For the story, Rosen tells me, he reluctantly agreed to his editor’s request to tip his hand in how he got around Fallujah. “I was able to avoid being taken hostage or killed because I speak Arabic and have olive skin and black hair and, when asked, I said that I was Bosnian,” he wrote. “More important, I was traveling with a Palestinian who had helped the resistance leaders during the fighting.”

His appearance is something Rosen dwells on. “I have a huge advantage over other Western journalists,” he tells me, pointing at his face. “How I look.” The first time I met him, briefly, at a think tank conference in D.C. in 2008, he was dapper in shiny black shoes, jeans, black blazer and white shirt — the top buttons undone, exposing a little chest hair. Since then, I’ve seen Rosen sporting everything from chin-length curly locks to a shaved head, from a tight goatee to a full beard (which he grows out when he wants to travel inconspicuously in Afghanistan). He’s tall and large — he was once a club bouncer, after all — with huge biceps and a barrel chest.

But his intimidating size belies his amiable nature. As we eat lunch at Chipotle by Union Square — Rosen orders a steak fajita with double veggies and double meat — he seems genuinely happy to talk. Asked if he travels with security in war zones, he says, “My smile is my security,” flashing a charming ear-to-ear grin. Rosen made his initial street contacts in Baghdad by approaching locals his age. “People want to talk to you if you’re nice,” he says, peeling back the fajita shell and eating its contents with a fork. He then built the relationships by becoming friends (he kept in shape, he says, by going to the local gyms with his new acquaintances). No wonder his list of contacts is so extensive.

Rosen also maintains a large network of friends among the mainstream and progressive press, and in government and the military, as well as in hotspots abroad. While he views embedding as a potential compromise of journalistic independence, he has done it nonetheless. In 2009, he was given a copy of a dossier on him drawn up by a military contractor as part of the embed process. His Rolling Stone article, it said, was “highly unfavorable to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan … portraying the situation as hopeless and doomed to failure.”

Rosen concurs with the assessment and commends the military for accepting his application despite the report. He says, however, that he was empathetic with U.S. soldiers in the war, whom he notes he has much more in common with than their adversaries. Those adversaries, though, remain the bread and butter of Rosen’s reporting. What sets him apart is not his embeds with U.S. forces, but those with the Taliban and Iraqi insurgents, and his attempts at embedding with Somali pirates and, coming soon, with Mexican drug cartels.

Rosen’s street-level friends in the parts of the world he covers prove most beneficial to his unique writings, introducing him to people they know in various militias. “I doubt they read my stuff,” Rosen says of the often-violent underground groups he covers closely, as we sit on a park bench in Union Square after lunch, with birds chirping and dog-walkers strolling by. “The people that would behead me probably don’t have LexisNexis.” But friends who put him in touch with some of the less savory characters, he says, vouched for him.

He declines to place himself precisely in the political spectrum but adds, “I’m closest to anarchist, I guess.” One thing is certain, though: Rosen is unabashedly against foreign occupations of nearly any sort — especially those of the sort the United States conducts. He admits that some of his views are “extreme” and “angry.”

At a forum at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in late February, before he gave a talk on counterinsurgency, I said hello to Rosen, who was dressed in a tight, pink Polo sweater and khakis. “I just got back from ‘liberated Baghdad’ yesterday,” he told me, thoroughly drenching the phrase with sarcasm. Later, during the question-and-answer session, Rosen declared that while 9/11 was a tragedy, the U.S. reaction was more tragic. “How many Afghan civilians do we have to kill before we realize we are the terrorists?” he asked, speaking softly into a microphone. The audience was older than a typical journalism school crowd, and a few people gasped and muttered to themselves, though no one objected aloud.

Despite the unique insights in Rosen’s reporting — many stateside policymakers read his work — his close contact with enemies of the state has led to harsh accusations. In a long piece for U.P.I., reworked for The Atlantic, Rosen made a case for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Neoconservatives howled: “No wonder Rosen has such great access to the Baathists and jihadists who make up the Iraqi insurgency. He’s on their side,” The Weekly Standard’s Scrapbook feature said about him.

He has also paid a professional price. In April 2008, when asked by then-senator Joe Biden what could be done to improve the situation in Iraq, Rosen replied: “As a journalist, I’m uncomfortable advising an imperialist power about how to be a more efficient imperialist power. I don’t think we’re there for the interests of the Iraqi people.” He then, however, went on to say that U.S. withdrawal could ignite ethnic tension, acknowledging the dangers of pulling out. Rosen thinks the “imperialist” quip cost him a lucrative job as a contributing writer at the The New York Times Magazine.

Despite his left-wing inclinations, Rosen has still grown into a respected war reporter, writing for a long laundry list of top publications — virtually every major rag read by anyone who’s anyone in Washington. The Times Magazine, Time, The New Republic, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Mother Jones, and Harper’s have all published his work. “He probably has more sources in the insurgency than any other American reporter,” acknowledged The Weekly Standard while in the same breath accusing him of being a traitor.

“A lot of these people who are debating what’s going on in Iraq and Afghanistan are doing it more from an ideological perspective — they’re severely hampered by their lack of detail,” says Steven Clemons, a foreign policy thinker at Washington’s New America Foundation, where Rosen was once a fellow. “I think it’s that granular on-the-ground awareness that makes Nir more difficult to discount. He’s seen and heard Muqtada al Sadr. While he’s got his views, which are clear and distinctive, his real sword and armor is his appreciation for the facts.”

Clemons is right. Rosen has gotten the stories, and he’s not beholden to his ideology. Ahead of this winter’s Iraq elections, many pundits were making dire predictions of a new round of open sectarian warfare. Rosen demurred, writing a spate of articles declaring that the civil war was over. But his evidence, culled from walking the streets, was still boldly critical of U.S. policy — the ethnic cleansing of many neighborhoods had been successful, leaving monolithically sectarian neighborhoods unlikely to produce conflict. So far, his theory has been borne out. The election and the slow process of forming a government have gone down with little violence.

His fearless independence allows Rosen to do things like embed with the United States’ enemy. He’s beholden to them for his safety; he gets permission from clerical authorities, militias and even Taliban defense ministers to roam freely. But he is not a propaganda tool. He maintains a critical eye and, later, reports honestly on what he saw.

Rosen’s “sword and armor” have also attracted the attention of the United States’ own warriors. Military and intelligence types read his work, Rosen says, beaming with pride that his efforts get noticed. Attention from power circles clearly matters to him. He says he has little interest in writing for magazines — GQ is an example he uses — that are not likely to be read by policy makers.

“I want to get [U.S. Gen. David] Petraeus and [left-wing professor Noam] Chomsky to blurb my book,” he half-jokes. “It’s hard to criticize my facts because I’ve gone places where other people with my politics haven’t.”

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The American Conservative Wed, 12 May 2010 17:02:10 +0000 Ali Gharib The American Conservative]]> By Ali Gharib

Circulation: 12,000
Date of Birth: 2002
Frequency: Monthly
Price: $3.95

The American Conservative is a politics magazine with something to love or to hate for both conservatives and liberals. Founded in 2002 by right-wing iconoclast Pat Buchanan, journalist Scott McConnell and Greek-shipping-heir-turned-writer Taki Theodoracopulos, the magazine took aim at George W. Bush’s peculiar brand of conservatism — his rampant foreign adventurism and massive spending. Its attack on what mainstream conservatism had become established TAC immediately as an outlier on the right, tending toward Buchanan’s “paleoconservatism” (more traditionalist than today’s conservative movement) and the libertarian right.

