March 1990

With great eBay winnings comes great responsibility, like churning these things out on time, where “on time” can be defined as “the name of the month in which the subsequent entry appears shall not skip an intervening month.”

Now I’ve got a small pile o’ Spy from bygone eras, some of whose issues I cannot remember having read back, as the kids no longer say, in the day. And it’s rather delightful to pore over them, annotating bons mots hither and yon, but then one is faced with several hours of typing, typing, typing (actually writing, writing, writing) to do justice to it all.

But of course typing-typing-typing/writing-writing-writing is what I already do all day. So it’s not really “recreational.”

What I need, apparently, is a personal assistant. Someone perhaps like Ann Magnusson, this month’s cover model, resplendent in high-class business suiting, heels, and Post-It® Notes.

Ann Magnusson? How ’80s! But the business suiting was recapitulated inside, as we will see.

Bit dull this month, really.

A half-page insertion from Pier House (“One Duval Street, Key West” – I guess this was before Key West and South Beach went gay) is a model of tasteful application of watercolours and variegated backgrounds. Heds are set in what appears to be a customized form of condensed Plantin Italic (an old Photo-Lettering exclusive?), body in Weiss. Nice.

‘He works as hard as he plays. And he drinks Johnnie Walker’ Meanwhile, I believe I mentioned the homosexualist-themed Johnnie Walker advert in a previous Ten Years Ago in Spy. It’s back again this month. I have somewhat upgraded my comparison of the black model in the ad from Mario Van Peebles to Philip Michael Thomas – that is, Detective Ricardo Tubbs on Miami Vice.

The guys in the ad are, after all, queer enough to live in an Arquitectonica building.

I recall a time in the ’90s when photo-heavy, busy advertisements and posters were deemed hugely successful at making viewers believe that, say the Royal Ontario Museum was a hip, fun, hap’nin’ place to go. But it wasn’t just any photos and any kind of busyness: You needed a central photo with a tightly-spaced upper-and-lower-case hed below, plus a ring of satellite photos with cutesy cutlines. You were meant to read the entire copy whilst straphanging in the metro. An oldstyle face like Berkeley or Horley was an absolute must; it just didn’t work otherwise.

Well, Spy had that going on in some kind of environmental advertisement (the advertiser is nowhere identified) in this issue. I guess it was an actual trend.

We have yet another Superspecial Advertising Supplement this month, a Fashion Supplement. It’s an unfashionable person’s idea of fashion, the sort of thing an arriviste or a grasper might come up with. Fashion as a special activity carried out by models in advertising supplements, that sort of thing. Except here the models wear Chanel-esque business suitings and full makeup and gigantic jewelry – gold braided earrings the size of a knish, costume pearls the size of marbles. “With our cap at a jaunty angle” – fashionable people favour caps, you see – “and our socks probably mismatched (we’re afraid to look)” – rather as they were when dressing that morning – “we saunter into the world of fashion publishing with this first edition of The Fashion Supplement to Spy.”

It’s flatly beyond trite, even if one of the models looks good with his near-red hair and green striped blazer. (Another model’s shock of actual red hair and russet linen ensemble merely makes him look like Beaker habillé by a colourblind fag.) And, in agate type, they even name the models: Frederick Washburn (“III,” shurely?!) good, John Klotnia bad. I mean, just look at the names.

And if I’m not mistaken, that’s Isabella Rossellini in the Lancôme/Lord & Taylor advert, a screaming mishmash of vivid pastel colours (not an oxymoron). Her earrings resemble a cologne bottle hanging from a gumball by a chain, but she’s not entirely unshockingly beautiful even to me.

I am, of course, galled by the substandard typography that is now to be expected from these superspecial supplements. Neutral apostrophes, opening single quote instead of apostrophe, two Selectric-style hyphens for an en dash, rather garishly “classy” typeface choices (complete with swash rules) – it’s a mess. Yet they manage to hang a quotation mark at one point. What gives?

