Ugly Butties

A year or so back, a new freebie magazine appeared on the Isle of Man and was briefly interesting, Firstly because any challenge to the provincialism or dull corporate sector brown-nosing of other local publications is to be welcomed. Secondly because it actually had some style, and fashion shoots featuring local models who were obviously neither born here nor ugly.

Sadly, while the fashion shoots have generally maintained standards, any pretence at written articles was dropped within two issues and the mag now fills more and more pages with Manx ‘society’ pictures.

In my own experience, historically Manx society photos were taken by photographers more often called on to snap prize-winning agricultural specimens. There was often little to differentiate the subjects – except that the Fresians and Tamworths appeared to have taken more exercise and avoided junk food. In this new manifestation the photos are badly framed, out of focus and apparently taken on cell phones by drunks, but still feature noticeably bovine subjects.

I blame Warhol myself – not just for ‘in the future everybody will be famous for 15 minutes’ but his groundbreaking Interview mag and films that blurred the line between beauty and ugliness (later briefly taken up in a more constructive way by punk). I must confess, I was vaguely involved in a similar mag in the UK back in the mid 1990’s – though even that had proper articles and both photographers and subjects with a lot more taste.

It is side-splittingly funny to see this hangover from 1980’s New York reach a raindrenched, windswept bit of rock (though I suspect the youngish producers more likely picked up the idea from OK and other supermarket mags). And I find it absolutely hilarious that most of the plug-uglies who sent in their snaps thought they were worthy. How far we have come since the golden days of Hollywood.

Because the thing about old Hollywood glamour was that beauty was rigorously policed. It certainly moved things on from 19th century paintings of bland heiresses or the corpulent daughters of the new rich. It was even more democratic in one way, because for the first time there was a chance that any stunning beauty spotted by a talent scout in a bar – regardless of race, class or background – could become a movie star.

But back then standards were expected. By comparison, these days every butt-ugly pig princess or management trainee can get faces that would sink a thousand ships in a glossy.

In the old – paid for – regional press editors sent photographers in search of large groups of children or sports players. In either case, this meant guaranteed sales to all their relatives.

But when a free publication depends entirely on advertising the needs are different. It is the advertisers who need it to be seen by as many potential clients as possible. As the girning grotesques in these pictures are not likely applicants for family trusts, can’t all be planning plastic surgery and self-evidently do not use beauty products or buy upmarket clothing they hardly fit the bill.

Warhol, Punk, the New Romantics, and many of the brave little attempts at reinventing glamour or living outside the norm that they spawned…these I understood and loved. But this product celebrating small town dullards and styleless freaks? It defies all publishing models, so it puzzles me.

Perhaps the whole thing is a guaranteed money-waster to front some elaborate tax scam. Perhaps the models, photographers and stylists all work for free in the vain hope they’ll be talent-spotted by a paying client. The Manx marketing sector – as I know only too well – is staffed by some of the most spectacularly stupid individuals ever to emerge from private education. Yet surely even they would not be dumb enough to pay to place their product close to such gargoyles for fear it might be contaminated.

Would they?

On second thoughts…. yes, they obviously would.

 

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