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

We hereby cast our eye back on SPY, “The New York Monthly” – that exemplar of “irony,” memorably belligerent, bilious adjective chains, and thrillingly recherché typography, from which our entire writing style (and ironic, memorable, belligerent, bilious, and recherché personality) derived.

Where possible, we do actually attempt to stick to a precise ten-year retrospective, but we reserve the right to mix and match.


November 1993

Now with ILLUSTRATIONS thanks to Michael Russell

A funny thing happened on the way to the recap: After checking that I had not, in fact, brought the December 1990 issue into the present by reviewing it, I assembled a litany of notes on that issue, only to find, partway through writing my review, that I had recapped exactly that issue already. But I did not come to the same conclusion in both reviews. This I do not understand.

I toyed with the echt-postmodernist option of simply rereviewing that issue, but chickened out and bailed.

Instead, this month we step back Nine Years Ago in Spy.


This is, of course, one of the post–Andersen/Carter, gigantic-point-size issues, featuring a notably blurry cover shot of “Daryl Hannah as Mrs. John F. Kennedy Jr.?” I should not really have been surprised to find “Letters to Spy” boring and off by a wide margin. It’s a phenomenon I’ve struggled to articulate for a decade. It seems to be the opposite of the phrase “closely argued”; the effect is not the same as overwriting or providing too much detail or simply using too many words in a sentence. It has more to do with a kind of inexorable and predictable pacing of argumentation. You can see shit coming a mile away.

I bought your September “U.K. Decay” issue and wanted to laugh out loud. Unfortunately, I couldn’t, because it wasn’t funny. There are plenty of targets in Britain, and you missed every one (apart from the members of that dreadful German family, the so-called Windsors, who are hardly representative of the British people anyway).

I admit [telltale pacing rhetorical device – Ed.], parts of over here are pretty appalling. So it’s hardly surprising [ibid.] that we’re over there just because we can earn more money. There is a good reason why your media is infested by us. Although the horrors visited upon our society and educational system by Thatcher were gigantic, those inflicted on the U.S. by Reagan were, like everything else in your country, a damned sight bigger. In short, while you claim the U.K. is economically, politically, and culturally hurtling toward Third World status, your average Brit, especially your above-average Brit, is still better educated than his U.S. counterpart. And have you checked the U.S. illiteracy rates lately?

America isn’t in such great shape. I hope you won’t fail to appreciate the irony of such an issue coming from a city that is largely owned by the Japanese and the British. From a country that is the biggest debtor nation in history (another Reagan legacy) and that, if it wasn’t bankrolled monthly by the Land of the Rising Sun, would sink lower than Atlantis. And if you think Britain’s a dump, have you tried looking round New York lately? Parts are like downtown Calcutta, with bits of bombed-out East Beirut thrown in for fun.

Bill Douglas

Mr. Douglas, you’re right. Any magazine that would insult a person’s country is no better than a “dreadful German,” Japanese, Calcuttan (with their cities full of their poor – gross!) or Lebanese. And, by the way, your P.S., “It’s the French who don’t wash and have bad teeth,” was – what’s that phrase again? – a hoot!

(The last point refers to the letter from Tina Brown, at the time the New Yorker editrix, praising the parody of her organ in Spy. We’ll return to Tina shortly.)

This genre of gassy peristoltic discursion is the only idiom in which Richard Goldstein can write. I have despised him for it for the entire decade I have been unable to articulate the problem, yea up to this very moment, and now I despise him more.

“Glock Around the Clock”

This gassy and peristoltic discussion of gun references in pop music (Chronicles of Bowling for Columbine Foretold?) by Kevin Zimmerman did nothing but glaze my eyes, save for graf 2:

Nowhere was pop’s new obsession with gunplay more evident than at this year’s New Music Seminar. Kicking off the deep thinking was keynote speaker Jack Lang, the former French minister of culture and the latest in a long line of European eggheads to deem themselves experts on American pop culture. “I should be able to say ‘Fuck police brutality,’ ” remarked the ostentatiously bilingual Lang, “even though I have no desire to dust some cops off.”

Well, Amen to that. And Eminem isn’t a homophobe.

Spy advertising analysis

‘Like I Care’

You know you’re recapping the too-recent past when a collage-like advertisement for a Melissa Etheridge album tautologically entitled Yes[,] I Am makes you wince.

Bite my head off

1993-era investigative journalism reached its peak in “No Velma, No Peace” by Chip Rowe, an examination of why animation-tie-in vitamin products leave out certain cartoon characters.

  • Scooby-Doo, missing Velma: “Number of letters received annually about missing character(s): None. Lori Shelton, Leiner Consumer Relations: ‘We don’t get a lot of Scooby calls. It’s kind of a passé character.’ ”
  • Bugs Bunny, including Petunia but missing the Tasmanian Devil, inter alia: “But why Petunia? ‘She’s a great counterpart to Porky.’ Not because she’s a girl?That’s speculation. She’s a great counterpart to Porky.’ ”

I’m bored already.

“The New Yorker Before and After Tina”

Actually, that’s the dek. The hed is “Fuck Yes, the New Yorker,” but I thought that was a bit de trop for a headline here.

October marks one year since Tina Brown took the helm at the New Yorker, and, dire predictions to the contrary, the magazine hasn’t turned into another Vanity Fair. Still, we have noticed a subtle shift.

