July 2007

Jennifer Johnson

magazine whore

Death of a Magazine A Farewell to Jane

A few days ago, I pulled the last issue of Jane out of my mailbox. Somehow I felt it should have arrived with more fanfare. Perhaps with a wrapper around it saying “This is the last issue of Jane you will receive: EVER!” -- much like the notice you get when your subscription is about to run out and you need to fork over another $12. At the very least, I expected an informal note, typed on a half sheet of copy paper and tucked inside the front cover: “We regret to inform you that this magazine is now defunct. Best wishes in your future periodical reading endeavors.”

But, there was nothing of the kind. Instead, the last issue (which reportedly had already been printed by the time the announcement came down that the August issue would be Jane’s last) was just another issue of Jane. I wonder how different it would have been if it had been created by a staff that knew this would be the last one. What would be an appropriate eulogy for the woman’s magazine that tried to be about more than “how to get thinner thighs in thirty days” or “seven little words you should never say to a man”?

The best thing about Jane was that it actively tried to break out of the women’s magazine mold. Enough has been said about the genius of Jane Pratt (Jane’s creator, who “left” the magazine in 2005) that we won’t go into it all here. Suffice it to say, the woman has a knack for creating magazines (Sassy, Jane) that showcase the glories of being an individual and a feminist, in a medium that largely advocates conformity and traditional femininity.

But, money talks and advertisers (especially the advertisers of the aspirational products -- make-up, fashion, skin care -- that largely make up the ad revenue of women’s magazines) don’t like to be thought of as quirky and original. Advertising geared towards women is about attaining an ideal, not about reveling in what makes you unique. If you like yourself for who you are, then why do you need Botox or $200 jeans or any of the other millions of products that help women get a bit closer to perfection?

This, above all else, is the reason Jane didn’t make it. Magazines are a business and Jane’s business model didn’t appeal to the big advertisers it would take to make big money. Not to say that Jane didn’t try.

After Jane Pratt left Jane and Brandon Holley (yup, she’s a girl) stepped in, the magazine refocused, clearly trying to appeal to these advertisers. It underwent two redesigns, trying to toe the line between “feminist” and “girly” -- with mixed results. While I agree that one can be both feminine and a feminist, the new Jane wasn’t always great at making these qualities mesh in print.

Jane began to feel like a mishmash of stories and features that didn’t form a cohesive unit. In the August issue, for example, there is a feature about two Jane staffers (one a fashionista, the other a tomboy -- the women’s magazine equivalent of the Odd Couple) who trade clothes for a week (coming to the shocking conclusion that it’s better to be yourself), a fascinating story that goes behind the scenes of gay conversion therapy, a story cited on the cover as “Sex Moves So Good You’ll Forget You’re Not Flexible” (somehow I imagine this wouldn’t have gotten into an issue edited by Jane Pratt) and the annual “Naked Issue” photo spread featuring arty photos of naked, female celebrities. I’m having trouble figuring out whether those last two are supposed to be feminist or not. Is it supposed to be empowering to see beautiful women naked? Perhaps I’m more of a prude than I realized.

Despite all this, I’ll miss Jane -- even in its current form. It’s not everyday that a women’s magazine surprises you. I’ll miss the originality. I’ll miss the way Jane covered topics that other women’s magazines shied away from. I’ll miss the mixture of feminism and femininity -- the admission that you can get a bikini wax and still call yourself a feminist.
In the high school of mainstream women’s magazines, Cosmopolitan is the bitchy, head cheerleader and Jane is the girl with a style all her own, who doesn’t give a damn about what other people think about her. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d rather be the second one any day. Farewell Jane.