Ten Years Ago in ‘Spy’
Reliving one’s formative years of logrolling, short-fingered vulgarians and Separations at Birth

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‘Spy’ February 1993 cover

February 1993

Well, yes, I inevitably would get around to the Hillary in Bustier issue, so often placed on sale on eBay by lads who think they’re being terribly clever, cool, and recherché. Turns out not to be a bad ish, actually, despite the late cover date (far along Spy’s lifespan) and huge fonts.


Advertising analysis

Much to discover this month.

Famous and dandy?

SPY1993-02.Amos-SM.jpg Do you remember a time when Nicolas Cage had hair? I hardly do, either, but there he is high-lariously pulling the wristwatch off a well-dressed Samuel L. Jackson, whose appearance rather presages his in Changing Lanes. I am, as usual, sickened by the typography. And in general terms, N. Cage is too handsome to be a common criminal, and looks entirely unconvincing in lumberjacket and wearing makeup that gives him that just-Dumpster-dove look.

But really, the issue is that any sentient being would be repelled by the cutesy showbiz-insider pun of the film’s title. And besides, wasn’t Amos & Andy such an egregious, indeed textbook, example of minstrelsy that Michael Franti and Spike Lee later lampooned it?


Everyone knows cigarette advertising is occultish and subliminal. Even Spy covered the topic (passim). But three 2/3-page ads in the current issue bring Joe Camel to new depths of ridiculousness and manipulation. Apparently, in every pack of cancer sticks (sorry, filtered coffin nails) comes a scrip for $1 in “Camel Cash.” Put a hundred of these together – a hundred packs of cigarettes – and you can buy four of Joe’s Pilsner Glasses. Fifteen? Joe’s Flip-Top Lighter.

But you’ll want a catalog, right? (American spelling. It’s all over this issue and it’s annoying me. What do you call an American who catalogs, as at a library? A cataloger. Isn’t that like a lodger?) The form you will out to receive the Camel Cash Catalog Volume Three asks you to “certify that I am a smoker; that I am 21 years of age or older; and that I want to receive offers, premiums, coupons, or free cigarettes that may be sent to me in the mail” (emphasis added). You can pile ’em up, too – “maximum of 5 catalogs (total) per address.”


SPY1993-02.Sugarcubes.jpg

Peignot is one of those fonts that’s ever so difficult to use, but the weird typographic collage used on the Sugarcubes’ Stick Around for Joy is a counterexample. I particularly like what should be the ugliest component, the overlap of the C and U.

This month’s advert for the Sugarcubes – and you do realize I interviewed Einar, Magga, and Thor, right? and Einar liked my shit? – recaps a similar layout. I suppose it’s identical, really, but it needs to be bigger, and the green patterned background isn’t working. We won’t even talk about the Ronda body copy.


I note that my issue contains an intact scent strip. Is this the sort of NIB/OUP otakuism that eBay fetishists look for – unsniffed scent strips?

Sound: No longer full-colour?

Easter Island statues: Already a Madison Avenue cliché by the mid-’80s, right? And here they are again, one of them outfitted with Sony Studio Monitor Series Headphones (sic). (The linebreaks are deceptive: “Sony Studio ¶ Monitor Series Headphones.” Monitor Series Headphones by Sony Studio? Or Studio Monitor Series Headphones?) Since this was the era before wirelessness, unless of course one includes CB radios, the headphones feature a matted-in cable that extends out of frame. Where does it end up? A Philips DCC player?

With these headphones, would you take advantage of the TDK Mailrock program, which, for a $3.95 900-number call, gives you a CD sampler of rock bands of Dexy’s Midnight Runners–calibre longevity, including the Skeletons, the Drop Nineteens, the Bellyachers, Sheer Terror, and the only one that anyone would recognize today, the Jesus Lizard?

Or would you listen to someone else?


I hate Tom Waits. Words actually underscored in the (even more sickening) typography of Island Records’ (whose?) advertisement for Bone Machine include masterpiece, essential, finest, unshakable, innovative, and breathtaking (take a breath, Tom! You might sing better!).