  • intransigent
  • avuncular
  • Eric Fischl–type
  • ballyhooed
  • O’Keeffian
  • blithe
  • grisaille
  • treacly
  • ceci n’est pas
  • celadon
  • Rothkoesque
  • biomorphic
  • Old Masterish
  • Cronenbergian
  • roulades
  • coloratura
  • “tombeau”
  • Whitmanesque
  • demimondaine
  • zing
  • panoply
  • farrago
  • cupola
  • mucilage
  • Nepenthe
  • Bahrainis
  • Bahrainis
  • Bahrainis
  • status epilepticus
  • psychomotor fugues
  • Bahrainis
  • porphyry
  • habiliments
  • mezzo
  • Brünnhilde
  • obbligato
  • margays
  • verdigris
  • tesseræ
  • mandorla
  • archivolt
  • roundel
  • foile à tous
  • labyrinthine
  • camarillas
  • Voith GmbH
  • besmirch
  • verve
  • atavistic
  • viola da gambist
  • sexual
  • sexual
  • venereal disease
  • sexual
  • sexual
  • sexual
  • homosexual
  • heterosexual
  • gender-swapping
  • sex
  • breasts
  • male-male couplings
  • sexual
  • gynecological
  • sexual
  • nipples
  • slut
  • hypersexual
  • masochist
  • Fuck! Off!
  • sex
  • sex
  • masturbatory soft porn
  • raped
  • outhouse
  • toilets
  • toilets
  • outhouses
  • outhouse
  • outhouses
  • toilet
  • warm spit
  • warm piss
  • outhouses
  • outhouse
  • toilet paper
  • outhouse
  • outhouses
  • outhouse
  • toilet
  • tits
  • gang-raped
  • sex
  • gang-rape
  • giving it the tongue
  • ass
  • fucking shit
  • sex
  • bullshit
  • butt
  • sexual intercourse
  • impotent
  • breasts
  • cunt
  • excrement
  • sexual
  • shits
  • shag
  • fucking balls up
  • pornography
  • pornography
  • sex shop
  • bondage
  • bondage
  • bondage
  • spanking
  • cock
  • bum
  • cunt
  • breasts
  • masturbatory
  • sex
  • pornography
  • pornography
  • pornography
  • sod
  • cock
  • fucking
  • fart
  • sex
  • fuck
  • spread legs
  • ejaculation
  • shut the fuck up
  • fuckin’
  • fuckin’
  • fuck
  • shit
  • orgasms
  • shit
  • I wanna come
  • motherfucker
  • “when in doubt, whip it out”
  • bitch
  • bitches
  • bitch
  • bitch
  • fuck
  • sex
  • doggy sex
  • sex
  • sex
  • viola da gamba

Those Surprising Gore Girls

Those Surprising Gore Girls! Things kind of go downhill from there in this month’s issue. I wish Spy had published more parody comic books, because they’re quite bitchin’.

Those Surprising Gore Girls (“They’re livin’ large! They’re chillin’! They’re not boring at all!”) opens with an advert for the Office of Technology Assessment.

WIFE: Don’t forget, dear, we’ve got a date for the Kennedy Center honors with some bagmen from Raytheon.

HUSBAND: Aw, cupcake, I’m pooped. That lousy defense subcontractor of mine...

– Please, dear. Besides, I get 750 bucks one way or another...

– Oh, all right.


– Say, Chip and Keri have a nice spread here. Wonder how he got his hands on this kind of top-shelf scratch?

– Oh, Chip is in supercolliders now.

– Hey, Chip, tell me how a slaphappy Joe like yourself got involved in supercolliders.

CHIP: It was easy, Stan. And with OTA help, I learned everything I need to know... without leaving home?


– But don’t I need to build something with at least the pathetic filigree of an imaginable use?

– Not with OTA. What you build doesn’t even have to kill our ideological enemies in other countries, and you earn your tools as you learn.

And the actual comic book? The three identical pneumatic fembots in bikinis, garters, fishnet bustiers, halter tops, and short-shorts engage in gnarly Socratic discourse:

– ...and that adds up to 8 million new jobs created by the end of the century.

– Duh! Everyone knows that the North American Free Trade Agreement, with its new provisions for environmental protection, is stoopid fresh. [...]

– Milton Friedman’s theories on tax strucure and economic growth are still valid in the post-Reagan era.


– Hey, there’s Andrew McCarthy, star of such hit feature films as Pretty in Pink and Fresh Horses!

– I think it’s totally excellent that you’re into Department of Labor issues, Andrew.

– Wha? I’m only here because my homeslice and fellow film star Rob Lowe said that the choicest honeys always show for a [Robert] Reich address.

– So all you want to do is dialogue the babes and scope out the hardbodies?

– Sure. I mean, what’s all this politics mumbo-jumbo got to do with me?

The girls proceed to beat the shit out of him, accompanied by inside-the-Beltway monologuizing. “I think I’m in love,” Andrew McCarthy later claims.

“Cause Celebs”

A bit of a borefest surveys Usual Suspects in the field of celebrity support for charities and “causes.” The story is worth it only for its uncaptioned photo of Barbra Streisand reading from a prepared statement (on curly thermal fax-o-gram paper) at a podium.

Another large celebrity group, the Environmental Media Assicoation, specializes in handing out awards. They honoured Matt Groening for his antinuclear work on The Simpsons, for depicting the dangers of the Springfield nuclear-power plant. No word yet on whether they will further honour Groening for his work in raising public consciousness on the dangers of the monorail, the water slide, shaken beer cans, escalators to the sky and hammering a nail through your tongue, not to mention how NAFTA is going to affect the slave labour of Korean animators.

It’s stoopid fresh!

You are here: fawny.org → Ten Years Ago in SPY

Updated: 2002.12.29


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