Free Magazine Review: A Trifecta

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Soon, you have piles of magazines with outdated event updates about events you never wanted to attend, grinning rictus faces of social elites in clubs you’re not allowed in, ads for things you’ll never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.

photoRRL 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.


7 responses to “Free Magazine Review: A Trifecta

  1. Long time reader of your blog, but this is by far your best work! Laughing!

  2. There’s a new on out and you can pick up issue #2 tomorrow: “Come by The A&P this Friday from 5 to 7 to snag issue No. 2 of MADE Paper in the breezeway between TRUE & Pine Bar!”

  3. Oh dear. Really?

  4. Great, hilarious article! Thanks!

  5. “stetson23”

    Under the “About” heading for a Blog entitled “Lost in Montgomery”, at least some portion of your readership is thought to be (or at least described as) “…stumbling on this blog by accident, hopefully willing to share your ideas with us…” and I will admit upfront that I am part of that group.

    For some reason, while searching for something else entirely, I happened to come across a link to your Blog Post (at least I believe it to be a Blog Post and not an article of some sort) on that same site entitled: “Free Magazine Review (sic?): A Trifecta” that was originally posted on June 5, 2013 and at the time of this writing has 5 Comments linked to it for viewing.

    I found it both interesting and rather sad.

    Having had to travel a great deal for my work over the past several decades, I too, often find myself inundated by magazines similar to those you describe in various hotels, aircraft seatback pockets and waiting areas. Most of them lack depth to say the least and many of them are nothing more than advertisements masquerading as editorial space. But some of them do strive to be something more. And while most of them will never reach the level of being “more”, along the lines of a multipurpose (and I think charged-for) publication like Chicago Magazine, I find it disappointing that you found it so necessary to mock the efforts of the people who still see value in both working in the demanding world of actual print media and who apparently have chosen to reach out to a market that they believe can support them; that is, make for them a “living” through which to support themselves and pay their bills.

    For while it is certainly your right to do so (satirists have long earned their living by attacking or belittling others) and I would never suggest that you can’t or shouldn’t do so, your personal attacks against Ms. Hutchinson Biehl for both the way she is pictured (I haven’t seen the image you mention but your description of it is obviously not intended to be flattering) and how she is “known” seem a little rude and out of place to me.

    You refer to her as “ol’ Darlene”. Do you know her from somewhere else (or do you know her at all)? Or is there something wrong with that name? I used to know a woman with that name and by all outward appearances, she was a decent and hard-working individual, who was dedicated to her family. Then there’s Darlene Love, sort of an unsung black singer from the 1960’s who started out singing in a church choir as a child and, finally, after being recognized for her amazing skills and work ethic throughout that period and well into the 1980’s and 90’s, I think is still performing today.

    I could go on.

    But your further remark that she – “ol’ Darlene” – is someone “who goes by Darlene Hutchinson Biehl” makes me think that you either doubt that is her real name (Why would she lie? Especially when involved in a print journal where Avatars like your “stetson23” aren’t generally used to hide one’s identity) or that you just think she is just being trendy, chic, or otherwise putting-on-airs to match the level of her writers, readers and advertisers that you also seem to hold in contempt. Did you ever stop to think that she might come from a generation or a background where the combination of such surnames might indicate either respect for herself and/or her own family or, perhaps, her or some ancestor’s unwillingness to be dominated or overtaken by her/their partner in life through the assuming of their name in place of her/their own?

    Just a thought, and unfortunately, not my real reason for writing. As it was your heartless comments attacking (and again mocking) one of Ms. Hutchinson Biehl’s advertisers who has apparently decided to “speak out against domestic violence” that really makes me wonder where you are coming from. You spend an entire paragraph (illustrating it as well) to raising this matter as though it is somehow wrong to do. I am sorry but I am not familiar with your other work; have you launched similar attacks against people and companies who are attempting to raise awareness (and often money – something that “Fronduti’s” doesn’t seem to be doing for no donations appear to be asked for) in regard to Breast Cancer? Or Prostate Cancer? Or the numerous childhood diseases and issues that often seem to appear on the pages of both our print and electronic media these days?

    I certainly don’t see where, as you suggest, “Fronduti’s” is somehow implying that “…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?”. But what I do see is that things like spousal abuse, child abuse and a myriad of other such crimes, are all-too-common events that a lot of people (that perhaps “Fronduti’s” realizes will see their ad) don’t want to face or, many times, even admit they exist. Just look at society’s wanting to merely sweep away the Penn State scandals from their horizon or their oftentimes acceptance of known abusive entertainers and professional sports stars.

    I have no way of knowing why “Fronduti’s” has chosen to say or do this (I don’t even know who Fronduti’s is/are) but many times, people or businesses choose such paths because of things that have happened to them or the people who own or operate them. They fight on, individually, in whatever way they can to try and stop injustices and crimes against others because after being lucky enough to have moved on in their own lives, they are luckier still to have been a given a voice or a position in their community where what they say about such things might be heard.

    The sad thing is that through this Site, you have a chance to be heard too and all you do is mock others (certainly something that has been done for centuries and once more, something I really don’t have much of a problem with) and attack someone (or some company) who, for whatever reason, has chosen to speak out against one of the bigger and potentially defeatable forms of both criminal and emotionally-scarring activity that exists throughout our society today.

    Too bad your own sense of self-importance and the ease of taking such shots at others online apparently outweigh this firm’s willingness to speak out against something that too many people in this land just choose to ignore and that you apparently find only a source of humor and self-advancement.

    Thank you for your time and the opportunity to express my views.

  6. Thank you for this comment. It was hilarious.

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