Details Is Gay: How Men’s Magazines Are Targeting The Gay Reader
From Cover Models To Copy
Standing in front of my fashion library, I’m casually studying the evolution of the cover models on GQ. January 1999: Heidi Klum; February 1999: Evander Holyfield; April 1999: Mike Piazza. What do these three cover models have in common? From a strictly superficial judgment, they all speak to heterosexual men — their stories and lack of “gay” sex appeal (perhaps with the exception of Klum) was almost intentionally designed to keep the gay reader uninterested.
The headlines reinforce my superficial judgments. “Heidi Klum (Rhymes With Boom-Boom) Is Making A Splash”; “Evander Holyfield, God’s Champion”; “The New York Mets’ $91 Million Single Guy Seeks Solace…” Sex, sports, power, and money — yes, GQ‘s hit the straight-man’s buttons.
Fast-forward a decade, and what is 2010′s equivalent? January 2010: Rihanna; February 2010: Johnny Depp (shirtless); July 2010: Taylor Lautner (nipples visible through his deep V-neck T-shirt). With the exception of the sexy female cover models, suddenly the cover boys have obvious sex appeal — sex appeal that’s now gay-friendly.
2010′s headlines were limp-wristed interpretations of the cover boys. Taylor Lautner’s, for example, reads: “Fall Style Preview Starring Taylor Lautner. What The Well-Dressed (And, Yes, Totally Buff) Gentleman Will Be Wearing This Year.” Another headline reads: “Grill It Up!” Note the use of the exclamation mark (completely missing from 1999′s headlines). The exclamation mark, as I’ve been taught working at AskMen, is girlie – and not girlie in a Vogue way, but girlie in a Cosmo way, which makes it that much more inappropriate for the cover of a men’s magazine. Say, like GQ.
Men And Print Magazines
Lifestyle print magazines, by their glossiness and not particularly academic readings, are effeminate by nature. When a heterosexual man is at a newsstand, he must feel comfortable picking up a magazine, quickly scanning it to preview its content, pay for it (thereby acknowledging his interest to the cashier and others), and have it laying in his home. Anything that compromises a single step in this process — like his comfort level — will result in a loss of the sale. It’s consumer behavior 101.
Thus, if a man perceives said publication as targeting a gay reader, he’s not likely to follow through with his purchase. Would a heterosexual man pull out a copy of Taylor Lautner’s nipples peeking through his fitted shirt with copy that speaks to his “totally buff” body on his 6:00 p.m. train ride back home?
A classic example of this was the launch of Conde Nast’s Men’s Vogue. Regardless of its cover models, headlines and content, Conde Nast shot itself in the foot by keeping the Vogue branding. The Vogue name is undeniably feminine, thus, a heterosexual man couldn’t possibly feel comfortable buying into it. The magazine, which began with publication 10 times per year, scaled back to twice a year. Men’s Vogue wasn’t ringing the cash register’s bell — it was ringing Tinker’s.
So, Who Are Men’s Magazines Targeting?
“Open Window Advertising” is a term I picked up in my college years that refers to targeting the queer dollar in a traditionally heterosexual media environment. The idea is to, for example, run an advertising campaign in a magazine, say Vanity Fair, that wouldn’t off put a heterosexual male reader, but would not only catch the attention of a gay reader, he would feel like he was being spoken to directly. It’s a tricky thing to do (Dolce & Gabbana ads are often used as examples of Open Window Advertising).
Men’s magazines have long understood the benefits of targeting the gay reader. They have a high level of disposable income, are seen as innovators and early adopters, and, thus, their influence can be quite powerful.
However, Chris Pine on the cover of November 2010′s Details magazine (which could have easily been the cover of Out — hello, crotch action), along with the accompanying spread derivative of an amateur sexy James Dean photo shoot, begs the question: Is Details gay? At what point is this too gay? Male cover models’ sex appeal can be gay-friendly, but at what point is it anti-straight?
Details Is Gay – Or, At Least, Is On The Down Low
Taking a closer look, I further question the content men’s magazines are publishing today. Details.com recently featured a post entitled “The Lookout: Lucho Jacob” that read:
“When we attend the shows, we’re not just spying great clothes for next season. We’re also keeping an eye out for fresh faces. And this one caught our attention. His name is Lucho Jacob, and he’s a six-foot-two-and-a-half cup of Argentine goodness. Spring marks his runway debut, and so far the 27-year-old hasn’t disappointed. He has appeared in Rag & Bone, Nicholas K, Billy Reid, and Michael Bastian and is expected to walk in Wednesday’s Michael Kors show. Apart from height, strength, and that Latino, smoldering, messy-hair thing he has happening, we love how he wears clothes. They never wear him, which is something all men—models and mortals—should aspire to.”
This blurb sounds more like a conversation that gay men have over brunch in Hell’s Kitchen the morning after the show’s after-party. (I know, because I attended the very same show, Billy Reid Spring 2011, in which Details “discovered” Lucho, and was gushing over him with my gay friends.) Needless to say, this is not the type of content that should be published on a men’s website.
In fact, any references to male fashion models — be it aspirational, satirical or otherwise — puts you in gay territory. (V Man is the poster child for this.) And, turns out, Details.com has several related features:
Details, are you ready to come out?
The Bottom Line
These men’s magazines may not be ready to forfeit their prime real estate on newsstand shelves in favor of the Gay Interest section, but magazines, like Details, have certainly crossed the line into gay territory. Once balancing on the line of heteronormality and Open Window Advertising, there’s no question who they’re targeting today.
While I must acknowledge that this discussion may make generalizations of both heterosexual and gay readers, the isn’t about what is politically correct — it’s about sales. The truth is, while there may very well be straight men who are confident enough in their sexuality to buy that issue of Taylor Lautner on GQ and gay men who are not just moved by a handsome face and buff body, the market is not sizable enough. Sadly, most men behave – and purchase – in stereotypical ways. Thus, I predict that if men’s magazines continue to ostracize the heterosexual reader, they’ll notice a steadfast decline in traffic, readership and sales.
- Sachin Bhola