Dobrow Is Just Like Us! He Embraces the Exclamation Point!

Media Reviews for Media People: Us Weekly

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The younger of my two sisters has about 175 IQ points on me. So when she was awarded her doctorate a few weeks back, I ditched the graduation-presents-she-might-actually-appreciate approach and put together a "Lowbrow Dobrow" power pack. Amid the jokey T-shirts and customized gift cards, I included a subscription to Us Weekly, which has long been off-day fodder for my other sister (also smarter and better-looking than I am, and more able to carry on a four-minute conversation without praying that somebody pulls a fire alarm. Though I can probably still beat her up).
Us Weekly is the print equivalent of a mood-enhancing pill, even as it chronicles addictions, unfortunate blouse/slacks pairings and celebrity relationships in various states of decay!
Us Weekly is the print equivalent of a mood-enhancing pill, even as it chronicles addictions, unfortunate blouse/slacks pairings and celebrity relationships in various states of decay!

Much to my surprise, the subscription was received with genuine excitement rather than the expected smirk. This confused me, as I'd assumed that Us Weekly was merely her temporary companion during those lonely minutes when there's nothing else on the back of the toilet. Hence I decided to put aside my own highbrow reading, wipe off the glob of peanut butter that has been colonizing my cheek for the last three days and try to discern what makes Us Weekly the go-to gossip rag for smarties and dumbbells alike.

It's gotta be the enthusiasm. Us Weekly is an unapologetically upbeat magazine, appending even ho-hum pronouncements ("He Looks the Same!" "Gambling for a Cause!") with exultant exclamation points. The mag is the print equivalent of a mood-enhancing pill, even as it chronicles addictions, unfortunate blouse/slacks pairings and celebrity relationships in various states of decay!

(See what I did there, with the exclamation point? You enjoyed the sentence just a little more because of it.)

The July 21 issue of Us Weekly, headlined by Madonna and baseball-y guy/possible Kabbalah brainwashee Alex Rodriguez, is both catastrophically stupid and breezily entertaining. We start off with "Hot Hollywood," which teems with helpful bits on the "90210" update (feud!), Matt LeBlanc (sued!) and Katie Holmes (uh ... not a dude!). Then we move into the mag's more literary feature well, in which "Stone Cold" Steve Austin weighs in on a handful of celebrity hissy-fights (won't somebody please defuse the Rev. Al Sharpton/Lil Wayne beef before it escalates to Tupac-vs.-Biggie levels?). Our journey concludes with an urbane dyad of sketchily sourced items on reality-show kids hitting the beach: One couple is spotted "laughing and joking" by "a fellow beachgoer," while "a reveler tells Us" that another was seen on "a private walk to the beach." "A private walk to the beach" ... so that's what the kids are calling it nowadays, eh?

And oh! The corrections!: "In the July 7 issue we reported that Hugh Laurie eats for free at Burger King. A rep for Laurie denies this claim." Whoa. So wait -- is Hugh paying for his own BK Big Fish, or is he clogging his arteries at Wendy's nowadays? Journalism is a lesser pursuit for Us Weekly, having left this question unanswered. (But not for Ad Age!)

Of course, words aren't the point here. Us Weekly ranks as the preeminent gossip-only title because of its pix -- not necessarily the shots themselves, but the way the mag presents and annotates them.

Its designers are clever and pragmatic folks. They wangle two pages of edit out of five nearly identical Charlize Theron red-carpet shots, affirming their selections with a so-serious "Charlize is a true chameleon" quip. They pad the mag's every item with diverting bits, whether a teensy square on Angelina Jolie's baby hospital or a map chronicling the multicontinent whirlwind that was the John Mayer/Jennifer Aniston courtship. Whether you're diverted by the content at hand, the mag's easy on the eyes.

Then there's the venerable "Stars -- They're Just Like Us!," the Rosetta Stone for this particular era of vapid celebrity photojournalism. I applaud this feature for alerting us to the fact that celebrities "use shopping baskets!" and "wiggle into clothes!" -- hard truths that have been swept neatly under the rug by the Darfur-obsessed media. My only wish is that the mag's intrepid photographers give the headline writers better pix to work with, which might prompt slam-dunk blurbs like "they eat kabobs!" or "they have hepatitis-C!"

I'm wondering, in fact, how long it'll be before Us Weekly manages to weave product integration into "Stars." Think about it: "They shop at Target!"; "They drink Venti Java Chip Frappuccinos!" Unobtrusive enough, right? As it is, the mag isn't above a nice plug or three, such as showcasing the gifts purchased for the Nicole Kidman spawn via Milkshop.com.

While Us Weekly may be having issues on the circulation front, it seems to be doing just fine with advertisers across a bunch of categories, especially auto (Nissan, Saturn), telecom (Boost Mobile, Samsung's Instinct phone), beauty (Covergirl, Johnson's Softwash) and health care (Glaxo's LowerThePain.com). The mag also scores high in the all-important Eggo category, with a three-page Eggo spread that literally altered the destiny of my breakfast. Eggos rule. Anyway, everything here fits just right, even if I wonder why the "Mamma Mia!" folks would waste one of its two pages on a reprint of a duh-me-write-good Hollywood Reporter review.

So that's that. I still don't entirely understand Us Weekly's appeal, but I appreciate the skillful way it goes about its business and feel better informed about a bunch of people I've never heard of. And that merits a final exclamation point!
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