Letters to Spy

“From the Spy Mailroom”:

We love this administration already. A question from Deborah A. Wilson of Austin [inevitably], Texas: “What the fuck does wonk mean?” William Safire already covered this, Deb; that’s what he’s there for. He gives one definition of wonk as a derisive term for an excessively studious student and traces it back, possibly to the Chinese huang gou 黄狗, or “yellow dog,” meaning an animal that works slavishly. Much like Safire himself.

Yeah, I added the Chinese myself. l33t, aren’t I?


Meanwhile, Spy responds to some angry denunciations thus:

We would have dismissed the similarities between the above letters if [one] and [the other] had not used the identical page composition and had not been typed with a ribbon that was the same lovely shade of blue. ([The third] was typed in the same shade as well.) As far as we can recall, Spy had never before received a letter typed with a blue ribbon. But then, we had never before written about a congressman’s wife with a poodle named Gigi. We stand by our reporting.

Perhaps superinterestingly, my typewriter when I was a schoolgirl – the device that conveniently camouflaged my age when writing letters on important matters of state, and of captioning – carried red and black ribbons on the same reel. It was great fun to use the red accent in pleasing typographic ways. I miss the simplicity of not having to declare .red { color: red; } in a separate file that half the browsers in creation will ignore or mangle.


Survival mechanisms when working for a shrew with bad hair and worse teeth: Rat him out to satirical monthlies once you escape.

As an ex-employee of Late Night, I’m sure i could come up with more than ten reasons not to work for David Letterman. However, [a previous article] had an inaccuracy too ridiculous to ignore: Dave would never send a sandwich back. He would just spend an entire day complaining about it.


Kuypersisms

In this era, our art director is Christiaan Kuypers. Alex Isley quit, I guess, and maybe B.W. Honeycutt was already sick with the big A, being as he was one of the only homosexualist graphic designers in world history. I suppose I could look up what Isley actually did.

En tout cas, Kuypers was actually pretty adept at handling the gigantutron baby-sized fonts required of the new ’90s Spy. If those aren’t custom fonts he’s using (early Font Bureau or progenitor?), then I’m the Queen of England. Just exactly the right asymmetrical indents and tension on the page, which he will sometimes rotate 90° anticlockwise. (For a spread, at least.)

Kuypers is hard to Google. I find it alien to work in the media and be essentially ungooglable.

But:

Isley was all hot for Spy’s rigour and correctness in typography, as with placing quotes in a drop cap (drop quotes) when the first word was actually in a quotation. In this issue, however, column 1, page 16 gives us this boner:

The fit makes sense, since a lot of her pre-Fox PR clients... are CAA’s biggest clients. And the joint needs a female big shot for appearance’ sake

Isn’t this in fact one step down from the dreaded Grocer’s Apostrophe (Apple’s and Pear’s)?

(I use ’s on everything, even words that end in s, sh, z, zh, or any homonym.)


Hyphen madness!

  • Page 13: “Next month: Ridiculous professional-associations-for-individuals-involved-in-international-educational-exchange with expensive Washington Offices” (and they screwed up their ffi ligature)
  • Page 17: “These days, this new breed of managers–cum–agents–cum–producers–cum-hangers-on regularly decide if a star even hears about a script”

And she’s from Utah!

“The Fine Print” (perverse official orthography no longer “The fINE PRINT”):

From a letter to Paul Dandridge, 6:00-news anchor at KABC-TV, in Los Angeles:

Dear Mr Dandridge:

On your Friday news... your announcer referred to me as “Roseanne Barr” and the name shown on the screen was “Roseanne Barr-Arnold.”

My name has been ROSEANNE ARNOLD for one year. If you are confused about what my name is, look at the fucking Nº 1 show that keeps this network together. The only show that keeps this network out of sixth place. Look at the name of the star of that show. It’s Tuesday nights at nine o’clock. Then you’ll know what my fucking name is. Get it right. Have some fucking respect....


My superspecial recent additions

The current Spy contains an angry letter of denunciation form the Archdiocese of New York. It rebuts an article in Spy’s little-known New York Times parody, wrapped around actual Times copies at the Democratic National Convention in, I guess, 1992. (“It was only a matter of time once Pope John Paul II got his 900 number. Now New York City’s Cardinal John O’Connor is introducing Cardinal Crunch, a breakfast cereal... made from non-consecrated Eucharists, or Holy Hosts.”)