That’s not all there is to TAC, though. In fact, there’s even something for your average paleocon to hate: A trickle of progressive journalists have been publishing articles in TAC, including Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald; former New York Observer writer Philip Weiss, now blogging on his Mondoweiss website; and Robert Dreyfuss, who writes for The Nation. Most of their coverage does, however, revolve around themes of the founding ideology of the magazine, such as criticisms of U.S. policy in the Middle East — particularly of Israel and its U.S. supporters — and government infringements on First Amendment and privacy rights.

TAC is onto something with its principled but eclectic stable of writers. McConnell, who remains the editor (though executive editor Kara Hopkins runs the magazine day-to-day), explains its unique positioning: “We take a beating from all sides, but I’ve always thought — it’s almost a cliché to say so — the left-right dichotomy doesn’t necessarily explain the way actual readers are or the way America is.”

That is something I, too, have found in my days in Washington writing about foreign policy. The neoconservative architects of the Iraq War have more in common with the Democratic liberal interventionists who were their enablers — Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and John Kerry, to name just a few major liberals who voted to authorize the war — than they do with either midcentury Republican isolationists (some now paleocons) or militaristic Republican realists. Likewise, progressives can find common cause with libertarians on privacy issues and with noninterventionists on issues of war and peace.

The magazine’s focus on the U.S.’s involvement in the world is not an accident. “I’m kind of a believer that there is one issue that defines an era,” McConnell says. Right now, he thinks it’s terrorism and U.S. dealings in the Middle East — Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions, ongoing U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and, at the center of it all, U.S. policy toward Israel. TAC doesn’t shy away from issues involving Israel, a subject that often, despite robust discussion in Europe and even in Israel itself, gets short shrift in the U.S.

“When you write on Israel-Palestine, it’s always loaded,” says Phillip Weiss, who lost his job at The New York Observer because he wanted to focus on that one issue — especially how it’s tied up in Jewish American identity and politics. In March of last year, Weiss wrote a cover story for TAC on the torpedoing of Charles Freeman’s nomination to head Obama’s National Intelligence Council, expounding on the so-called Israel lobby’s role in the affair. “There’s stuff I don’t like in TAC, but big deal,” Weiss told me, noting his trouble getting pieces on his subject of choice published elsewhere. “TAC wanted my stuff and I said ‘great’ and worked for them. And I didn’t care about the labels.”

The labels are legion, and they come from the right as well as the left. David Frum, an arch-neocon and former Bush speechwriter, attacked paleocons in general, and specifically TAC’s editors and adherents, as “unpatriotic conservatives” in a 2003 National Review article, accusing them of “apologetics for the enemy and wishful defeatism” in the so-called War on Terror. Buchanan, who writes editorials for TAC, is a particular lightning rod. He has been called a racist for decades. During Buchanan’s presidential run in 1991, William Buckley wrote a 40,000-word article, again in National Review, declaring him an anti-Semite. Famously a drinking buddy of Hunter S. Thompson in the 1960s and now a frequent guest on the liberal-leaning cable channel MSNBC, Buchanan is unapologetic for his controversial views. To him, the labels are nothing but overwrought distortions intended to silence him.

After some financial trouble last year, much like everyone else, TAC is back on solid footing (a relative term in the magazine world — especially in the small-circulation, low-revenue sphere of political magazines) after reducing its staff through attrition, moving to a cheaper office and cutting the publication frequency in half. Although progressives like Weiss (and me) might not agree with everything The American Conservative says, there is no doubt that it is a unique voice in American political life.

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Blurt Wed, 12 May 2010 17:01:54 +0000 Susie Poppick Blurt]]> By Susie Poppick

Circulation: 30,000
Date of Birth: 2009
Frequency: Quarterly
Price: $4.95

The very existence of year-old Blurt magazine is bold, and not just because of the recession.

Blurt dares, in the age of the Internet, to represent the ineffable auditory experience of music through words and photos, without any handy play buttons offering MP3 samples or video clips. The quarterly flips the traditional print-to-web formula — it is the new offspring of an existing website, — and eschews top 40 pop hits in favor of the “indie”-prefixed genres. If those weren’t warning signs enough, founder Scott Crawford’s last print music magazine, Harp, folded in 2008.

These red flags suggest a novel challenge, to which Blurt’s response is surprisingly traditional. The magazine’s spirit (and most of its word count) is devoted to good old-fashioned music journalism, with intimate articles on rising artists and vivid curatorial music reviews that would seem right at home on the pages of Rolling Stone, were the artists less obscure. The writing is perceptive and often beautiful; a reviewer in the winter 2009 issue remarks that the electronic group Fuck Buttons’ newest album, Tarot Sport, “was gulped down by the press with a wince and a lemon slice; it had harsh waves of treble, oily swamp-hiccups of bass. … It is quite nearly the inverse of the former album, with the same shape, the same cracked teeth percussion … and the same cawing jungles of multilayered synth, but everything now bright as a body turned inside out, bleeding colour.” With descriptions like that, who needs streaming audio?

Features and interviews round out the content, providing indie music junkies — those who subsist on albums by Heartless Bastards, Of Montreal, Grizzly Bear, Deerhoof, My Morning Jacket, Lykki Li, Conor Oberst and TV on the Radio — with a feast of information that blurs the lines between the obscure, fascinating and trivial (e.g., did you know a groupie once stole Kings of Leon vocalist-guitarist Caleb Followill’s $1,200 jacket?).

But Blurt, for all its wordplay and insight, misses the mark when it comes to presentation. Many photos, including a centerfold spread of the Avett Brothers in the winter 2009 issue, are dimly lit and low-resolution. Some are even recycled from issue to issue. And writers of ransom letters may as well put down their scissors; Blurt’s text is often so tiny it has me reaching for the bifocals I don’t own and shouldn’t need.

In an interview with The Washington Post last year, founder Crawford explained that in order to limit overhead costs, the magazine is produced virtually, by staffers who e-mail each other from around the country and work out of their apartments. While such frugality is to be admired, it is no excuse for sloppy editing and poor photography, particularly at a time when print magazines must offer some added value beyond what online publications can provide. If Blurt is to graduate beyond the status of recycled web companion, it needs to push its production values up a notch.

To be fair, some sections of the magazine already have that needed gleam of professionalism. Chris Eichenseer’s photos from Lollapalooza 2009 are sassy and polished, skillfully framing musicians against the grass, trees and ambient sunlight. A clever fall fashion spread shot by Edward Smith shows various indie artists lounging in colorful vintage attire. Blurt would benefit greatly if such attention to aesthetics were more consistent throughout its pages.

