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

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September 1988

Poring not at all thoroughly or consistently through my pile o’ Spy, I found no January or January/February issues beyond the one already reviewed, so I then pawed desperately, like a child who has unwrapped nothing but socks and underwear under the tree, for a viable surrogate.

Naturally, I would select the gigantic, solid, prime-of-life September 1988 emission – 148 pages long, with perfect binding and Tracy Ullman on a skateboard. It’s “Life-Style Hell: Our Special Los Angeles Issue.”

Advertising analysis

Advertisements aimed at advertising buyers are thankfully uncommon in this action-packed issue, but two faintly nauseating examples shove their life(-)style down your throat early on.

Page 6: A “Perception. Reality” ad from Rolling Stone. One can look back on this campaign now as pure Boomer apologia, but here in the Aughties, even Boomers aren’t what they used to be: They’re quite simply the easiest-to-hate generation in human history. It’s gender-specific, though: Boomer men are the enemy, and I have described the archetype elsewhere as “some Boomer functionary with a grey beard, a paunch, a costly, sweaty, cellulite-addled wife, and a throbbing prostate.” Here the advertisement shows a pair of sandals made from tire treads as “Perception” and a pair of actual tires as “Reality.”

Chronicle of Rampant Piggish SUV Ownership Foretold?

Next, People (“Pimple”) positions itself as antidote to workaholism:

In the course of a sixty-hour week, one can get wound up pretty tight. That’s why every week nearly 25 million people choose to unwind with People magazine. For a few hours [emphasis added] they put aside the office, the stock market, the economy, their bills. And they relax. For an advertiser

– ah; the truth is revealed –

this kind of reader is as close as you can get to a captive audience. Their feet are up

– Andrew Sullivan, this means you –

their hair is down, they’re reading about their favourite subject matter, people.

That is, people they think are better than themselves. I also object to the formula letting their hair down, elliptically cited in the ad copy; only girls do that, and only girls who distinguish between their work or “formal” personæ and their “real” selves. Whereas for girls like me who are exactly the same person day in and day out, and who have no hair on the head to let down, the analogy rings untrue. It’s too convenient and gladhanding – hard-working office ladies who like nothing more than to draw a bath, let their hair down, and engage their higher faculties reading People.

You are aware, of course, that when I was a schoolgirl I wrote a letter to People stating that magazine had “the best typesetting anywhere, and that includes books”? What you read here may be construed as a backlash against oneself.

Page 20 stacks an ad for Andy Summers’ album Mysterious Barricades under another for a Toshiba CD player. We can see now which “product” would stand the test of time. Summers’ chief artistic achivement is in fact his narrative 1987 music video “Love Is the Strangest Way”; nothing else he’s ever done comes close, and he cannot so much as boast the advantage of a father formerly in the CIA.

The Toshiba CD player, while square in shape, would still be a pretty good deal today: “It has a three-beam laser pick-up [I don’t remember ever reading that term outside of a repair manual], an LCD display with track, lap and remaining-time indicators. And it can play 5″ CDs and the new 3″ CD singles. At home, there’s 16-program random memory with repeat and wireless remote control. (Plus a wired remote for outdoors.)” This 1988-era machine can do more than my 1998-era Panasonic portable CD player. Both machines would presumably play Mysterious Barricades equally well.

The album, in fact, is advertised as being available “on compact disc, audophile vinyl and chrome cassette.” Ooh. Chrome cassette. That makes all the difference. To hell with the Toshiba – it’ll even play back in my DCC deck!

We return to our old friends Aiwa (op. cit.). Gamely, the also-ran electronics maker buys two full pages for a portable cassette player. (Oh, but why, when Toshiba has such a nice CD player on offer?) Anyway, you know it’ll be indestructible, mostly because I keep telling you so. The typography again uses thick monoline markers, this time to underline sections of Franklin Gothic ad copy. It’s aggressively ugly and it almost works.

Tracy Chapman merits a full-page ad. Which is its worst feature, the hopelessly slipshod and grainy photograph (slower-speed film, please!) or the alleged selling point “ ‘1988’s Best New Artist’ – Rolling Stone”? (Perception. Reality.)

Redux: Mad Ave.’s ongoing laundromat fantasia continues in this month’s Spy. “Separate loads. Mutual interests. Lee jeans” declares the double-truck spread, consisting of a handsome, chiseled-jawed blond and some chick in a halter top whom I can hardly be expected to pay much attention to. The mythos here is that laundromats are places where well-put-together people can meet as if serendipitously – educated, well-dressed elites whose charming prewar apartments perched over high-street retail stores or in off-the-beaten-track coach houses cannot be expected to come equipped with mod cons like washers and dryers. (Or showers, actually. Or bathtubs located in bathrooms.)