I had a note here suggesting Isaac Mizrahi had a thing or two to say in the “interviews” conducted with various fashion demimondaines, but it actually referred to the atrocious H&J in his section.

Wasn’t Spy raking in enough ad cash as it was? Why sully the pool with advertorials?

And the punchline?

Fifty-odd pages later, “Nightmare on Park Avenue” by Jennet Conant picks through the wattles and liver spots of Judy Price, publisher of Avenue, “her exceptionally exclusive, exceptionally dull monthly giveaway magazine” that

panders to its readers in the same way dress-shop clerks flatter their patrons.... [T]he January 1989 issue ran a lengthy feature that lovingly profiled the women of the Comité Colbert, a consortium of French luxury-goods companies [LVMH, shurely?!]. One month later the February issue had as its centrepiece an interminable advertorial section devoted to the luxury goods themselves. [...]

“They are so studied and affected, the grossest nouveau-riche caricatures you could think of. The key to their whole act is insecurity and overcompensation.”

Et tu, Spy?

The thing about Americans, as Coupland observed in Souvenir of Canada (Souvenir du Canada), is they plan ahead – sometimes decades ahead, as in his example of closing military bases that will be flooded when ocean levels rise.

As far back as 1990, the American right wing, under cover of advertisement for a publication of the American right wing, was already waging a propaganda war against global warming. Or not against global warming per se; that might happen anyway. Against proponents of altering any business behaviour whatsoever in light of global warming.

“What greenhouse effect? Forbes sees hype, not heat” reads the headline across from a reproduced magic-realist painting that combines antlers and nudity (captioned as “Henri Rousseau, The Dream of Tadwigha, 1910”).

Forbes took an independent look at the situation,” the ad copy claims, rather burdening the definition of independent. “What we found was indeed alarming. But it was hype, not heat. Not only does the latest data show that the effects of the greenhouse effect are – at worst – minimal, the cure being touted could easily result in a revolt of the poor countries against the rich and hurl the world economy into the red.”

Curiously, the ad copy seems to believe that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny when it comes to development, and that Third World countries will chug through every wasteful and polluting technology in the same order the First World did, only at a faster pace to make up for having started late. But take a look at telephones: Developing countries skipped landlines altogether in the 1990s and installed cellphones, the then-current – and better – technology.

I think any “capitalist tool” could still make a good buck under that model. And as for poor countries hurling the world economy into the red, look what a few hijacked jet planes managed to do.

Fortunately, this was an advertisement, not editorial, but I’m now rather glad I didn’t spend much time reading fusty, ill-designed ol’ Forbes back in, as the kids no longer say, the day. “No guts. No story,” Forbes’s slogan reads. Fine by me – I was always a pussy.

Our art director de l’epoque is B.W. Honeycutt. Did he leave behind a beneficiary? Did he have a lover? What happened to him? Where is he now?

Will I be mooning like this when Roger Black and Chip Kidd kick off?

Typography smackdown: Could someone please explain why the same column of text (p. 13, “Letters to Spy”) writes Spy as SPY once and SPY (small caps) another time? Somebody’s asleep at the switch. The small-caps switch, which vaguely resembles a Bugs Bunny–style portable hole.

I never talk about “Blurb-o-Mat: Capsule Movie Reviews by Walter ‘Dateline: The Copa’ Monheit™, the Movie Publicist’s Friend.” I really should. The puns are sickeningly clever. And, in this case, misspelled.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, produced by Jim Henson (New Line) [four monocles]
Walter Monheit says: “Terrapinrific! A snapping good yarn! Dontello is the thinking man’s Stallone!”

It’s at times like these that one can only think back to that nugget of popular music: “They can’t dust us offlike some old coffee table.”

I’ll be adding more Monheit™isms in coming emissions.

Is his what, his ring finger? His shoes?

How about his nose?

