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  BLACKBOOK  
 

Circulation: About 150,000
Date of Birth: 1996
Frequency: Six times a year
Price: $4.50
Natural Habitat: In the lobby of the Hotel on Rivington

By Mark Wellborn

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When I moved to New York City four years ago, a friend gave me BlackBook magazine’s Little BlackBook. The wallet-sized insert, which accompanies every issue of the magazine, was filled with hip restaurant and nightlife options for Manhattan.

I used the booklet regularly in my efforts to familiarize myself with New York’s downtown scene, which was a world away from my apartment on 103rd Street. Fortunately for my tastes and limited budget, the guide expanded its scope beyond the über-trendy megaclubs that lined Tenth Avenue, with their $20 cover charges and hipper-than-thou clientele, to include restaurants tucked away on the Lower East Side and bars in the West Village.

Unfortunately, however, I held on to the Little BlackBook a little too long (two years) rather than picking up a revised version (it is updated every issue), and embarrassed myself thoroughly when I told a date to meet me outside a bar that had become a dry cleaner’s.

BlackBook does not hide its intentions: this is a magazine for the cool cats. The glossy pages overflow with profiles of the hippest places to be seen at, photographs of the clothes to be seen in, and interviews with the likes of actor Joaquin Phoenix who, if you’re lucky, you may see fleetingly as he passes you on the way out of one of these hot spots as you’re on your way in.

Founded in the mid-1990s, BlackBook has done an admirable job of carving out a niche for itself among the glut of popular culture magazines that fill the newsstands these days. Rather than focusing on providing as much skin and gossip as possible, BlackBook publishes intelligent, well-reported articles that make the $4.50 seem well spent.

Sadly, these articles are gasping for air among the pages and pages of advertisements, fashion spreads, and other fluff that dominate the publication. In the December/January 2007 issue, close to fifty of the 168 sleek pages were devoted to fashion spreads, largely photographs of forlorn-looking models decked out in the latest designer wear. One can look at an emaciated woman in need of a cheeseburger for only so long.

BlackBook has fallen victim to another unfortunate trend that popular culture magazines have come to embrace: the far-fetched hypothetical. The December/January 2007 issue offers a mug shot of actor Jeremy Piven and then a list of his vitals. You may not be aware that Jeremy Piven was in prison; that’s because he wasn’t. BlackBook does point this out, making it clear that the mug shot is fictional and that Piven’s list of favorites and emergency contacts has been made up. But a few pages later, they’re at it again: a blueprint of a new sushi restaurant in Beverly Hills is displayed across two pages, with blurbs indicating where certain celebrities might sit if they came into the restaurant. Are publications having so much trouble filling pages that they must resort to imaginary scenarios?

Other space fillers such as ubiquitous lists are peppered throughout the magazine. Actress Chloë Sevigny compiled a list of things that she hates for the final page of the December/January 2007 issue. Imagine my surprise when I saw that sex crimes, poverty, and cancer were among the things she dislikes.

In the midst of this vapid content, there are valuable nuggets to be found. Soon after September 11, Victor Bockris wrote an essay for BlackBook about a visit to Ground Zero. The piece masterfully juxtaposes the destruction he sees before him with the pre-9/11 New York that he remembers fondly. Bockris ends the notably personal essay by walking along the East River and musing on the resilience of the city and the future that lies before it. In the 2005 music issue, William T. Vollmann’s article “Of Drugs and Roosters” describes the growing trend of drug outlaws being immortalized in Mexican folk songs. Vollmann’s investigative journalism brings to life an obscure and fascinating issue that parallels the beginnings of the American hip-hop scene. These are the pieces that truly make the publication shine.

The problem with BlackBook is that it is trying to appease both the avid scenester, who lives for snippets about the latest members-only bar, and the person who buys it for its advice but also appreciates gems like Bockris’s essay. In theory, this publication could satisfy both worlds. In reality, the scenesters are winning out.

 
 
 

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