My message to non-A-listers? Don't despair! Because America loves you -- and I love you, too. Anybody who's walked past a magazine rack lately knows the magazine industry, despite its pretensions, is generally a pretty weird, idiosyncratic, dicey racket. Which is why I'm presenting this considerably less elitist, more inclusive list.
THE B-PLUS LIST
In its media kit, Paintball 2Xtremes magazine brags that it has "readership numbers that are arguably higher than any other paintball magazine." Arguably? Nice touch! But, hey, I'm not going to argue with you -- y'all are holding paintball guns! (Meanwhile, in the grown-up, big-business realm of numbers-fudging national magazines, the Audit Bureau of Circulations isn't even packing a slingshot...)
THE B LIST
The Week -- the news digest founded by Felix Dennis (and the one publication from his American publishing operation that he kept, while selling siblings Maxim, Stuff and Blender earlier this year) -- is, no joke, one of my favorite publications. A compilation of "the best of the U.S. and international media" in brisk executive-summary form, I consider it to be a must-read. So why am I giving it a mere B? Because of its annoying, played-out illustrated-cover approach, which I'm convinced is holding it back from a wider audience (circ is 425,000). I know it's probably supposed to look editorial-cartoon-ish (and connects the U.S. Week with its British edition), but instead it just looks dopey -- and inappropriately whimsical, particularly when The Week runs a caricature of a scary newsmaker such as Ahmadinejad. It's this brilliant magazine, but the cover makes it look like Highlights for Children.
THE B-MINUS LIST
This spring, the Evening Post Publishing Co., owner of the Post & Courier newspaper of Charleston, S.C., launched an upscale glossy standalone magazine called Garden & Gun. It would make my A-list but for the fact that the name is just a wee bit too tame for me. Paintball & Parsnips or Cauliflower & Carnage would be more my speed.
THE C-PLUS LIST
Hip-hop magazine Straight Stuntin gets my slightly-above-average grade because it celebrates slightly-above-average women who struggle bravely with a common handicap: the fact that they're not famous yet. "We venture through the daily achievements of beautiful women," the magazine's mission statement reads, "who don't get rewarded for them unless they achieve celebrity status first. ... We will highlight selective male figures also, but the main focus is on the empowerment of our sisters in the struggle trying to get recognition without having to degrade themselves beyond their own interests." Case in point: the recent cover with rapper 50 Cent flanked by three curvaceous ladies of color -- Jazzie, Tangee and (I'm not kidding) Benita Apple Buns -- in skimpy outfits and stiletto heels.
THE C LIST
This year, Quality Number Fill-Ins Magazine, the numbers-game monthly, narrowly beats out Fill-It-Ins Jumbo Magazine for the coveted Most Average Magazine in America C-List honor. Congratulations-ish!
THE C-MINUS LIST
Last time I did a non-A-list, I gave Life magazine -- the latest incarnation, a newspaper supplement -- a D, while asking, "What is this nothing-sandwich quasi-pamphlet, and why is Time Inc. pouring so much good money after bad?" Earlier this year, of course, Life folded, and so I'm pleased to announce that I'm bumping up its grade retroactively to recognize its newfound relevance -- as a signifier, in media columns such as this one, of just how much once-invincible Time Inc. has lost its way.
THE D-PLUS LIST
What a magical thing Donald Trump has done with print: Whereas other media masters (Oprah, Martha, Rachel) have issued magazines to burnish their reputations, The Donald has spun crap from gloss by launching an endless stream of self-branded titles that look and read like offbrand in-flight magazines. First Trump Style, then Trump World, then Trump Magazine, which folded last year, but has just been reincarnated in a partnership with Ocean Drive Media Group. Look, Donald, if you're that obsessed with producing cheesetastic glossies, why don't you just do an LBO of Celebrity Hairstyles, retitle it Trump Hairstyles, put your blond cotton-candy comb-over on the cover, and be done with it?
THE D AND D-MINUS LISTS
The D and D-minus winners are so totally close this year that I'm announcing them together in no particular order. And the winners are... True Confessions ("HOLD ME, BEAT ME," "MUTUALLY UNFAITHFUL: TWO CAN PLAY AT THIS GAME!") and True Romance ("JUST A FLING? HOOKING UP WITH THE HIRED HELP," "RISKY BUSINESS: HOW I LANDED THE OFFICE HOTTIE")! Ah, love American-style.
THE F LIST
Lots of magazines died this year (see Life, above), but only one flunkee wins my coveted F-list designation: the late, ungreat digest-sized Disney Adventures.
A single tear rolls down Hannah Montana's cheek.
And ... scene.