“Who Says American Ingenuity Is a Thing of the Past?” by Frazier Moore (no relation) covers the Cant Miss mousetrap, Whoops rubber vomit, fir-tree-shaped Car-Freshener (all sic), plus:

Klipette rotating scissors You may not realize the danger, but when you reach for that nose hair with a tweezers [sic], you take your life in your hands. Consider this grave warning from the Klipette counter display: DO NOT PULL HAIR FROM NOSE. MAY CAUSE FATAL INFECTION.

...For half a century the Klipette has been preaching this gospel – and apparently converting thousands of reckless pluckers in the process. In any case, Hollis Company president Elsa Bauml recently was unable to cite a single case where nose-hair extraction had claimed a life. “Oh, thank God, no,” she said. A handsomer America, a non–fatally infected America – thanks to an American product.

“This Spy subscriber has noticed a sneaky pattern of references to Elton John in issues past,” writes Kathleen Pilarchik of St. John, Indiana. She goes so far as to accuse us of harbouring an Elton John fan on staff (a random frisking yielded no eyeglasses shaped like grand pianos, but we’re going to remain vigilant). When an intelligent reader... starts seeing recurring subliminal messages about hair-plugged, roly-poly English pop stars in the pages of Spy, that’s disturbing.

And this was a year before Kate Bush’s cover of E. John’s “Rocket Man,” which, in light of later revelations, was positively chilling in its transvestist refusal to switch the gender of its pronouns.

Ron Jacobs returns to the “Letters” column. Let ’er rip, Ron.

I thought your dismal riposte to my letter in your June 1989 issue had concluded our correspondence, so it is with disgust that I must correct another “nice fuckup for a magazine that lists a chief of research on its masthead.”

In November your terminally pointless hodgepodge of Doris Duke “facts”... manages to botch the four-letter name of one of her two pet camels. Princess yes, Baby no. The animal in question is named Bebe.

The story also fancifully has Ms Duke’s burdensome beasts wintering at her home in Hawaii. Wrong. The pair never set hoof there.

Councilman Abercrombie’s remarks were addressed not to “officials who had allowed the camels to enter the state” but rather to those who ultimately denied admission to the Bactrian duo.

Semantically slither out of these screw-ups.

In Mr. Jacobs’s last attack on our chief of research (were you jilted by a chief of research, Ron? Was there a childhood trauma at the hands of a chief of research that you’re not telling us about? Wouldn’t it help to talk about it, rather than to go through life having an endless pattern of failed relationships and correspondences with chiefs of research that resonate with the pain of the first experience and always turn out the same?), he was, of course, wrong. So we were delighted to discover that out of this current crop of “corrections,” one of them is actually half-right. Despite the fact that Ms Duke was granted permission to bring her camels to Hawaii, at the last minute she evidently decided against their wintering with her, since zoning laws would have prevented them from staying with her on the estate.

Till next time, Ron – haouli makahiki hou!

Perhaps I should forgive B.W. his lapse with small capitals. Let’s hope I get a scan of the following letter.

Why is Spy conspicuously absent from the list of publications that printed Bill McKibben’s tale [“The Boy Who Couldn’t Save the Grees for the Forest,” by David Kamp, December]? Fess up, now: How many trees did Spy kill on behalf of McKibben?

Spy would have killed at least 12½ trees, were it not for our new Re-use-it!™ program, in which we print all environment-related stories – including your letter – on recycled paper.

Yes, the background for that letter resembles unbleached kraft.

Superspecial addendum: The words “Spy would have” in the magazine’s response were in roman, not italic. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so lenient with the small caps after all. Broken-window theory and suchlike.

“From the Spy Mailroom”: “ ‘A story in yesterday’s [Santa Clara, California, Stanford Daily] reported that Spy magazine publisher Tom Phillips said his magazine consistently refers to Donald Trump as the “short-fingered Bulgarian.” The term Phillips actually used was “short-fingered vulgarian.” The misquotation was not intended as a slur against Bulgarians. The Daily regrets the error.’ ”

I mean, they’re the best kind. “He’s hot, he’s sexy and he’s dead.”