Another area that is strong but could use more consistency is Blurt’s front section, which features short articles and columns. Inventive imaginings such as “Cover Songs We’d Like to See” (e.g., Alison Krauss and Robert Plant covering M.I.A.’s “Bamboo Banga”) and “What a Pair” (e.g., Quentin Tarantino directing a Katy Perry music video) are entertaining and show that Blurt writers know the industry well enough to lampoon it successfully. Articles like “Near-Life Experience,” in which a writer describes playing music for tips and working up to paid gigs in the online virtual world Second Life, offer an unusual perspective on the tactics aspiring rock stars must sometimes employ to get their names out. These pieces are all well executed but do not seem to fit into predictable slots at the magazine’s front. As Blurt matures, it would benefit from some regularity in this area, so that readers can grow attached to specific columns.

With a bit more consistency and attention to presentation, Blurt would be well positioned to stay in the print game. At its core, it is a solid, well-written magazine, with interviewers who ask the right questions and writers who find the right words to translate the verve of music into prose.

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The Most Widely Read Magazine in the World Thu, 13 May 2010 04:01:52 +0000 Joel Meares The Watchtower a mass-circulation empire.]]>

By Joel Meares

It’s the first Saturday of March and a perfect day for Jehovah’s Witnessing. The sky is clear, the air is crisp and a fresh copy of The Watchtower, stamped March 1, 2010, is ready to be distributed.

At least, I assume it’s a good day for Witnessing; this is my first time. Frank and Lydia Tavolacci — from a Jehovah’s Witness congregation in Glendale, Queens — have invited me along for a morning of door-knocking in their mostly residential neighborhood. A longtime recipient of the Witnesses’ famous “good news” wakeup calls, I jumped at the chance to see what it’s like on the other side of the door.

The day begins at the small, red-brick Kingdom Hall on Glendale’s Myrtle Avenue, where about 40 Witnesses gather in couples and families. Some thank Jehovah for the blessed day, others thank him for the coffee that got them here by 9 a.m. A few quick hellos in the Hall — a trapezoidal room with churchlike rows of chairs, a churchlike stage but no churchlike iconography — and the Witnesses head downstairs to arm themselves.

Their ammunition is The Watchtower and its companion magazine Awake!, each sitting in piles on a bench in the beige basement-level hallway. At first glance there’s not much difference between the two — both are flimsy, pamphlet-like 31-page monthlies, each colorfully adorned with photos of smiling faces and illustrations of Biblical happenings. But while Awake! is an attempt at a general interest magazine — travel and science stories, with a Witness twist — The Watchtower is strictly Biblical, its contents a doctrinal guide to Witness beliefs. March’s cover boy — a bearded scribe writing at a desk awash with golden light — sits over the cover line: “The Bible, Is It Really God’s Inspired Word?” Inside, a table of contents provides the answer. Page 4: “The Bible Really Is God’s Inspired Word.” Page 8: “Why You Can Trust the Biblical Gospels.”

Frank takes six copies of the English-language Watchtower, while others select from of piles of Romanian, Italian and Polish editions. Every month, nearly 40 million copies of The Watchtower are printed in more than 180 languages and sent to 236 countries. There are no subscriptions and you won’t find it on newsstands, but it’s still hard to miss. Thanks to the efforts of Witnesses like the Tavolaccis, The Watchtower is the most widely distributed magazine in the world, with a circulation of more than 25 million. Last year, the world’s 7.3 million-strong Jehovah’s Witnesses spent 1.5 billion hours knocking on doors and “street Witnessing” — stopping folks in parks and on streets — to preach the “good news” with a copy of The Watchtower. Its closest competitors are AARP The Magazine (circulation 24.3 million) and Better Homes and Gardens (7.6 million). It doesn’t hurt that The Watchtower has been free since 1990, with the option of a small donation.

Armed with their copies, Frank and the other Witnesses at the Glendale Kingdom Hall head back upstairs for a pep talk. “Elder” John Juels leads the 10-minute session from the stage, offering tips on how the congregation might keep doors open this morning. Frank Tavolacci calls it “a little bit of rah rah rah.”

“Raise a topic of interest,” suggests Juels, a short, bespectacled man in a bright orange tie. He invites a young blonde, “Sister Rachel,” up from the crowd to the stage for a role play. After a quick knock-knock and some polite doorfront introductions, Juels says the government is a hot topic right now, so Witnesses might raise the spectre of Governor Paterson to keep their bleary-eyed targets listening. “The government of Jesus Christ is coming,” he tells his mock door-opener. “Certainly God would do a better job than some of the people we have today.”

After a prayer, the group divides into pairs to tackle a block of Queens for the morning. I join the Tavolaccis to cover the block directly next to the Kingdom Hall. The two Glendale locals have dressed for what they call “the best volunteer work there is.” Frank’s wearing a checkered beret, gray suit and orange tie, and Lydia has wrapped herself in a chic, ankle-length black coat, her long blond hair tucked under a black woolen cap. Both are 40, gregarious and equally endowed with the kind of thick “Noo Yawk” accents you might expect to hear heckling the umpire at a Yankees game.

Their first door belongs to a large, two-story brick home on the wide and leafy Union Turnpike. Stepping up to the door, Lydia switches off her BlackBerry and tells Frank to get Psalm 104 ready in his black leatherbound Bible. Hers is a little tatty from use. Passages are highlighted, verse numbers circled and dozens of bright orange and pink sticky notes peek out from pages. Lydia is out on “field service” for at least two hours every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Ringing the bell, she asks Frank to hold The Watchtower so it is visible to whomever should open the door. Nobody does.

After three minutes, she rings again. She always rings twice. Again, nobody answers. On a piece of yellow paper called a “House Call Card,” a Witness couple working in tandem with the Tavolaccis notes the address and writes “NH” next to it, for “not home.” Other codes include “CA” for people who ask Witnesses to call again, “B” for busy and “C” for when a child answers the door.

And so it goes. NH, NH, NH. “It’s not a chore,” Lydia insists, as they move on to a woman who dismisses them with a curt “I’m Catholic.” “I mean, it’s not something you want to do, but it’s an important thing to do and it’s something you can do for God. You’re saving people’s lives.”

Frank and Lydia get their chance at the second-to-last house on the block. Amanda, a teenager with pulled-back frizzy brown hair opens the door wearing pajama pants decorated with pictures of milkshakes and the words “Shake it baby!” She is in the mood to talk. “Do you believe the Bible is inspired by God or just written by man?” asks Lydia in a sweet, slow elementary school teacher’s voice. “Inspired,” answers Amanda, after taking a moment to think.

They talk for five minutes before Lydia returns to the sidewalk and takes a purple-covered diary from her bag. On the top leaf of a pad of heart-shaped sticky notes inside, she writes down the scripture they discussed and which Watchtower edition she left behind. She promises to return next Saturday.

“I want to come back with a good question,” she says, clearly excited by Amanda. “Like, ‘Do you think we’re living in the last days?’”

While some magazines have religious followings, few have actually started religions. The Watchtower did just that. Back then, it was Zion’s Watch Tower and Herald of Christ’s Presence, so named by its founder, the writer and preacher Charles T. Russell. A former assistant editor of the Second Adventist magazine The Herald of the Morning, Russell released the first edition of Zion’s Watch Tower on July 1, 1879. It looked much like a newspaper of the time, with two columns, simple headlines and no images. Inside, readers learned that “we are living in ‘the last days,’ ‘the days of the Lord.’”

