Lunching with Huey, Skiing with Bode and Riding a Wholphin

Kurt Anderson ponders the future of magazines while Time and Newsweek cover a skier-turned-author and a new DVD magazine falls short.

There’s nothing like the fresh, glossy pages of a well-designed magazine to serve up the kind of story we news junkies love to settle into — like, say, an essay on the imminent decline of magazines. This week, writing in the pages of New York, Kurt Andersen delivers a doozy.

“Pretty much every important media story these days is, one way or another, about the struggle to cope with the end of the fat and happy twentieth-century era of media monopolies and oligopolies, of balancing the imperatives of new technology and the free market against intangible cultural values, whether and how to give people all the candy they want or the meat and vegetables they need,” writes Andersen.

And thus what is ostensibly a profile of John Huey, the new editor-in-chief of Time Inc.’s 151 magazines, soon digresses into a gloomy story about — what else? — the decline of magazines.

“We would like to believe that Internet-versus-print is analogous to TV-versus-radio in the fifties: The new doesn’t necessarily wipe out the old,” writes Andersen. “But I think paper media today are more like sailing ships around 1860 — still dominant but enjoying their last hurrah. I think it’s late in the magazine era.”

“I hope not,” Huey tells Andersen. “And [Time is] something that most people in America want to see survive, even if they don’t know it.”

Oh, we know it! How could we survive without … let’s see, what’s on the cover of Time this week? Ah, yes, that ageless magazine-cover classic — a profile of a controversial athlete with a new book to sell. Specifically, Bode Miller, the U.S. skiing phenom who recently caused a stir by admitting on television that he sometimes skis while hung-over (not to mention, author of the recently published book Bode: Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun).

“Say hello to skiing’s wild child, a mountain prodigy who grew up plumbing-free, electricity-free and constraint-free in a house hand-built by his parents in a forest near Franconia, N.H.,” reports Time. “It’s not that Miller, 28, was groomed for leading a movement. As a kid, he spent lots of time by himself, wandering the woods near his home. He didn’t watch television because there wasn’t one, which is generally consistent with not having electricity.”

But did he have … magazines?

Unfortunately, Time’s profile of Miller doesn’t tell us. And so we were forced to check out the only other place in the American magazine business capable of turning out a story of similar scope, subject, and magnitude. That’s right — Newsweek, which also happened to feature a profile of Miller on its cover this week.

“Bode Miller, the most gifted American skier in decades, talks the same way he races: fast, loose and seemingly out of control,” reports Newsweek. “He has a smirking disrespect for the media, a stance he’ll repeat until your recorder runs out of tape.”

Or until you hurl the magazine across the room.

Elsewhere, some magazine editors apparently overslept at the ski lodge, missed their Bode interviews, and were forced to focus on such non-Bode issues as, say, nuclear proliferation in Iran.

“On January 10th, Iranian officials removed inspectors’ seals and prepared to re-start experiments at the pilot uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz,” reported the Economist. “By doing so, they have sabotaged efforts to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions by negotiation rather than confrontation. Iran evidently calculates that it will survive the fallout. For the rest of the world, however, its defiance is a critical test … Might force be the answer?”

Hell … maybe! argues William Kristol in the current issue of The Weekly Standard.

“Doves profess concern about Iran’s nuclear program and endorse various diplomatic responses to it,” writes Kristol. “But they don’t want even to contemplate the threat of military action. Perhaps military action won’t ultimately be necessary. But the only way diplomatic, political, and economic pressure has a chance to work over the next months is if the military option — or various military options — are kept on the table.”

Speaking of tables: While Kurt Andersen was busy predicting the imminent disappearance of magazines such as the Weekly Standard from our nation’s coffee tables, the editors over at McSweeney’s were busy taking the trend to its next logical stage — specifically, by inventing a new “quarterly DVD magazine,” called (naturally) Wholphin.

Wholphin is not just a new magazine, it’s a whole new concept of a magazine — a quarterly DVD mag containing not articles but short films, new and old, American and foreign, fiction, documentaries and animation,” Peter Carlson writes today in the Washington Post. “When we at The Magazine Reader received our copy, we were so happy we started high-fiving and giving group hugs. That’s because we at The Magazine Reader are sick. We’re also tired. We’re sick and tired of words — endless words marching one after another in horizontal line after horizontal line in paragraph after paragraph in article after article in magazine after magazine.”

But Carlson’s joy ride aboard the Wholphin is short-lived: a promising feature dubbed “The Best of All Sitcoms from Turkey” falls short of its promise.

“If you like the first version of the Turkish sitcom, you can watch five other versions of the same episode, each with alternative subtitles that change the plot,” writes Carlson. “We didn’t watch all five versions. After about a version and a half of a Turkish sitcom, you begin to feel a renewed appreciation for magazines with words marching one after another in horizontal line after horizontal line.”

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Felix Gillette writes about the media for The New York Observer.