Look, we get the emails. We have been following on Twitter. We know that you want more Free Magazine Reviews. It’s our most popular feature, especially since the cancellation of “Name That Racist.”
But it’s hard to keep up with the free magazines. They’re everywhere. They’re free. It’s easy to pick them up and aimlessly leaf through them while you’re waiting for a table at a restaurant. It’s easy to see them and slide one into your backpack and/or adult diaper. And then they pile up around the house, the airline magazine in our airport city, the dentist office debris in life’s waiting room.
Soon, you have piles of magazines with outdated event updates about events you never wanted to attend, grinning rictus faces of social elites in clubs you’re not allowed in, ads for things you’ll never desire. But when will you ever break them down? Get specific? What about the categories?
Today, we’re punting the categories — not because the gimmick is broken, but just because at some point you have to get these damn magazines out of your house. As long as there’s money to burn, people will keep making them. So we’re going to process three of these bastards as quickly as possible, giving you the high points so that hopefully next time, we can delve into a single issue in depth.
What are they? Today, we’re looking at two issues from January 2013 (River Region’s Journey and River Region Living) and one issue of Montgomery RSVP from May-June 2013. For convenience, we’re going to use nicknames for the rest of this review: RSVP, RRL and RRJ.
What’s the deal? Well, all three are obviously free magazines. Duh. They make their money from ad sales. And they’re all pretty much distributed in similar places. We can’t remember exactly where we grabbed these three, but you’ve probably seen them all somewhere (assuming you leave the house in between TV shows and game/video downloads).
Covers: Only RRL lacks a sub-head. RRJ claims to be “sharing hope and building community.” RSVP purports to be “The River Region Guide for All Things Social!” I mean, they don’t use the exclamation point, but it’s pretty much implied in everything they write. RRL and RRJ went with white people standing still for the cover, but RSVP takes home the Boring Cover Art award by taking a picture of five bottles of beer. In their defense, I’ve never consumed those beers, so they are certainly interesting to the kinds of folks that would pay $15 for a six pack. Sidebar: RRL continues to clarify that their magazine used to be called Montgomery Living. This is significant because they are not only trying to rope in readers from Millbrook and Prattville, this is also a racially-coded branding thing. Also, RRL continues to put a price tag on their covers, as if people were paying $3 to read it.
Level of Religion: RRJ is clearly the heavyweight in this category. It is clubbing you over the head with Jesus on pretty much every page. Their inside cover is an ad for Frazier, the Methodist MEGA-church. The lead feature appeals to those seeking finger-wagging before getting married. The subhead for the feature on page 34 is “What to Pray When You Don’t Know What to Pray.” The people who read RRJ are the kind of folks who like to be told what to do, if you know what I mean. Page 4 is “Pastor’s Perspective,” where Montgomery’s Rev. Graves strings together a bunch of cliches wrapped around an ad for a martial arts studio.
RRL does still remind you where you are. Page 8 is a full-pager for a religious private school and the cover-story is about the head of the YMCA and “God’s invitation to follow his real calling,” which was, as you might imagine, running the YMCA.
RSVP merely worships at the altar of money, and is for the most part pretty secular.
Whiteness: They’re all Utah-level white. For a city that is (at least) half African-American, these mags are Donny Osmond by way of Downton Abbey. RSVP might be the most diverse, but only because they did this weird (no, totally incomprehensible) photo layout on pages 26-28 that had 20 black folks in it. Other than an ad with a black lady in it, pretty much every other face is white, but that one story (about something called the “I Am More Than” campaign) gives them the most diversity. RRJ (the religious one) has photos of when they visited an orphanage in Kenya, so that doesn’t really count. Most of their ads are of white kids going to private school to be away from the black kids that are stuck in public schools, but one of those schools (Evangel Christian) has a non-white little girl in it. And RRL has a one-pager on the former Montgomery cop that the SPLC just hired. He’s African-American, along with maybe 2 percent of the other faces in the magazine. And remember, these magazines are using either clip art or pictures of people standing still, so we’re talking about a lot of smiling white people posing and facing the camera. RSVP’s list (“a who’s who of young leaders”) always has like one or two black people … again, in a city that is half black.
The Selling: They’re all about the same. As noted, the super-religious RRJ is mostly a vehicle for private school ads or ads for churches themselves (“Go Anglican!”) RRJ has an ad for potential advertisers touting their readers as having “lager household incomes,” which I assume means that their readers make money brewing beer. With editing like that, my biznez is shore to suckseed!
RSVP continues their shameless practice of writing “articles” about the people that buy ads from them. “Look! There’s a hot new gym in town! It just so happened to have purchased the full back cover as a color ad!” One feature about something potentially useful (a cobbler who repairs shoes) actually ends with the sentence, “I promise you will enjoy doing business there.” That’s some hot writing there, Stephanie Hoskins.
RRL is the usual collection of boutiques and stuff except for this hilarious ad on page 54 from a company that makes chemicals for women to put on their hair. Fronduti’s wants to be sure you know that their company (which makes “hair products” and is therefore a “product company”) is against domestic violence. Not only are they against it (and totally don’t support domestic violence of any kind, you guys), they want you to know that those other product companies HAVE NOT YET SPOKEN OUT AGAINST DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. Why haven’t they? What are they hiding? Do those other product companies think that it might maybe just sometimes be okay to smack around your domestic partner if they happen to get a little “lippy?” Would a percentage of my hard-earned hair product dollar be channeled Chik-Fil-A-style to one of the Big Domestic Violence Lobbies? Because I do NOT want that shit to happen. Thank you, Fronduti’s, for having the courage to take a stand in a hideously-designed full-page ad … and for warning me about your competitors’ neglect of (nay, embrace of) this Important Social Issue.
Pics of the Makers: RRL comes strong with ol’ Darlene (who goes by Darlene Hutchinson Biehl) sitting kind of sideways in a kitchen chair in a photography studio, open-collared with blazer. (She wished you a happy new year, btw). The ladies from RSVP are, as always, sitting together next to the masthead, all six happy to be out at Hampstead, two of them holding wine glasses (one of them is empty … Oopsie!) They remind us that “summer is almost here” and let us know that they have two new interns. RRJ presents us with Jason Watson, the publisher, who we must painfully suspect is probably related somehow to editor DeAnne Watson. Suddenly the magazine’s constant exhortations that I embrace marital counseling feels especially awkward.
Bottom lines: These magazines are funny, but not hilarious. We may have glanced at them while waiting for food at some local restaurant, but were never drunk enough to properly fall onto the floor laughing. After all, once you see that they gave a Barbara Streisand movie a rating of “extreme caution” for moral acceptability (talk about a “Guilt Trip!“), you can actually start to feel sorry for the people trapped in these sorts of mental prisons. And it’s not just the “Public school atheists are out to warp your children” crowd. It’s also the watch-buying, boutique-frequenting beer snobs that are genuinely worried about hosting the perfect wedding brunch. You will always grab RSVP and smirk at The List’s tortured definitions of “young leaders,” but eventually, these magazines will start to pile up in your house. And although our city no longer participates in curbside pickup for recycling materials, you will still find a way to ensure, at least for now, that this particular trio will avoid the landfill for just a little bit longer.