Russell, a charismatic Pennsylvania preacher with a big graying beard and an even bigger bank account, amassed followers in the years leading up to 1879 through public speaking tours and writings in newspaper columns and the Adventist magazine. He began questioning Adventist doctrine when the world failed to end, as it had predicted, in 1878. Russell used the monthly Zion’s Watch Tower to expound a new brand of Christianity to small congregations of Bible Students, as Witnesses were then known, mostly in the Northeast.

The new brand, familiar to many today from television exposés and house calls, taught that Christ would return to Earth in 1914 to govern the world, destroy nonbelievers and leave Witnesses to transform the planet into Paradise. It was revised in the 1930s, when the religion adopted the name Jehovah’s Witnesses, to teach that Christ did return in 1914 — he was just invisible — and that within a generation Armageddon would finally arrive. Witnesses now take a less specific approach to the end of the world.

Today, The Watchtower is the flagship publication produced by Jehovah’s Witnesses. The magazine and other literature is published by their not-for-profit corporation, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania; Witnesses also use another not-for-profit corporation in the United States, named the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., which is responsible for printing and distributing the magazine. The Tract Society’s catalogue includes the two magazines, a ballooning collection of books and brochures and The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, the religion’s official Bible. As of this year, 165 million New World Translations have been printed since it was first published in 1961.

The mammoth operation is funded by donations, mainly from Witnesses leaving anonymous contributions in boxes titled “Worldwide Work” at the back of Kingdom Halls. The money is funneled to the U.S. world headquarters to fund the publishing empire, as well as disaster relief. Just how much moolah makes that journey is unknown — as a religious organization, the Tract Society does not have to file an annual return with the IRS — but in 2001, Newsday listed the Tract Society as one of New York City’s 40 richest corporations, with revenues of $951 million. Last year, a report stated that the Society had pulled in $125 million for the fiscal year ending in August.

Manhattanites might recognize the Tract Society’s headquarters from the skyline to their east — a pair of stout beige towers nudging the base of the Brooklyn Bridge and the shore of the East River in Brooklyn Heights; squint and you can see the word “Watchtower” stamped across their peaks. The Brooklyn Bethel, as the faithful call it, also functions as the religion’s world headquarters. Here, the nine-member governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses pulls the sect’s doctrinal strings and steers its publishing enterprise. All members of the governing body claim to come from the “little flock,” an anointed class of 144,000 Witnesses who will ascend to heaven upon Armageddon; other Witnesses will have to be satisfied with paradise on Earth.

Few non-Witnesses are allowed inside the Bethel headquarters and you’d be forgiven for conjuring fantastical reasons as to why — the anti-Witness publishing industry rivals The Tract Society’s in size and includes among its titles The Orwellian World of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and 30 Years a Watchtower Slave. But the day I visit, Brooklyn Bethel is less Airstrip One than Pan Am corporate headquarters circa 1965. In the lobby, a dull-painted plaster globe — the size of a boulder Indiana Jones might have to outrun — spins forlornly. Along maroon-carpeted corridors, cheery men in snug dark suits apologize for being too rushed to stop and chat. Everywhere, everyone asks you to stay for lunch.

Despite the absence of a masthead and bylines, The Watchtower is no immaculate conception. Each edition’s journey to your door begins a year ahead of publication at a meeting of the nine-member Writing Committee in the Writing Committee Conference Room, a boardroom dominated by a long polished wooden desk and two mammoth Sony flat screens on the wall; more Vogue Living than Mother Jones.

James Pellechia is one of the magazine’s writers and a member of the Writing Committee. Dapper in a dark gray suit, dark gray vest and even darker gray tie — all under wispy gray hair — 66-year-old Pellechia is a third-generation Witness. His grandparents converted in 1908 after migrating from Italy to Roseto, Pa., and he came to Bethel in 1982 to join the Writing Department. He and his fellow committee members choose the theme of each Watchtower issue and the articles it will feature. “It’s for Witnesses but also for the public,” Pellechia says of The Watchtower. “For people who would be interested in what the Bible would say about subjects like child-rearing and how to keep marriages united.” The magazine might focus on infidelity in May, homosexuality in June and earthquakes in July. Articles might answer questions like “Should you be honest at all times?” and “Has God left us?” (Yes, and no, in case you were wondering.) Each article is littered with scriptural references, which function like hyperlinks, directing readers to Bible pages for further reading. The committee also decides questions and answers for the special “study” editions of The Watchtower produced specifically for Witnesses already in the flock to study at Kingdom Halls every week. The number of study editions printed is undisclosed.

The Watchtower then comes together like most magazines, Pellechia explains. A writer is chosen as a “Compiler,” functioning like a magazine editor, and an assignment editor distributes briefs to writers — there are about 20 on staff. Copy is fact-checked, copy-edited and rewritten as it moves through the 70-person Writing Department. Illustrators and photographers, at a Witness training campus in Patterson, N.Y., provide the images.

Writers live with about 1500 other Bethel workers, including cooks, secretaries, cleaners and committee members, in five buildings throughout Brooklyn Heights. Meals, accommodation and an allowance are provided to keep the focus on God’s work. One Witness-occupied residential tower on Wilson Street might be the best deal in New York, housing 500 Witnesses, a library, a medical center and a dining room. Witnesses call it the “Towers Hotel.”

Despite rumors to the contrary, women can write for The Watchtower, but not on scriptural matters. “That’s what the Bible indicates according to our concept of it,” says assignment editor John Wischuck. “If they wanted to write something about dressmaking, a sister could do that. It might be in another case that she interviews another woman and writes up her life story. That would go through an editor or a rewrite.”

Before the magazine is sent to a facility known as Watchtower Farms, in Wallkill, N.Y., and to 16 other production centers across to the world — to be printed, bound and packaged for distribution — the Writing Committee takes a final look. “All nine of us read it,” says Pellechia. “Each one sees the previous writing committee member’s marks and either adds to it, reinforces it, or, once in a while, may change it. We need to ensure it is in agreement with our doctrine, scripturally.”

Of course, the magazine does not always agree with itself — or past versions of itself — on these matters. Early in its history, for example, The Watchtower told followers that the mischievous men of Sodom and Gomorrah would be resurrected. In 1988, an article in The Watchtower reversed this position. “Our publications are not infallible,” Pellechia says. “Certain Bible texts, certain doctrine, may need adjustment as more information is researched and understanding grows.”

David A. Reed, a critic and former high-ranking Witness, wrote in his book, Jehovah’s Witness Literature, that “much like a collection of White House news releases written during successive Democratic and Republican administrations, the Watchtower Society’s books and magazines reflect the sect’s changing leadership over the years.”

In an e-mail to me, Reed wrote that he stopped reading the magazine in 1999, a year before Don Alden Adams became the religion’s leader. In general, Reed says, today’s Watchtower and the religion behind it are far different from their earliest incarnations. “In terms of internal organizational politics, or religious positions, they are more conservative now than in the days of founder C.T. Russell. The Witnesses are now a tightly controlled, disciplined group, which they were not under Russell.”

