Trumpeted from magazines and the other clarions of popular culture, comes the inescapable message: If you're not young and beautiful, you're practically dead.
Those of us who are neither young nor beautiful may rail against it, but too often, it is a notion not only objectionable but true. For current evidence, take a look, while you can, at Mirabella magazine, which is in fact dead: Its publisher put it to rest last week.
I'm as guilty as anyone for its demise. Except in the early '90s, when an acquaintance was writing a column for it, I never even glanced through its pages. But judging from its May issue, still to be found ossifying at newsstands, hip it was not.
Gracing the cover is actress Kristin Scott Thomas, who had one huge movie, three movies ago. A tease to the inside proclaims an "exclusive interview" with Carly Simon, implying that they had to use all their guile to pull off such a coup. Another siren sings of Mirabella's check-ins with Betty Friedan and Helen Gurley Brown, two trailblazers probably past their most important moment.
Strictly for content, the best reason to buy this final issue is Lynn Darling's affecting memoir recounting how she carried on with life, and eventually renewed her love life, after her husband died. But you might also want to pick up a copy in case you ever want to start a magazine of your own; file it in the what-not-to-do folder.
Friedan also pops up this month in George, which could be the result of one of those corporate synergy deals, since both magazines are (were) the spawn of the publisher Hachette Filipacchi. George presents an excerpt from Friedan's memoir, whose big headline is that while she was starting the National Organization for Women, she was being beaten by her husband. But there's much more depth and detail, as befits a trailblazer probably past her most important moment.
The Friedan connection isn't the only one between these siblings. While Mirabella has breathed its last, George is just getting its second wind, a circumstance that may be more than coincidence: The New York Times reported last week that Mirabella staffers were grousing that George got all the promotions budget, hastening the mag's demise.
The May George is the first issue entirely attributable to Frank Lalli, who took the editor's chair after founder John F. Kennedy Jr.'s death at sea last summer. It suggests that Lalli is keeping George roughly on its course, which is to blend politics and celebrity in hit-or-miss fashion. Regrettably, the misses win this month.
There is, for example, the spread of Heather Locklear, telling Rudy Giuliani how to beat Hillary Rodham Clinton in the New York Senate race. As a conceit, it's brilliant: See, she plays a political consultant to a fictitious New York mayor on the sitcom "Spin City," and Rudy is the real New York mayor. Get it? There's no way of knowing whether the stratagems are really Locklear's, but it does offer the chance - practically the obligation - to publish a full- page photo of the lovely Locklear.
The issue's lead story is slightly more valuable, though ultimately a bore. Writer Ann Louise Bardach has traveled to Cuba to uncover "the untold Elian story." It's a good idea, to try to turn the 15 figures who originally set out on the ill-fated vessel back into human beings, but we still end up with caricatures.
Interviewees only extol the departed, undoubtedly motivated both by the desire not to speak ill of the dead and by the basic, inbred aversion to candor in a communist society. Another drawback is that these people gained notoriety only in death; after offering the survivors' sad accounting of the trip, Bardach has little left to tell.
George does offer some salient tidbits, such as how much each presidential candidate spent per delegate won (the bargain: Al Gore, at $13,356 per), and trying to divine how George W. Bush spent his $63.3 million, which George (the magazine) says is $30 million more than any presidential candidate has ever spent on an entire campaign (big tickets: $19 million for ads, $11 million for fund-raising).
Lalli's column, meanwhile, qualifies as the mag's biggest miss, offering a weak suggestion on how John McCain might win the presidency, in 2004. His premise is that McCain energized voters with his straightforwardness, but that not enough of them wanted change. If Al Gore wins and then the economy goes in the tank ("two possible ifs" - well said, Frank), McCain could emerge. If you consider that pallid, read on for Lalli's closing: "We don't have the answers. Nobody does. . . . But this magazine will continue to cheer any candidate who gives honesty a chance, and who stands tall to win rather than stoops to conquer."
Don't try telling Grover C. Nordquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, that drivel about no one having the answers: He sure thinks he does. In a far more pointed analysis of the "McCain mutiny" in the May American Spectator, he tells why McCain prospered and how the conservative movement beat back the challenge.
Nordquist asserts that the episode "exploded the myths that the Reagan coalition was both weak and unstable," and cheers how all its elements rallied to unmask "the Trojan Horse McCain campaign and defeated the largest accumulation of corporate wealth amassed behind one candidate in American history."
Wait, isn't George W. the one with the Texas-size wallet? No, Nordquist is referring, in the well-worn right-wing way, to "the uncritical and unflagging support of establishment media corporations." He calculates that if McCain had had to purchase as advertising all that fawning coverage, it "would have cost at least three times the $70 million Bush raised from Republicans."
It's hard to figure how Nordquist figures it, but given Lalli's paean in George, Nordquist would undoubtedly say McCain's free ink for 2004 is already gushing.