by Marshall Preddy, Writer/Guitarist/Singer Guy
I got my Maxim subscription for nearly nothing through a fantasy football site. I prefer Harper's, Atlantic Monthly, and the New York Times, and I will only occasionally shell out for a sports mag or Computer Dork monthly, so I was surprised to actually be interested in a subscription to the top journal of arrested boyhood. I honestly wanted to know why this magazine has become required bathroom reading for 2.5 million American subscribers. Just about every guy I have ever known that doesn't have a rock band has a Maxim subscription. Having only read it a handful of times, I was frankly curious how the magazine had achieved such a mammoth circulation among men of my generation.
As hokey or insecure as it sounds, I am a guy that wonders what it's like for other men to be a man. Whatever else gets said about capital-"L" Life, I am always saying that it's hard to be a person, what with choosing a career path, friends, a car, a place to live, hobby, and a partner. These are choices even cynics and rock nerds can't avoid; they can only be deferred. The more choices you make the fewer you have left. The options are less obvious and the world becomes a tighter, more bounded space where everyone you know is a similar beast of burdens and by-laws.
It was with this in mind that I set out to learn the mind of the normal guy via a subscription to Maxim. What kind of guy likes this stupid magazine? Do I have anything in common with the average frat-boy turned futures trader? Is there anything to like about Maxim or the people who read it? Everyone knows about the starlets and models that wear very little, but remain maddeningly modest enough to cover their breasts. Does this monthly men's magazine offer anything else?
After a year-long subscription, I have some answers.
Maxim readers get real paid
Or they wish they did. Maxim's "Top Gear" section is ever eager to advise their well-heeled readers on the merits of new luxury sport sedans, tiny expensive gadgets, and vacation spots with the highest babe-per-capita ratio. Maxim assumes that its target audience has the means of a top-shelf spy guy. Their demographic model is driving around a new T-bird convertible, grabbing his integrated PDA-cellphone from his Tumi valise, so he can AIM his actress-model girlfriend to break the news that he has to take a red-eye flight to Ibiza on business.
Maxim readers also get play(ed)
For your average Maxim reader, booty appears to be readily available. Consequently, Maxim devotes a ton of copy to making sure you do it right. The magazine featured two abridged versions of the Kama Sutra in the last year. One was illustrated with photos of crash-test dummies posed mid-coitus. Maxim's Kama Sutra Part II (real title, I swear) featured cutely-named positions describing sex in common places, such as the Monicarena for love Oval-Office style and The Tailback Sneak for that old cliché, sex in a stadium.
Occasionally, a feature will avoid invoking the Indian love treatise. In the regular "Says Her" feature, guys get sex and dating advice straight from the ladies, allowing Maxim readers everywhere to say, "I could do that. Easy"
The dating games
For Maxim, dating is like playing a video game, and the magazine offers plenty of tricks and cheats. Recent features told readers how to spot the girl with the condom in her pocket and how to pick up emotional females at the airport. It's all about profiling the weakness in a lady -- knowing when she's vulnerable or when she's less than choosy and picking the right moment to strike.
One recent article wondered which prop would help a guy get more play. To find out, Maxim sent a guy out lady-hunting with one of several power-ups, including a Maserati, an Armani Tuxedo, a cute dog, and a three-year old boy. They even summarized pros and cons of each special weapon and how each can be used to "save" the princess.
Dropping knowledge like Polonius
Fully one half of every Maxim issue is filled with how-to features of one kind or another. Contrary to my earlier rantings, most of them are not about women. Indeed, Maxim is full of great advice on a number of fronts. Maxim's "How To Do Everything Better" installments are akin to those Worst-Case Scenario books on helium, advising you on practical matters including how to launder money, sell your organs, survive a nuclear war, land on an aircraft carrier, or stage a coup to dethrone your boss.
To be fair, Maxim will also occasionally dispense real and timely help. In the last year I learned how to buy a bike, how to fold an American flag, and (no kidding) how to get out of bed.
Culture is not king
Maxim readers want to keep up the latest movies and music, but they apparently want a quick summary. The magazine devotes precious few pages to entertainment reviews and features. Your average music or movie review is 30-50 words and the artist features may get a quarter to half a page. If that is still too long for you, count up the star-bubbles (1 through 5), for super-quick insight.
The underground is not well represented, although Maxim will throw in a rap review or a White Stripes feature for that decidedly "edgy" flavor. I do give them credit for their video game reviews, an element not every magazine has seen fit to include.
Can I get a subscription in off-white?
Maxim readers are white guys living in a world full of white guys. It's not to say there is no Latino or Asian readership, but if you are an Argentine or Korean Maxim subscriber, you are reading a magazine in which you are unlikely to glimpse a reflection. For black readers especially, there is very little chance of seeing another black guy.
Whether this is the result of tacit racism or a keen understanding of readership demographics, I can't say. Maxim, however, offers illustrated advice to men that depicting the world as it is and as it should be. Its features and stories dispense wisdom for handling various social situations, and almost all are illustrated cartoon-style and in color. With so many pieces depicting men solving a man's problems, they simply need to use more colors.
Alright, so I am no huge fan of this monthly, but Maxim does have its moments. Even I have to admit that the Kama Sutra with Crash-Test Dummies was a memorable, hilarious stroke of genius. Other winners included riding the bus with Willie Nelson, their take on the 50 worst movies of all time, and an insightful article on the guerilla marijuana farmers...of Kentucky!
My favorite was Maxim's great send-up of the celebrity fashion shoot featuring characters from Grand Theft Auto III. Shameless video game promotion? Yes, it was. Am I going to buy the $385 Jean-Paul Gaultier shirt that sports an airbrushed American Eagle? Well, no, but I was nevertheless heartily amused.
Verdict? Maxim-um sentence
Despite the occasional acorn this rooster mag occasionally digs up, I must agree with every girl who's ever given their opinion on Maxim -- it's Cosmo for cocks. Maxim tells every boy who isn't already handsome, rich and athletic, that he can become all this and more by taking its good advice and buying the products advertised in its soon-to-be-soiled pages.
I won't lie. I bought my year of Maxim with the idea that I could find out how other guys do it. The answer is, they don't. Whatever brotherhood there is among the 2.5 million readers enjoying this palpable and cleverly written periodical fantasy, it doesn't offer men a genuine shared experience. Instead, it's bathed in the au jus of the patently offensive new Coors commercials and the brain-dead Man Show.
Feminists stopped seriously battling these relatively benign forms of sexism long ago, so believe me when I say I am not worried about the objectification of women. Nope, I'm worried that men are losing their way in apolitical, stultifying tar pits like Maxim, up to their Fossil watches in flashy gear, apathy, and $500 car payments.
The reason the rich keep getting richer is that the dumb keep getting dumber, dreaming of a life they work all week to give away. For a year, I guess I have been one of those guys, and while I won't sign up for another tour, I won't get this one back.