July 2003

Randy Schaub

magazine whore

Stuff

It's hip. It's edgy. It's innovative. Ha, ha -- I'm kidding -- It's none of those things. Stuff magazine is, however, the worst magazine that has ever graced my lap. It's a big, glossy, garbage scow of info-tainment, unleashed upon the fair seas of journalism by the shark-toothed, blond-frosted salesmen that gave us Maxim. A typical issue of Stuff is about 160 pages, with, at rough count, 80 pages of ads. That's right: 50 fucking percent. And it still costs you 5 bucks.

Stuff generally features a model or actress in very small clothing on the cover, usually coated with some compound that resembles donut glaze or artists' fixative. These girls are surrounded by awful floating puns ("Around the world in 80 babes," "Czech-Mate"), which hint at the horrors that lurk within. The writers seem to take a scattershot approach to humor, filling the gaps in their pages with hundreds of repetitive, predictable one-liners and broad pop-cultural references -- ideal for teens or amnesiacs. I admit I cracked a smile or two while I read, but given a thousand-joke gross, that's a pretty poor net. And, of course, Stuff always keeps it short. There's not a single block of text bigger than the palm of your hand. Hell -- if you're already bored with this review, you may be an ideal reader for this rag.

Reading Stuff is like reading TV. The writing appears to have been pounded out by horny schizophrenics. Useless, uninteresting tidbits of questionable information are surrounded by irrelevant masturbation jokes and broadly suggestive asides. Gays and racial stereotypes are favorite props. I recognized jokes that had been paraphrased (or just plain ripped-off) from sources like The Simpsons and The Onion. And if a joke works for the writers of Stuff, rest assured you will see it over and over again. Familiarity breeds contempt, however, and the effect of so many references to asses and hard-ons is basically to inflict the magazine itself with impotence (another popular subject). And women in bikinis, featured repeatedly in the same clichˇd cat-like poses, with the same gap-mouthed, vacuous stare that we have been trained to think of as sexy, soon lose their appeal to all but the most undersexed, over-hormoned, unimaginative fratster.

Women aren't the only toys in Stuff, though. Electronic gadgets and sports cars are featured prominently, perhaps giving rise to the mag's name. There are music reviews -- each confined to a tiny box no more than one-inch square. There are quickie feature stories on weird people or events -- Caught on Tape type material. And, of course, there are ads. Ads for cigarettes. Ads for liquor. Ads for cameras, cars, and cable TV. Big, expensive, Super Bowl-quality ads that are almost always longer, more brightly colored, and more attractively photographed than the journalistic pieces adjacent to them. And, let's face it -- the "features" in Stuff are essentially ads as well. These guys push anything that falls on their desks, and shill relentlessly in every possible sphere of consumption.

Despite its aggressive macho posturing, however, Stuff still seems to have not sprouted its pubes yet. The women are degradingly objectified, and barely dressed, but they fall short of nude. No nipples here, lads. There are plenty of jack-off jokes, but no real, frank, adult discussion of sex or relationships. The magazine is practically kiddy-safe (if you're a grossly irresponsible parent). And this, I think, is its most telling feature.

All of the elements -- the broad, simple humor; the easy-reading bites of journalism; the wide potential audience granted by its no-age-restriction status -- betray the sole purpose of Stuff: To sell as much crap to as many people as possible. Of course, I know this is painfully obvious. I know that, deep down inside, we are all just itching to be sold. And I know my complaints will render no scar upon this Moloch of marketing. And I try not to believe, in my heart of hearts, that this harmless piece of cheap entertainment is a sign of societal degradation. Besides, even if a reader of Stuff were to somehow stumble across my humble rant, he probably wouldn't make it past the second paragraph.