The most tightly controlled aspect of the Witnesses’ publishing arm may be the names of Watchtower authors. No Tract Society publication has carried bylines since the early 1940s, because, according to assignment editor Wischuck, the “glory should go to God.” Pellechia expands on that: “There were about 40 writers of the Bible and for the most part, people who read the sacred texts may or may not have known who wrote that information. The material should stand on its own merits and attention should be focused back on the word of God rather than the individual.”

This sort of fifth-person approach to writing means The Watchtower can read like a textbook rendering of the Bible; big on plague and pestilance but short on the simple, beatific prose that marks its source. Former Witness Kyria Abrahams describes the magazine she read growing up in a Kingdom Hall in Pawtucket, R.I., as “extremely boring.” “They were pretty much all on the same theme,” she says today. “‘Why does God allow blah blah blah?’ ‘Is blank okay?’ And you know that it isn’t. For the most part, it was written at a fifth grade level.”

Abrahams, now 36 and living as a writer in New York City, parted with the Witnesses 11 years ago. She courted her own “disfellowshipping” by cheating on the husband she had married at 18. “I wanted out of the marriage so bad that I ended up just having an affair,” she says. “I was so entrenched in the idea of the religion that it was like I was somehow playing by their rules in order to leave.”

Abrahams has not spoken to her father since she left the religion, and has not heard from her mother in three years. She probably won’t hear from either ever again after the release of her acerbically funny account of her life as a Witness, I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed, last year. In the first chapter of the book, she reveals that her Jewish grandmother became a Witness after discovering a copy of The Watchtower on top of a trash can. In the third chapter, she describes her own experience with the books and magazines produced at Bethel. “My children’s books alternated between Dr. Seuss rhymes and tales of how sinners would scream and gnash their teeth at Armageddon,” she writes.

Like the Tavolaccis, Abrahams did her duty, door-knocking three times a week in her teens with a close friend named Kathy. She would do anything to get out of it — only pretending to ring the bell, encouraging Kathy to take long coffee breaks — and remembers many slamming doors. But it was a man who played along that stings her memory most sorely. After Abrahams told him she’d be happy to accept a small donation, he looked at her disdainfully and said, “I bet you would,” before handing her some change. “He saw right through me,” says Abrahams, who was 14 at the time. “I was totally aware that I was just this really annoying, weird person at the door, and I didn’t even know what I was talking about.”

Today, she sometimes sees The Watchtower in the back of a cab or in a doctor’s office. “I will pick it up and look at it for nostalgia,” she says. “It’s still the same as it was when I was a kid — nothing shocking, nothing weird. I would think that I’m going to get a big laugh out of it, but I just end up being sad and put it away.” No Witnesses have knocked on her door since she left her religion, husband and family behind.

But there are those who look forward to the familiar ring of the doorbell on a weekend. I joined Frank and Lydia Tavolacci on their fifth return call to 81-year-old Dominic Bonura’s small one-bedroom walkup in Glendale. The couple makes several of these return visits to people they’ve met while door-knocking every week. “What took you so long?” Bonura asks cheerily, opening the door.

Bonura’s wife died 12 years ago. “She was the most gorgeous thing you ever saw,” he says as we take our seats in a small living room cluttered with portraits of grinning grandchildren. A former butcher and sometime boxer, Bonura’s thin-skinned hands have been knotted by carpal tunnel syndrome. Resting on his knees, they look like large, crushed spiders.

He is dressed as if he were expecting us — polished shoes, pressed pants, a navy button-down all buttoned up — and he has a lot to say. He cuts Frank short before he can discuss the last readings he left. “This carpal tunnel is killing me, Franky,” he says huskily, stretching his arms and fingers out in angry defiance. “I tried to lift a two-pound weight the other day and it hurt so bad I wanted to go somewhere and croak. I’ve been disgusted with people in the world and with myself. I’m not going to lie to you Franky, I didn’t read a scripture, a Watchtower or an Awake!.”

Frank moves over to Bonura, crouches beside him and asks him to read from a Bible page stamped with extra-large print. Bonura pulls a pair of glasses from his pocket and loudly and clearly reads from the book of Isaiah. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” He lowers the Bible.

“When a father is holding a little boy’s hand, how does that little boy feel?” asks Frank.

“He feels safe and protected,” answers Bonura, his face softening. Reflecting on his recent tough times, he says, “Satan might have grabbed me by the shirt, but he doesn’t have me by the heart.”

From here, Frank talks with Bonura about his wife, his daughter and the stresses of staying cooped up in his apartment. Frank explains that “All scripture is inspired, not half, and not a quarter. God’s word can help us with any principle of life.” This is the message of the month’s Watchtower cover story.

Before we leave, Bonura stops Frank. “I was just thinking about that little guy in the street, Franky, holding his father’s hand. If he let go, it wouldn’t take a second for a car to sweep him away.” He pauses. “He can’t let go.”

“And he hasn’t let you go,” says Lydia from the couch. “Dom, we’re here.”

Bonura then turns to me and tells me to write this down, word perfect, with an exclamation mark. “There’s nothing like the truth, nothing!” he says. “These people, this organization, are beautiful. You can trust these people with your life.” He looks at Lydia. “You keep coming back like a song.”

“You know who encourages us to come back,” asks Lydia. “Jehovah.”

The Tavolaccis make tentative plans to return next Saturday before heading downstairs, leaving Bonura alone with his thoughts and a copy of The Watchtower.

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5280 Wed, 12 May 2010 17:01:51 +0000 Spencer Bailey 5280]]> By Spencer Bailey

Circulation: 77,027
Date of Birth: 1993
Frequency: Monthly
Price: $4.99

The city of Denver brings to mind many things — the Rocky Mountains, John Elway, microbreweries — but journalism is not one of them. Sure, Beat Generation scribes like Kerouac, Cassady and Ginsberg spent some time in the Mile High City. Yes, there are mass-circulation local newspapers, like The Denver Post (which has won a few Pulitzers in its time) and the alt-weekly Westword. And there was, of course, The Rocky Mountain News — until it shuttered in 2009.

But let’s face it: Denver is not known for its reportorial chops.

5280 magazine, however, may be changing that. Like Colorado itself — which, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, has grown at the rapid rate of 16.8 percent annually since 2000 — Denver’s top-selling magazine, too, has seen increases over the last decade: A larger staff, a bigger budget, a greater circulation.

Launched in 1993 from editor and publisher Dan Brogan’s bedroom, with savings, loans and credit cards, 5280 — named for Denver’s mile-high elevation — started with a print run of 20,000 and a $250,000 budget. Today, the magazine has a downtown office, a circulation of more than 77,000 and, according to Folio, a budget of about $8 million.

Such growth has allowed the publication to enhance its editorial content. “We really focused on service journalism initially, and, over the years, we became more successful and were able to invest the profits in a new way,” says Brogan.

Those investments included hiring Maximillian Potter, a former staff writer at Premiere, Philadelphia and GQ, as executive editor in 2004. This coincided with 5280 publishing “Conduct Unbecoming,” a breakthrough feature story by Potter, which Rolling Stone and Men’s Journal had previously rejected. The piece, about an Air Force Academy cadet accused of rape, went on to become a National Magazine Award finalist and was the focus of a TV segment on ABC’s 20/20.

