December 2005

Melissa Fischer

magazine whore

Modern Man and His High Fallutin' Sexbots

I confess: I’m a woman who buys, and then actually reads, “men’s” magazines. Maintaining an assured safe distance from the empty calories offered by the heavily wedding-caked “women’s interests” rack, I proceed beyond “entertainment,” stop just short of “automotive,” and plant my ass squarely on the hard bench located directly in front of those magazines specifically not aimed at attracting my demographic. Maybe I’m indulging in the voyeuristic pleasure of taking a peek at what media conglomerates think interests men, or maybe I just thrive in that rarified glossy environment that doesn’t presume my preoccupation with skirt lengths and split ends. Whatever my motivation, I feel a subtle tingling at the sight of a new issue of Details or Esquire, and now that Vogue has given birth to a butch offspring in its first Men’s version, my minor problem with excessive periodical acquisition has been nudged a baby step further toward becoming a minor catastrophe.

Under the administration of therapeutic levels of caffeine and nicotine, I sat down with the premier issue of Men’s Vogue and began the ad-laden journey that Conde Nast so considerately laid out before me. Hoping for the best, but, you know, I tried to keep my mind open and my bullshit detector fully engaged. I wasn’t surprised to find well-groomed models of metrosexuality gracing the generously advertised pages of this periodical; what did surprise me, however, was that one of my all-time favorite subjects was given such liberal treatment throughout the course of this issue. This favorite, my friends, is the sexbot.

Frankly, I knew the new Men’s Vogue was at least worth the high-quality paper it’s printed on when I first saw the word “sexbot” gloriously printed on page 84’s review of the Wong Kar Wai film, 2046. Apparently, 2046 takes place in a futuristic neon city that, according to reviewer John Powers, is “complete with willing sexbots.” John, I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m so with you on this -- no city is truly complete without a sufficient cadre of willing sexbots.

Machine love, Vogue-style ends not there, my friend. Far from it. For Jeffrey Steingarten, the alpha male of epicuriosity, reveals himself as a fellow sexbotophile with a “heavy crush on a machine that slices meat.” He proceeds to write what is essentially a four-page love letter to the Berkel (not to be confused with the merkin), a prosciutto slicing machine from Italy that he considers the “Eiffel Tower, the Brooklyn Bridge, of cold cuts.” According to Steingarten, this particular piece of architecture “cuts like butter. And it might be the best relationship you’ll ever have.”

Steingarten introduces us to the tale of his Berkel-themed European adventure by sharing some in-flight wisdom: “The secret of my success as a world traveler is to wait until the plane takes off, make sure it hasn’t crashed, then wash down a handful of Ambiens with a glass or two of single-malt whisky, sleep for all seven hours of the flight, and hit the ground running.” How I appreciate the recipe that appeals to a pantry of limited ingredients and yet yields a most predictably delightful result!

Steingarten’s love of sophisticated pork products unrivalled by even the naughtiest of non-koshers, he lands in Venice with the hopes of acquiring the two-hundred pound mechanical mistress of his dreams, thereby making a “rendezvous with destiny.” He explains that men, unlike women, can become easily enmeshed in complicated love affairs with metal-based lifeforms. He claims that women “are stingy in their love, reserving it only for other humans, members of the animal kingdom, and themselves.”

Steingarten has clearly never seen the wide variety of machines available just for the love of women, and advertised in so many magazines aimed at the female segment of modern lovers; I believe some of these have names like “jack rabbit” and “Hitachi magic wand,” but of course I can’t be sure.

It seems worth noting that Steingarten mentions Rolexes as another popular object of male attention, since the magazine in which his article appears is practically plated in advertisements for chunky metal love in the form of timepieces. Indeed, a whole article -- “War Machines” -- is dedicated to the “Officine Panerai,” a collector’s watch worthy of apparent fanaticism from devotees eager to shell out $18,000 for a wrist-bound status symbol.

Beyond the ‘bots, Men’s Vogue is fine-arts and high-culture heavy, with articles on John Currin, Julian Opie, and Walton Ford, all painters. Likewise, a piece on Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane discusses the pair’s revival of The Odd Couple. For music, things are a little sparse. Seu Jorge is given three paragraphs, which couldn’t possibly give proper treatment to the artistry of his “acoustic mistranslations of David Bowie.” Why this quarter-page of space was included in the table of contents as the magazine’s “music” section, I’m not quite sure. The books-related content was heartier and includes a mix of the predictable and the not so much so, ranging from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Memories of My Melancholy Whores (Knopf) to a little “Art Book” piece on atlases and maps from publishers like Taschen and Assouline. Old-school art-framers, the set of the HBO series Rome, and the majesty of the Bentley are subjects under the “Architecture & Design” heading; photography that is actually relevant, intelligent, and well composed accompanies all.

But back to the ‘bots. Curious as to how old-hand Esquire matched up against Men’s Vogue in the sexbot department, I gave the November issue some attention; after all, it is the “Women We Love Issue,” and I knew Esquire’s identification of beloved women would provide me with a significant measure of amusement. Esquire’s current incarnation seems aimed at a younger readership than the manly Vogue -- I mean, who but the young would require an advice column to answer, “Do all women dislike it when you hold their head while you’re getting a blow job? And, if so, where else should I put my hands?”

Outside of some sexy Hummer ads and copious page space dedicated to wristwear, Esquire was sadly lacking in the level of sexboty admiration that is demonstrated in Men’s Vogue. However, deeper examination showed that the sexbots Esquire favors are of a more subtle variety. The feature, “In Praise of the 30s,” a celebration of “woman in her fourth decade,” seems to hint at some mechanical love-toy action, with Chris Jones’ profound insight: “She is experience without weariness, love without complacency, comfort without the yawning… She is steady, in the very best sense. Women in their thirties are our tightrope walkers, trapeze swingers, and plate spinners. They are our acrobats.” Ladies, I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pretty fucking weary, what with all this acrobatic plate spinning. Those attributes sound suspiciously like the work of a sexbot impersonating a woman in her fourth decade to me. Damn those Stepford wives, generating unreasonable expectations that we fleshier models can’t hope to fulfill!!

Perhaps, given that our age is one so rich in technological gadgetry, this celebration of the sexbot is just getting started. For all I know, ten years from now could reveal the blow-up doll giving way to the full-fledged android of carnal pleasure fulfillment. If that’s the case, here’s hoping your sexbot never short-circuits.