This parody I do not have. This parody I in fact want.

Because I have been building up a collection, you see. Whilst pawing through the detritus at the Value Village (the search for discreet, good-condition T-shirts to wear to the gym is never-ending), I underwent an autistic moment as I passed the toy shelves. Yes, I in fact was staring at a huge black box with gold type (not Lubalin Graph) proclaiming TRUMP: THE GAME.

“It’s not whether you win or lose – it’s whether you win!” screams the headline. The back-panel copy absolutely has to be a parody of Spy.

Take charge! Bid against opponents for the hottest properties. Buy a classy Casino for a mere $80 million. Then watch the profits pour in!

Maybe a $200 million hotel is more to your liking. Or how about your own airline! Just don’t pay too much for a property – you could lose your shirt!

The real deal-making begins after all the properties are purchased! Just about anything in the game can be bought or sold. If you are clever and quick, you can earn millions... even billions of dollars!

It’s got a 1989 copyright date. They had to be knowing what they were doing.

Now, at this point what I need is a group of like-minded friends to play this game with, and a proper table to play it on.

I also bought, from a particularly nettlesome and in fact de-listed eBay supplier, the famed Spy Notes parody, covering the immortal masterpieces Bright Lights, Big City, Slaves of New York, and Less Than Zero, inter alia. I have not quite decided how to incorporate this gem into Ten Years Ago in Spy, but I’m gonna think of something. What should not, in retrospect, have been surprising is the fact that the précis of the books in question are excruciatingly dull. In fact, only the Questions for Review seem remotely worth reading at this remove. (“If you had terminal bone cancer and were in great pain, which would you rather do: Listen to Jamie Conway talk about his personal problems, or take an injection of morphine?”)


Yes, he’s an homosexualist

He who expounded the virtues of the term homosexualist, so often used in these pages, is dismissed by some picayune writer. T.W. Irwin (who?), “Review of Reviewers”:

In National Review, David Klinghoffer writes a review of Gore Vidal’s novel Live from Golgotha as if Klinghoffer’s concern were Vidal’s very self rather than his work. It begins, “Though he turned 67 last month, Gore Vidal looks and acts more and more like an oversized baby.... Vidal appears to have gained weight and has surely lost hair, leaving his head a puffy, pastry-coloured oval, not quite as soft and dilapidated as a baby’s.” Klinghoffer is very, very cross at Vidal for writing about homosexuality in the early Christian era, and for jokingly putting the words cyberpunks and Zionists into the mouths of first-century Jews.... Nor do any of Vidal’s faults as a writer justify a line in the last paragraph of Klinghoffer’s review: “No, he doesn’t have AIDS.”


Ask Camille Paglia!

SPY1993-02.Paglia.jpg God, I used to live for that bitch. She’s still right about so very many things and remains ahead of her time even if widely considered passé. She certainly needs to get publishing again. And I suppose her anti-Semitism is now hard to deny.

But.

I distinctly recall having something resembling a religious experience when reading Paglia’s advice column in Spy, complete with dead-on photo of Camille in an inset rhomboid clutching gaily-addressed letters to her bosom.

Let’s just run the responses!

  • Dear Despondent: The crystal ball shows a tacky picture of a nag and a philanderer hurling crockery around the kitchen. Misery has enough company already. In fact, they’re parking on my lawn.
  • Dear Dan: I foresee many a moon of quick-fix, laugh-a-minute phone sex. Every relationship is a triumph of imagination. Yours will be tested to the credit limit.
  • Dear Too Sexy: This is a classic case of the Diana and Endymiun myth: A maternal Amazon goddess smacking her lips over androgynous boy-flesh. I’d say keep him as a side dish and supplement the menu with more robust confections. As for feisty females, I hope you have better luck than I do!
  • Dear Joe [no relation]: You are puzzled by the irrational perversity of sexual attraction. Dionysus is a maelstrom. Love will never be tidy or safe. Jump in the boat and row for your life.
  • Dear Confused: No, it’s not rape. It’s a scene from an Antonioni movie, all Weltschmerz and ennui. Feminist dogma keeps people from recognizing good old-fashioned decadence. Go for it!

