Dobrow Weighs in on Whether He Needs Tons of Useful Stuff

Media Reviews for Media People: Men's Health

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Last Sunday at approximately 1:25 p.m., as I labored "down" Fifth Avenue towards Central Park, I experienced the fantastically squishy sensation that is a marble-sized blister exploding in one's sock. At that moment, I announced my retirement from semi-competitive recreation and began plotting a wellness regimen that demands neither physical exertion nor gastronomic restraint. I also pondered the concavity of my gut: namely, whether I'd be able to balance a pint of Ben & Jerry's upon its proud zenith as I lay prostrate and gape-mouthed on the couch.

The November issue of Men's Health
The November issue of Men's Health
Turns out that this approach is both impractical and dangerously irresponsible. Damn you, Drs. Oz, Phil and Howser! While these supposed experts may claim that a lifestyle centered around the twin pillars of salt and televised whimsy is a fantasy, I decided to investigate for myself. Oh wondrous Barnes & Noble magazine rack: Hast thee merrye tidings for me?

It turns out that the clean-livin' print genre has gone the way of the manatee. A handful of titles still sit upon the shelf, tantalizing lard lads with the promises of stress mitigation and ear-poppingly great sex. Nonetheless, only Men's Health offers workable advice for both healthy-living dudes and Chocodile enthusiasts hoping to maintain some basic semblance of fitness.

Its tagline, "Tons of Useful Stuff," tells you all you need to know. Each issue of Men's Health offers a borderline-encyclopedic amount of information, more than can be absorbed without blowing a fuse. Over the course of 20 pages in the November issue, the mag conveys data points on cheap wine, fiber absorption and misshapen genitalia. It tells you how to shave your chin, your Thanksgiving turkey and your budget. A single perusal made me 13% smarter, which says as much about the magazine as it does about my intellect.

But where Men's Health truly sings is in its presentation. The November issue belies the mag's rep as a repository of abs and blurbicles, replacing its usual aspirationally super-lean cover model with Jason Bateman and its strained lists with well-structured features, the best of which is a three-parter on fish (selection/preparation/conservation). The mag also has a clever way with its graphics, whether it's an IV pouch filled with blueberries or a weirdly creative from-above shot of three yogurt canisters.

Men's Health can, however, get redundant. Perhaps owing to its decision to incorporate defunct Rodale sibling brand Best Life into the center of the book, the title now boasts three mini-sections devoted to a smattering of health, fitness, nutrition and relationships topics, which is at least one too many. The Q&As ("Ask Men's Health," "Ask the Girl Next Door," "Jimmy the Bartender") similarly tread too much common ground. If I had one query for non-upwardly-mobile Jimmy, it'd be this: Could you stop weighing in on non-verbal cues and tipping etiquette, and just get me my effin' grapefruitini?

Still, the good far outweighs the silly and the nonsensical -- which is more than can be said for the only other legit newsstand competition, Men's Fitness. Last time I checked, the mag was a bible for the 'roid-rage set, with bulging veins creeping across its pages like untamed ivy. Since then, it has attempted to evolve into something quite different: a Men's Health clone.

The transition hasn't taken. Where Men's Health busies itself surveying the various gradations of denim, Men's Fitness weighs in two years late on Don Draper's wardrobe. Where Men's Health taps psychologists and counselors for its relationship advice, Men's Fitness tells readers that the secret to getting along with sullen teens is by "spend[ing] a few minutes joking with them or talking about their interests" (as opposed to slipping them a sawbuck and pointing them towards the door). Factor in some of the most vague, least sophisticated writing about women in magazines today ("being sexy is about intrigue and mystery"), and you've got a title that would be better served by catering to its former audience of protein-shake-slurping Ferrignos.

Maybe I should take it easier on Men's Fitness, given its neighbor on the B&N magazine rack: Hooters magazine, which disrespects the English language in ways too numerous to mention. It boasts an editor's note written by the chain's VP-marketing, tech advice along the lines of "no matter which computer you choose, backing up your computer makes sense," and a record-breaking 40-page photo spread in which bikini-clad Hooter girls flaunt their facility with lip-gloss application.

It's not clever enough to be offensive or sincere enough to be mockable. It is the print equivalent of a bread sandwich. If you read this thing on a regular basis, please get in touch, because you'd make a fascinating case study.

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