“ ‘Why Do I Like Gumby? Well, He’s Really Down-to-Earth’ ” by John F. Kelly is subhedded “A Spy Guide to Fan Clubs.”

Lindsay Wagner is a mildly-interesting case, Barbara Eden rather the contrary. The jewel of this little fact-compiling table, however, is the title of the Jon-Erik Hexum newsletter: “The Hex Nut (the December 1998 issue asks fans for information on ‘that elusive year J-E spent studying biomedical engineering at Case Western Reserve’).”

“The Spy Trip Tip: Where Playing to Win Was Born” by John Brodie documents

the house in which New York’s first citizen, Donald Trump, lived as a short-fingered boy. Nowadays, the quiet, tree-lined streets of the area form an oasis from the crack dealers on nearby Hillside Avenue.... A carefully-landscaped front yard with a lawn jockey (face repainted white) runs up to the two-story house, a brick pseudo-Georgian with gigantic columns and pediment....

Bustling Hillside Avenue must have been where Trump and his little “friends” spent their nickels and dimes on a Saturday afternoon. Curiously, though – despite Trump’s assertion that he was “always something of a leader in my neighbourhood... and I tended to be the kid that others followed” (The Art of the Deal) – the lavishly-made-up matron at Bartons’ candy shop says “I’ve been running this store for 28 years, and I don’t remember him.”

I remain unable to care, 11 years later, about the slur Spy registered en passant against what this month’s issue labels “a technological gimmick called QSound.”

I like the pictures in, but I did not bother reading the overlong copy for, “Peace on Earth – and Jeane Kirkpatrick Out of a Job” by Jamie Malanowski, “A Speculative History of Post–Cold War America, 1989–2013” (one of those rare subheds with two en dashes).

“The Walt Disney NORAD Center” brochure, an Ollie’s Cold War Surplus Store (CLOTHES – JOURNALS – GEAR – MONOGRAPHS; “Embassy-Grade Bugging Devices $19.95”), a B-52 as a crop duster, that sort of thing.

And the Fail-safe–esque red doomsday phone between the White House and the Kremlin? “In 2003 both sides connected the hotline to answering machines.”

But the piece was way too long and only ever mildly amusing.

Giant orphan at the top of page 79, too. Honeycutt, you’d be in real shit now if you weren’t already dead.

Someone named August West (a pseudonym?) penned a giant article entitled “ ‘Mr. Simpson, Your Slut is on Line 3,’ ” ostensibly concerning a lawsuit against film producer Don Simpson by former secretary Monica Harmon.

The story is an outright hatchet job against Harmon, of the sort the right-wing press (and later Webloggers) would perfect near the demise of the 20th century. “Harmon’s testimony is so damaging to her own case that the producers may never have to present their side. Everything Harmon sets up in her complaint seems to get knocked down in her deposition.... Harmon even admitted to having sworn right back when Simpson swore at her.” Similar line-by-line refutations of Harmon’s claims (“fisking”) fill out the article.

Is this the same magazine that calls D. Trump a short-fingered vulgarian and screams bloody murder at other puffed-out executives’ mistreatment of assistants? (“People who consummate six-figure deals and terrorize personal assistants”; “the depredations suffered by over 300 ‘Vedettes,’ latter-day indentured servants who ‘assist’ former New Yorker Ved Mehta”; plus Patty Duke’s memos to servants.)

Then there’s the six-page piece on a phenomenon Spy could not even demonstrate actually occurs: Removing gold-filled teeth from the dead. And anyway, in early-21st-century terms, nothing, absolutely nothing about funeral-home practices is shocking anymore. There’s a certain gay-themed television series that saw to all that once and for all.

Even it is a bore this month. What gives?

You are here: fawny.orgTen Years Ago in SPYArchives → March 1990

Posted: 2003.11.23

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