The magazine has experienced its share of troubles in recent years, too — mostly a result of the Great Recession. 5280’s advertising dollars have remained low throughout the downturn, Brogan says. And there have been cost-cutting measures, such as the laying off of two editorial employees in December 2008.

The good news: 5280 saw its number of paid subscribers grow by 10 percent in 2008. Then, last year, the City and Regional Magazine Association ranked it one of the top five city magazines in America, alongside AtlantaLos Angeles, Philadelphia and Texas Monthly.

Much of 5280’s success is attributable to its focus on in-depth feature stories. Consider “Rebound,” staff writer Robert Sanchez’s profile, in the March 2009 issue, of the famously cantankerous Denver Nuggets coach George Karl — “the guy who once booted a ball into the stands during a game; who angrily challenged a player to a game of Jeopardy! to prove who was smarter; who ripped a toupée off someone during an on-court fight.” Sanchez’s prose is clear, concise and candid, right up there with similar pieces published last year in big-name magazines (such as Mike Sager’s “Big Balls Pete Carroll” in Esquire or S. C. Gwynne’s “Mike Leach is Thinking…” in Texas Monthly).

Another factor in the magazine’s progress: slick design. 5280’s style mimics well-polished national glossies, while rivaling other top regional publications. It is colorful, full of illustrations and graphs and topnotch photography. And its primary font is eye-catching and easy to read. “People, despite all the technological changes, still like sitting down — with coffee, a drink, a beer — and a magazine with really good design,” says Brogan.

Then there are 5280’s service features to consider, such as “The Future of Denver,” in the December 2009 issue, by senior associate editor Patrick Doyle. The piece lays out a proposal for how to preserve the city’s “treasured lifestyle” over the next 25 years, during which 1.5 million people are expected to move to the Front Range. Some of the suggestions: Clean up the 16th Street Mall, add a downtown shuttle route, complete the city’s costly rail system, bolster education spending. Both practical and insightful, this kind of local journalism has kept 5280 in business for 17 years.

All of which helps explain why Brogan is confident the magazine will maintain its steady-growing status in the steady-growing city. “Whether it’s in a digital form or paper form,” he says, “people are still going to want what we do.”

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Then: Dickens and Dostoevsky; Now: People and Us Weekly Thu, 13 May 2010 04:01:48 +0000 Zachary Sniderman

By Zachary Sniderman

What do the novels of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Charles Dickens and Henry James — serialized in such class periodicals as The Russian Messenger, All the Year Round and The Atlantic Monthly — have in common with People, Us Weekly, Star and the other celebrity gossip weeklies stereotypically associated with exploitation and junk journalism? The answer: a shared literary genre. It turns out that from their pithy opening sentences to their human dramas (and their gripping cliffhanger endings), whether they know it or not, today’s gossip weeklies have borrowed an incredibly successful formula — the one that kept readers returning week after week — pioneered by illustrious literary predecessors.

On the surface, contemporary gossip weeklies appear to be simply reporting celebrity news. (Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt shared a romantic dinner for two!) But beneath the surface, it is not merely the story of a date-night dinner. It is the latest installment in the long-running suspense story of “Brangelina,” complete with all the tricks of a more-than one hundred-year-old trade.

Serialization hit its apex in the 19th century, drawing in writers as different as Dostoevsky, Dickens, James, Gustave Flaubert and Leo Tolstoy, to name but a few. Individual chapters or installments were printed regularly in well-respected periodicals until the story was finished. But the stories that appeared were not arbitrarily carved out of finished novels. Serial authors wrote a new chapter every month or week, updating the story as it developed, adding details that would keep readers hooked. The longer a story ran, the better, since authors were paid each time they were published. This is partly why Dickens’ novels are so long: More chapters equaled more cash. Serialization is still wildly profitable. People raked in more than $900 million in 2009, according to Magazine Publishers of America. Us Weekly and Star were not far behind.

Although there was no single formula for writing a successful serialized novel — and the great writers certainly took their liberties — there were basic themes, character types, plot twists and, of course, the golden rule of serialization: Always, always end on a cliffhanger. Will Oliver Twist escape London’s gutters? Will the brothers Karamazov actually kill their father? These were the cliffhangers that kept readers reading.

Take Dickens’ Great Expectations, a novel about country boy Pip’s aspirations to make it as a gentleman and woo his beautiful, albeit frosty, love, Estella.

Chapter 1-3 – A dangerous mystery envelops the hero: Pip, a poor boy, meets an escaped convict who threatens his life and demands Pip help him.
Chapter 11 – The mystery deepens, a tragic flaw is revealed: Pip steals food for the convict. The police arrive at Pip’s home. Pip is overly trusting and naïve of the world. He blindly loves rich girl Estella.
Chapter 15 – A friend is betrayed; the problems worsen: Pip’s sister is viciously attacked, becoming an invalid. It’s believed Orlick, Pip’s peer and fellow apprentice, is responsible.
Chapter 18 – A truth is revealed, changing the hero: Pip receives a large sum of money from an unknown benefactor. Pip travels to London to become a gentleman.
Chapter 22-26 – A tragic flaw leads to ruin. A hero haunted by transgressions of family: Pip misbehaves in London’s high-life out of naïveté and jealousy for Estella.
Chapter 34 – Tragedy in the family: Pip’s sister dies.
Chapter 38 – A love rejected: Estella is courted by another man; Pip is heartbroken.
Chapter 39-55 – A fall from grace; the hero is destitute: The convict was Pip’s benefactor! They meet but the convict is arrested and sentenced to death. His immense wealth reverts to the state and Pip loses everything.
Chapter 57 – At his lowest, the hero finds support from those he wronged: Pip, now penniless, falls ill and is tended to by his poor family whom he had forgotten.
Chapter 58 – The hard road to reclaiming respect: Pip attends a humble wedding ceremony, showing newfound respect.
Chapter 59 – Seclusion gives rise to new ambition; the hero must prove himself alone: Pip goes into business with an old friend. He spends 11 years gaining moderate wealth.
Chapter 59 – A hero does not meet Herculean expectations: Pip returns home to find Estella divorced and with children. They resolve to be friends, but perhaps now they can finally be together?

Now take Tiger Woods, the story of a premier athlete’s salacious fall and his fight to reclaim his beloved family and beautiful, albeit distant, wife Elin Nordegren. Below is a week-by-week turn of events from the Tiger Woods story, according to’s hooks, headlines and cliffhangers.

