Monday, April 30, 2007

What It Feels Like… to Get Caught Blatantly Ripping Off Another Magazine

I enjoy watching Chatelaine flail, not because I am a cruel person, but because rare is the opportunity to see a magazine so boldly announce to their readership that they lack both a clear visual and a clear editorial mandate. Normally you might see one, or the other, but never both at the same time, and never in a name-brand, highly profitable, marquee publication. There is such a lack of consistency in the magazine from month to month that I can’t help but read it – it’s like a pack of minor surrealists were accidentally hired to run a major publication and are going for broke. It’s never the same magazine twice.

Anyway, my point is that in all the experimentation and whatnot, I’ve noticed that Chatelaine clearly raids other magazines for inspiration. No shame there, plenty of magazines “borrow” ideas from other publications. Generally, of course, the borrower adds their own spin on things. So when Chatelaine started their own version of Domains, the New York Times Magazine feature (link), I wasn’t very concerned, especially since Saturday Night also borrowed the very same idea before they disappeared into the gloaming.

But open your brand new copy of Chatelaine (June 2007) and flip to page 109. There you will find a feature entitled “How it feels …” It’s a series of short interviews with different women who have endured/enjoyed a variety of unusual events or circumstances. It is also verges on outright theft – namely, Esquire’s long-running series of “What it feels like…”

Esquire’s WIFLike is so-well known, so proprietary that they’ve published a book with the same title (link). So why has Chatelaine decided to steal from Esquire (OK, to be fair, they did change one word and delete another) and call it their own? I don't know. What I do know is that I wish I was the one getting paid $60K or more a year to push start on the idea machine (AKA the photocopier).

In lieu of further commentary, I conclude by typing the two titles over and over again.

How it feels…
What it feels like…
How it feels…
What it feels like…
How it feels…
What it feels like…
How it feels…
What it feels like…

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Globe Trotting

I’ve been wanting to blog about the Saturday, April 14 Globe and Mail for quite some time, but between work and travel, it just didn’t happen.

I realize that in a day or so, the newly redesigned Saturday Globe will be landing on my porch. I can hardly wait – will the books section look better? (It can’t look any worse.) What will happen to all the white space of the Focus section? Will the new look reinvigorate my flagging desire for the paper?

More important than appearances, however, is the content. What will the new Saturday Globe read like? As a benchmark, then, consider my A to T guide to the April 14 Globe.

Section A (News)
A2. Greenspon hypes the new and improved Globe. More interpretation, insight, “ferreting out” and context. Great. I hope he means it.
A3. Mumps in Nova Scotia.
A6. Justin Trudeau’s ass receives five paragraphs in Jane Taber’s Ottawa Notebook.
A21. Susan Swan writes open letter to Stephen Harper describing the importance of creating a global market for Canadian writing, and the financial struggle a first time Canadian author faces.

Section B (Report on Business)
B3. Article on Crocs. P.S. They’re a fad.
B8. The Financial Facelift is somewhat dull this week.

Section D (Books)
D1. Fairly ugly cover, which would be forgiven if the designer was allowed to weave the cover concept throughout the section, a la the New York Times Book Review. It would not be too much prettier, but the visuals would at least be integrated and have coherence and cohesion.
D4. Lynn Crosbie reviews the new thriller by Joy Fielding. Crosbie’s decision to write the review in common English is a welcome change of pace, and for that I applaud her. (Her recent Tie Domi feature in Toronto Life is also in common English. A good career move.)
D12-D13. Jessica Crispin reviews Lost Girls by Moore and Gebbie. The book is not exactly Globe-friendly, so all the better.
D12. Laura Penny has tone and style to spare. She reviews two books about sex. She is a very talented writer, and a sharp thinker. Still, I wish she would dial it back one notch, so that her writing becomes a perfectly equal mix of style and content, instead of the 60-40 ratio she enjoys. A little less alliteration would be a nifty start.

Section F (Focus)
F1. Crack in Ottawa. I wanted to read this feature. I had every intention of reading this feature, and yet… every week I suffer the same problem. Either I start a Focus piece and never finish it, or don’t bother in the first place. It’s me, not you Focus. Really.
F2. Laura Penny’s column starts strongly, so much so that I find myself reading it, not skimming it like I usually do. I start to skim when she abandons the Imus issue, which would have made a fine column, and switches to CNN and Anna Nicole wherein she loses force and momentum. She should be in the paper every week, however, not every two. More female voices in the Globe is a good thing.

F3. I read Doug Saunders four times a year, whether I need to or not. This was not one of those times.

Section L (Style)
L1. Are You Canada’s Most Stylish? Fuck Off. No, really, I mean it, fuck off. A prime example of why the rest of the country laughs their ass off at Toronto.
L6. Butterfly trend piece.

Section M (Toronto)
M1. The funniest thing I have read in the Globe and Mail in at least a year appears on the front page. R.M. Vaughan defends Toronto while taking hilarious and well-crafted swipes at the rest of the country. I laugh repeatedly. I wish I could be guaranteed something this sharp every week in the Saturday Globe.

Section R (Review)
R1. Yann Martel explains how Stephen Harper does not like artists. Really? I had no idea. He immediately loses my sympathy with his hectoring, Frankfurt schoolmarm tone. I urge you to read the witty deconstruction of his article here. I would add to this, however, that Martel had an opportunity to make a political intervention of material consequence by shouting “Do we count for nothing, you philistines?” in the House of Commons. (In his article, he mentions that he wanted to do so, but he has “no talent for spontaneous prophecy.” In other words, he was too scared). Martel was in the inner sanctum, and could have chosen civil disobedience, which would have meant something. Shouting at Harper from the visitor’s gallery is a spontaneous act of resolve; whining about him from the comfort and safety of your computer screen means nothing. Hope you donated your Globe and Mail cheque to the Canada Council.

While I’m on the topic, Martel mentions how the $18,000 he received from the Canada Council in 1991 has been recouped through the income tax he has paid on Life of Pi. You idiot. By allowing yourself to discuss the function of the Canada Council as an investment that should/will pay future dividends, you’re letting your enemy (the Tories) control the discourse of the debate. Does it not strike you that talking about grants in the language of appreciation and investment means you’ve internalized the very Tory ethos you pretend to abhor? (Margaret Atwood did the same thing on Tuesday when she attacked the Tories and said: “Would they like to guess how much Yann Martel's novel The Life of Pi generated abroad? Would they like to know … how much my foreign editions bring in?” Let me say it a second time: idiot. This will not help our cause. Read this.)

R5. Q&A with Johanna Schneller and Ondaatje. Sample excerpt:
JS: What is it like being a genius?
O: Shrugs off fawning question and discusses his craft with verve and intelligence.
JS: No, really, what is like being a genius?
O: Once again shrugs off fawning question and discusses his craft with yet more verve and intelligence.
R21. I liked the article on Mr. Bean. Really.

Section S (Sports)
Don’t read this section. Sorry.

Section T (Travel)

If you made it this far, congrats. Let’s meet back here in a few days, after the new Saturday Globe has been fully digested.