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  GOOD  
 

Circulation: 25,000 (and counting)
Date of Birth: September 2006
Frequency: Bimonthly
Price: $4.95
Natural Habitat: In the glove compartment of your vintage MG with the organic groceries and organic weed

By Archie Bland

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There’s a lot to hate about Good. There’s the insufferably self-satisfied tagline, which identifies the magazine’s target audience as “people who give a damn.” There’s the quadruple-page spread that opens the second issue, which asserts that “we” (the ones who give said damn, presumably) “inherited a broken future” and are therefore “building a better one,” mainly by means of such initiatives as “bioremediation,” “responsible futurism,” and something called “the rocket stove.” Even worse is the obnoxiously youthful editorial staff, most of whom attended Andover or Brown, at one of which they met the number-one reason you might feel that Good is, frankly, loathsome: founder Ben Goldhirsh, an L.A. trust-fund zillionaire who apparently woke up one morning and decided to start a magazine.

In pursuit of this dream, Goldhirsh has spent a million dollars on the first two issues, the second of which appeared two months late; the young plutocrat plans to spend nine times as much again over the next five years, according to the New York Times. His relevant experience is limited to an adolescence spent hanging around the offices of Inc., the publication his father founded and from which he derives his immense wealth. (Goldhirsh senior died of brain cancer in 2003.) Gawker, the snarky gossip website, was sufficiently moved by the ease of the young man’s rise to propose an alternative catchphrase in the build-up to last September’s launch: “Pat Yourself On The Back, You Rich Bastard: You’re Good!”

There is very little a Rich Bastard will be able to do to extinguish criticism that stems from the assumption that Rich Bastards can only produce magazines for themselves; in fact, though, Good’s social mission is not all smoke and mirrors, and, before long, it will have done more tangible you-know-what than Gawker ever has. To wit: Goldhirsh has pledged to donate every penny of subscription revenues for the first year’s half-dozen issues to charity, an altruistic marketing ploy that aims to bring in 50,000 subscribers and $1 million by mid-2007. It’s easy to be cynical about this kind of earnestness, but the beneficiaries probably wouldn’t dismiss it: if refocusing the startup costs that would normally be absorbed by indiscriminate mailings gains readers that actually stick around, the strategy may even make real financial sense.

With so much extrinsic business to attend to, one might easily forget the magazine itself, which would be a shame. It is, first and foremost, a nice object. The matte paper on which it is printed—recycled, natch—offers a tactile satisfaction typical of the magazine’s general yoking of the altruistic and the consumerist; the layout, similarly, is as spartan as is consistent with looking reassuringly expensive, as if iPod designer Jonathan Ive had reworked the Paris Review.

This Good mood is finely tuned to an audience that the magazine’s advertising materials define as “CONSCIOUS CONSUMERS driving progressive materialism.” The phrase, although dismal, does pinpoint a curious doublethink common to the young and earnest: the ability to dismiss brands in general as dispiritingly homogeneous and corporatist, and at the same time to view particular brands like Apple and Google and Ben & Jerry’s as somehow countercultural. This is a crucial part of the way Good defines itself, and the way it perceives the world. Again and again, it uses consumer choices as shorthand: a spread comparing the ethical policies of different oil companies suggests that BP customers probably shop at Whole Foods, whereas those who use Shell drive BMWs; a profile of the artist Kelly Reemtsen represents her pictorially as the sum of her possessions, from a box of Altoids to a painting of her 1974 Vespa.

If Good can firmly establish itself as more of a vintage scooter than a gas-guzzling sports car, it will stand a chance of surviving into a second year. But there is another variable, which may yet threaten the Rich Bastard’s dream: the stories the magazine publishes. On this front, unfortunately, Goldhirsh’s baby doesn’t yet have the—well, the goods. The January/February issue does include a couple of august names, like the author George Saunders and the London Guardian’s architecture and design editor, Jonathan Glancey, but their pieces, perfunctory at best, read as if they were gathering dust in obscure drawers before Good came calling. The rest of the magazine, mostly written by journalists young enough to maintain a Facebook profile, covers some fertile ground, like the division of church and state and the psychology of plastic surgery, but, typically, neither piece can find a story to tell that hasn’t already been told. For a magazine that purports to be about substantial, meaningful change, Good is a curiously empty vessel.

This is, in the long term, a deal-breaker. The good news is, it’s easier to rectify than the magazine’s identity would be. For all its flaws, this is a publication with its heart fundamentally in the right place, which ought to count for something; to write it off altogether would be like drowning a puppy. So, Ben Goldhirsh, pat yourself on the back, you Rich Bastard. For a complete beginner, Good’s not half bad.

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