Prologue – Success and happiness for our hero: Tiger Woods, golf mega star, is happily married and on a lengthy winning streak.
Week 1 – A dangerous mystery envelops the hero: Tiger crashes his car and questions swirl around how he got his injuries. “In the background of [a 911] call, a woman is heard screaming, ‘What happened?’ The caller responds, ‘We don’t know what happened. We’re trying to figure that out right now.’”
Week 2 – The mystery deepens, a tragic flaw is revealed: A cocktail waitress claims Tiger had an affair with her; he withdraws from a tournament due to injuries. “‘Hey, it’s Tiger. I need you to do me a huge favor,’ Woods allegedly said in one voicemail. ‘Can you please take your name off your phone…’ Woods is facing scrutiny over a rumored affair with a New York club hostess in the wake of his one-car accident in Florida last week.”
Week 3 – A friend is betrayed; the problems worsen for our hero: Tiger’s friend says he regrets introducing him to now-wife Elin and more women claim they had affairs with Tiger. “Alleged Tiger Mistress Angry About His Other Women.”
Week 4 – A terrible truth is revealed, changing the hero: Tiger admits infidelity and puts his golf career on hold. “Woods, 33, previously apologized for unspecified ‘sins’ and ‘transgressions.’ A string of women have now come forward claiming to have had affairs with him.”
Week 5 – A tragic flaw leads to ruin. Our hero is haunted by familial transgressions: Tiger loses his first sponsor, Accenture, because of his tarnished image. Perhaps his father’s infidelity is to blame for Tiger’s faults? “Report: Dad’s Cheating Ways Tortured Tiger.”
Week 6 – A love rejected: Elin plans to split from Tiger; she is spending Christmas in Sweden without her husband. “On Thursday, workers began moving large items … out of the couple’s home in Windermere, Fla., and Nordegren was seen giving them instructions, according to the New York Post.”
Week 7 – A fall from grace. The hero is destitute: Tiger’s mother is angry and disappointed in her son. Tiger drops out of the public eye, and loses another sponsor: AT&T. “Where In The World Is Tiger Woods?”
Week 8 – At his lowest, the hero finds support from those he wronged: Tiger appears on the cover of Vanity Fair, Elin will stay with her husband but keeps her distance; Elin’s attention is on her kids. “Tiger Woods’s Wife Focusing On Kids.”
Week 9 – The hard road to reclaiming public respect: Tiger loses free cars from General Motors, which he endorsed until 2008, and rumors spread that he has checked into sex rehab. “Buzz: Is Tiger In Mississippi Sex Rehab?”
Week 10 – A shamed hero makes amends: Tiger plans a press conference to publicly apologize; Elin will stay with her man, for now. “Can Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren Save Their Marriage?” “Inside His Struggle.”
Week 11 – Seclusion gives rise to new ambition: Tiger returns to sex therapy and announces plans to eventually return to golf. Gatorade drops Tiger as a sponsor. “‘[People] go to work 8 to 5 and go home to have a life with the family. Tiger can’t do that,’ [his mother] said, also noting that his return to Buddhism ‘will make him a much better person.’”
Week 12 – A shattered family begins to mend: Tiger is home from rehab, but will Elin stay? “Was It Enough?” A three-page spread on whether his public apology to his family, friends and fans was enough to win her back. “‘Tiger still has a long way to go, and Elin knows that,’ says her friend. ‘She will stay around to see what happens in terms of public support and endorsements. But if it weren’t for the kids and for their future, she’d already be long gone.’”
Week 13 – A momentous event to determine the hero’s future: Tiger announces he will play at The Masters tournament — a prestigious contest he has won four times. “It’s Official: Tiger Woods Announces Return To Golf.”
Week 14 – The hero must prove himself: Elin will skip the tournament, just as she skipped his past press conferences. “Source: Elin Nordegren Doesn’t Want To Attend The Masters.”
Week 15 – A hero does not meet Herculean expectations: Tiger finishes with a respectable but personally disappointing fourth-place in The Masters tournament.

People’s March 1 cover states: “Elin’s Painful Choice: New Scandal, New Details… Tiger’s wife weighs the ultimate question: keep him or dump him?” The actual article starts with Elin dolling herself up the day before Valentine’s Day as Tiger lives alone in rehab. The peace between the two is fragile, friends say, even as Tiger’s mistresses continue to make news. He has forsaken his own friends to make a new start. Elin, a child of divorce herself, is protecting her children from the same fate. The story’s last section returns to the cliffhanger: “The big question Elin has to figure out: Is Tiger genuinely remorseful or just trying to clean up his image? … “It is up to her to see if she can believe in him again.”

It is a story of love, fame and betrayal. One of the world’s greatest athletes is heartsick as his wife contemplates whether they can ever have a future again. Written by… a team of journalists based in Orlando and New York.

Of course, gossip weeklies don’t just write about Tiger Woods; each set of celebrity dramas contains a unique storyline. Take Brangelina, for example. There’s no real news peg if they went on a romantic dinner — so why is it splashed on the covers? Years of updates on their courtship, marriage and day-to-day life have conditioned readers to care. Cliffhangers like “Will they stay together?” are answered next issue when we learn Brad bought Angelina’s meal. Some development of the story appears each week: New details are added, new photos are taken and new insights are provided. Each week is a new installment.

The heroes of modern day serial novels, like Brangelina and Tiger Woods, fall victim to the same high human dramas that characterize classic literature. Hero with a tragic flaw? Jake Pavelka, the star of the latest season of ABC’s popular reality show The Bachelor, seemed perfect in every way, but “mistakenly” chose Vienna to be his wife. Us Weekly claimed: “Jake’s Mistake — as Vienna lies to Jake about a boyfriend, [previous contestant] Ali gets her sweet revenge.” Rags to riches? Find any story about Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber, two teens that have had astronomically rapid rises to fame. Unattainable romantic interests? The desire for a will-they-won’t-they relationship is satisfied by Twilight lead stars Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart. “I wish them all the happiness in the world,” said Rob’s aunt in Star. “I know for sure it’s a true love match!”

But are gossip weeklies really serialized novels? Is Tiger Woods really a modern-day Great Expectations? Do the gossip magazines even mean to ape an entire genre? Doesn’t intent matter? And if all of this is true, do those magazines now qualify as high art or are they still just exploitation? All this and more to be answered next issue….

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I Am Woman, Hear Me Blog Thu, 13 May 2010 04:01:28 +0000 Susie Poppick By Susie Poppick

Last May, Slate’s newly launched women’s blog DoubleX published an article titled “The Trouble with Jezebel: How the Gawker Site Is Hurting Women,” criticizing Gawker’s spin-off-blog-for-girls for being — essentially — anti-feminist. The blogosphere exploded.

Jezebel responded with posts titled “Who You Calling a Bad Feminist?” and “Faux Outrage over Slutty Feminists Is F-cking Hurting America.” The blog Feministe posted: “Actually, attacking women is hurting women.” Turner Broadcasting’s countered that Jezebel actually overdoes it with “knee jerk cries of misogyny and sexism.” And Ann Friedman of the ad-supported laid into DoubleX directly in a piece titled “The Trouble with Double X,” published on The American Prospect’s website.

Some, such as women’s lifestyle website, denounced the controversy itself, while others, like Rebecca Traister at’s feminist blog Broadsheet, rejoiced. “I could not be more pleased that there is an argument between multiple female writers of multiple ages and experiences and multiple platforms all arguing about what feminism means,” Traister wrote. “This is what it means.”

This eruption of debate, which unfolded over just three days, reveals how the web has democratized feminist media. Any woman with a computer and an Internet connection can start a blog and call herself a feminist, leading to not only a proliferation of more obscure blogs and personal websites, but also a rich ecosystem of more mainstream feminist blogs and e-magazines, including Jezebel, Feministe and others named above. This complex online landscape has not only increased dialogue and disagreements about the meaning of feminism but has also influenced the very topics covered by the sites. Though they post on some more serious, traditional feminist issues, the sites increasingly reflect Internet-age values, with more stories on click-enticing pop-cultural events and personalities than, say, sexism in the workplace. It is telling, for example, that the blogs and e-magazines above have had more to say about Tiger Woods’ affairs than about how healthcare may affect women.