Tepid Brit-bashing

There just wasn’t any bite at all to “The New British Invasion” by Jamie Malanowski, another in that ongoing series of stories in New York–based magazines about British editors taking over New York–based magazines. How many times have I read the same complaints?

SPY1993-02.LittleBugger.jpg This piece at least reproduced a few of the laughable claims made on immigration papers, but they’re hardly smoking guns. A tabloid-style horizontal collage of editors’ headshots includes a very young and, I assume, pre-infection, pre-Androgel Andrew Sullivan in a tie and faded denim shirt. Cute for a Brit, I suppose, but Paglia would spit him out for breakfast (“androgynous boy-flesh”). Besides, bottoms can’t be editors, as recent years have proven.

Anyway, in the list of British editors sits “Vanity Fair’s new editor, Graydon Carter, is from Canada (and has been a columnist for a London daily).” Yeah, arseholes, and he co-founded and edited Spy!

Revisionism like that would ordinarily prompt a Spy exposé.


End-stage Spy

Spy, at this late stage in its evolution, was going downhill. Not yet. Not this month, not much, save for revisionism. But it was happening.

Still, “Quoth the Raving: A Spy Quiz” is unusually strong by any year’s standards.

One out of every five voting Americans liked Ross Perot’s ideas enough to think he and Margot should be redecorating the White House right now. Could it be that the rest of us missed something he said? How many of the following do you recognize as non-nonsense Perotisms?

  1. “The U.S. government is like a 450-pound woman in a size-7 dress or Bigfoot in a size-5 shoe”
  2. “Truth is, they all lie on TV and sell you a phony picture of what’s going on.... Anyone who’s truthful is called and looked at as crazy”
  3. “There is no way you can know the taste of water unless you drink it or unless it has rained on you or unless you jump in a river”
  4. “I have a documented case of one boy [traveling] 35 days across Texas with a chicken. Everyone wants to know why the boy came home? The chicken was worn out. A chicken can only take so much travel”
  5. “You have created the monster.... My faith in me is stronger than all your armies, governments, gas chambers or anything you want to do to me”
  6. All are no-nonsense Perotisms

Answer: Only the rambling-chicken story is taken from a Perot speech.... The rest of the comparatively cogent thoughts... are direct quotations from jailhouse correspondence or ramblings of Charles Manson. 1996! 1996! 1996!


Pranking and franking

Spy plays a prank on Congress. A catalog (there’s that word again) for the Congressional Supply Store, from which three Congressmen actually ordered (one later canceled), included such trinkets as:

  • 003. Hi-ball glasses. Just like Sam Rayburn used to use! 16 oz., frosted, with Capitol Dome pictured. The perfect way to serve “iced tea”! Set of six... $39.95
  • 013. Map of Senatorial Hideaways! (available 2/1/93) The best-kept secrets on Capitol Hill – where each senator has his/her secret office – revealed! Valuable resource for whips, esp. during clôture calls! $3.95

Why only some Dahmer jokes are funny

I was literally disgusted and my stomach literally turned to read Gary Wolf’s piece entitled “ ‘May I Suggest Our Zinfandel, Mr. Dahmer?’ Haute Cuisine à la Mode Cannibal.” Yes, Spy actually did phone up famous chefs and ask them how they would prepare a human body for consumption.

No doubt the angry refusals were simply not listed in the story. But everyone who is quoted took it with appalling seriousness.

There are, you know, reasons why cannibalism is taboo. New ones pop up all the time, sometimes literally, like TSEs.

I am telling myself I am reacting this badly largely because I am one of those veganists whom Anthony Bourdain loves to hate. (With reason. Most non-Indic veganists are as bad as he says.) But it is so far beyond gross that even having the page open here makes me queasy. And I usually do not do queasy.

You are here: fawny.orgTen Years Ago in SPYArchives → February 1993

Posted: 2003.06.06 ¶ Updated: 2003.06.11

See also: Interview with Alex Isley, former SPY art director