Writers and editors at these sites argue that the “Internetizing” of feminist dialogue is a positive development in the movement; it allows feminists to have more inclusive debates and apply their lens to topics that more readers may find interesting or relevant to their lives. But old-guard feminists worry that those of the Internet generation are spending too much time attacking each other and discussing celebrities, and not enough time defending women’s rights. The reality is somewhere in between.

Founded 38 years ago on the eve of Roe v. Wade, Ms. Magazine is considered by many to be the grandmother of feminist publications. The magazine, which was the brainchild of a team of editors that included Gloria Steinem, has traditionally focused on political issues affecting women. Current Ms. Magazine senior editor Michele Kort said she disapproves of the trend among many online publications of criticizing other feminist organizations, because it takes the focus off of protecting feminist political causes threatened by conservatives. “We say, ‘Take your fight to the right,’” Kort said.

Letty Cottin Pogrebin, one of Ms. Magazine’s co-founders, said feminists today take for granted the rights their mothers earned. “Today’s generation thinks it has the luxury of focusing on Lindsay Lohan’s drinking problem and so-and-so’s belly-button ring,” she said. “I have so little patience for that discourse while women’s reproductive rights are being threatened by right-wing backlash.”

And while some online feminist publications, such as, devote more space than other blogs to political discussion, Pogrebin said virtual words do not amount to change: “Exchanging outrage on the Internet gives the illusion of activism. I want to ask, ‘Why aren’t you out on the streets?’”

But feminist bloggers said their online commentary, whether about politics or fashion, is more than just virtual chatter. Dodai Stewart, Jezebel writer and deputy editor, said she feels that turning her feminist focus on pop culture is “both fun and important,” that gender norms about how women should dress or act often have insidious cultural — if not political — repercussions.

“I’d rather be writing about Teen Vogue than abortion,” Stewart said. “An era is often defined by pop culture and media, and products so aggressively marketed toward young women can have a real effect.” Just the act of discussion can cause change in people’s perception of what are and aren’t acceptable messages for young girls, Stewart believes.

With eight-figure monthly page views and the category headings “Sex,” “Celebrity” and “Fashion,” Jezebel might be the best example of a feminist site that uses pop culture to draw readers. But even Ms. Magazine has felt the pull of the digital world and its fascination with the hyper-current. The new Ms. Magazine blog, launched this past March, includes a post on the iPhone application Tiger Text, which allows cheating spouses to delete sent and received texts from their cell phones, an analysis of how the characters on ABC’s Lost conform to stereotypical gender roles, and a piece that questions Lady Gaga’s status as a feminist icon: Is she or isn’t she?

Kort is more optimistic than Pogrebin that the pop-culture topics covered by the Ms. Magazine blog will serve a higher purpose than pure entertainment. She said she hopes it will be able to court younger generations using more light-hearted posts as a gateway to more serious writing. “Maybe they’ll be drawn by the cultural commentary but stay for the other things,” she said.

There is a reason that such commentary is so attractive to readers. Given the speed of blogging, feminists can dissect mutable pop culture trends as they happen in real time, complete with YouTube links. Were the Super Bowl ads this year especially sexist? Feministing seemed to think so. Was Mo’Nique’s Oscar win a step forward or backward for black women? The Ms. Magazine blog had “mixed feelings,” since her character in Precious was so stereotypical and negative.

It is difficult to calculate exactly how many feminist e-magazines and blogs exist on the Internet, but in addition to the few dozen best-known websites, there are hundreds — and likely thousands — of personal or regional feminist sites; Bust Magazine’s website alone lists links to more than 150 feminist blogs, and blog directories like list hundreds more.

Despite the satisfaction of reading hyper-current feminist analysis, readers have showed some loyalty to (and patience for) the few dozen feminist print periodicals sold nationally. Though leaner and less frequently issued than it has been in past years, the now quarterly print edition of Ms. Magazine lives on with a circulation of 110,000, subsisting on a blend of grant money, donations, newsstand sales and subscriptions. Seventeen-year-old Bust Magazine has more than 100,000 readers and 14-year-old Bitch — which managed to get readers to donate $75,000 last year so it could stay afloat — is a survivor, with a circulation about half that of Bust’s.

Still, the allure of the online is potent. Blogs can be launched on a whim, with little or no overhead, and may therefore begin with a looser premise than would be financially feasible for a print publication. When Slate first launched its DoubleX blog, intending to give its female writers a space of their own to discuss topics especially interesting to female readers, the writing team wasn’t sure what to write about, said co-founder Hanna Rosin. The staff wondered, “Do we write about our kids?” she said. But then Hillary Clinton announced for president and suddenly everyone had an opinion. “Each woman’s lens became central,” Rosin said.

Even the sparring between feminist blogs is not to be dismissed, some feminists said, because it helps keep everyone in check. Despite the backlash “The Trouble with Jezebel” generated, “It wasn’t intended to be the voice of DoubleX against Jezebel,” said Rosin. While the piece, written by Linda Hirshman, criticized Jezebel for not taking feminism seriously enough, similar charges have been leveled against DoubleX. Rosin was once called out by a conservative blogger for being superficial when she commented that Nobel Prize-winner Herta Müller and Project Runway contestant Louise Black look alike.

Still, compared with Ms. Magazine and feministing, DoubleX is less concerned with political change and more focused on cultural analysis, Rosin said. “We take this post-feminist world and try to figure it out. We take what women wear and ask what it means … We take everything issue-by-issue.”

The very term “post-feminist” is objectionable to Kort at Ms. Magazine. “Just as we aren’t in a postracial America, neither are we in a postfeminist America,” she said.

Some perspective on such disagreements was offered by professor Ellen Dubois of the University of California, Los Angeles, an expert in the history of American feminism. “The discourse is exciting,” she said. “Feminism has an important historical tradition of having contradictions built into it. For example, it promotes equality and is meant to represent women, but by some accounts makes the category of ‘women’ meaningless.”

The feminist analysis popularized by Ms. Magazine has spread, not only to the online world, Dubois said, but also to magazines that were once more traditional, like Mademoiselle and Ladies’ Home Journal. “Feminist perspectives have spread into the mainstream,” she said, as women have showed they are no longer content with just “thin fare.” Still, this change does not mean that it’s time to give up fighting for women’s rights. “Like any standard of social justice, there is a constantly receding horizon with feminism; each generation has new aspects to discover.”

While online feminists may sometimes be too politically complacent, as Pogrebin suggested, their new brand of digital activism adds serious feminist counterpoints to important debates shaping our cultural identity. Jezebel’s feminist critiques of the fashion industry may seem trivial today, for example, but they actually are part of a much older philosophical tradition dating back to the days of Amelia Bloomer. Though her mid-19th-century biweekly, The Lily, was primarily a vehicle for promoting protofeminist ideas about women’s education and rights, Bloomer still found space to criticize the unyielding skirts of the Victorian era in favor of her comfortable namesake trousers.

As the Internet expands the pool of participants in and topics available for feminist scrutiny, it is becoming clear that not only the personal, but also the pop cultural, is political.

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