What is the reality? Laundromats are overrun with uneducated paupers who use laundromats the way their mamas and grandmas did and who, like their mamas and grandmas, call the places “laundrymats.” What you’re most likely to pick up at a laundromat is lice.


A surprisingly inviscid correspondence column this month, overrun with shocked and appalled letters demanding or offering clarifications and corrections of previous Spy articles. Now, where’s the fun in that?

Nonetheless, one epistle takes the prize for unwelcome visual image.

I find it amazing that André Soltner of dubious Lutèce fame even had his name printed, much less as Nº 1, in Spy’s All-Star Chefs cards.... His favourite garnish may be carrots (is that what we ate for $875?), but his presentation of chocolate mousse demanded a pooper-scooper instead of a spoon.

D. Shepherd
Toms River, New Jersey

P.S. And you thought you only had complaints from the Canadians.

Masthead review

Another odd historical surprise awaits us in Spy’s masthead. Really, there seems to be some new tidbit in there every month. Listed as Chief of Research is none other than Cynthia Cotts, currently the Village Voice’s media columnist. (Our art directron is B.W. Honeycutt.)

Forgetful Nazi

And no doubt C. Cotts would be all over a story like this month’s instalment of the “Times” column (you try punctuating that phrase) by J.J. Hunsecker.

The very forgetful conductor-Nazi Herbert von Karajan continues to see his troubled, 33-year führership of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra covered everywhere but in the cultural-news pages of the Times....

[H]is commission-crazed manager has attempted to extract enormous fees to broadcast rights to TV films.... [I]n addition to the $340,000 bill for the orchestra, it would have to come up with the privilege of obtaining $350,000 more for Von Karajan for television rights to a package of old concerts.

To readers of the newspaper of record, this sort of arts extortion undoubtedly will sound suspiciously familiar – very Gelbian, some might even suggest. ...Von Karajan’s manager is none other than Peter Gelb, who evidently served a fertile apprenticeship in this craft of manipulation at the feet of the masters, his father, Times managing editor Arthur Gelb, and his mother, the author and dramatist, Barbara.

That these outrages were reported on at length by former Times reporter Tim Page in New York Newsday is providential....

“How to Tell Rap Groups Apart”

Comic by Elan.

  • Run-DMC: Matte-black boler.
  • Beastie Boys: Mets cap.
  • Fat Boys (who?): Coon cap.
  • L.L. Cool J: Kangol.
  • Public Enemy: Hard to describe from the illo. Something resembling a rasta baseball cap.

“What If Sigmund Freud Had Been a Former Fashion Model”

Henry Alford, we need you back.

Freud disappoints group of Viennese intellectuals when his promise to show his “book” reveals photos of Freud pouting vacantly.
Freud’s impassioned speech to Vienna Psychoanalytical Society finds members murmuring, “What is Coco?”

Los Angeles: The enemy within

The theme of the issue is either California or Los Angeles, depending on how you slice it, and the selection is superb.

“Fashion Tips for Fall” by Jamie Malanowski and Deborah Michel provides tips on what to wear to avoid being mistaken for a gang member.

  • 2. Hair. ...If you wear pigtails, avoid using... green (the colour of money, a sign that you may be holding crack; smart dealers, of course, try to keep a low profile – so there is a slim chance that by looking nondescript you will be mistaken for a smart dealer. But you can’t worry about that)
  • 5. Footwear. Avoid wearing British Knights tennis shoes. The initials BK on the shoes signify “Blood Killer” to a Blood. [What are British Knights tennis shoes? Another “brand” lost to the mists of history.]
  • 6. Jewelry. Gang members favour heavy gold or silver nugget rings, rings that go over two fingers, heavy gold neck chains, large diamonds worn in one ear and heavy gold-rope earrings. Men in particular should avoid this look.

Next, how long do Hollywood luminaries take to return a call consisting of the words “I have Mr. Stallone on the line”? Anything from “immediately” (Carrie Fisher) to 48 minutes, 50 seconds (Michael Mann) to over an hour (a State Department “spokesman”). Now, what about the control group? Here Joey Bishop fulfils that role, and the results are summed up by the William Morris Agency’s question “Can you tell me who he is?”

“Good Weather and Bad Teeth” by Richard Stengel (“an Oxford-educated American”) reports on “Why the British Love L.A., Why L.A. Loves the British.” The money and climate, obviously. The chance to drive 1960s Mustang Convertibles, it goes without saying (and this is the sole detail I recalled from the article). “The British commercial directors are all, as they say in the business, very visual. Mostly it is direction that calls attention to itself. Many of their movies, like Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, are not so much directed as art-directed. The action seems to take place in coke-time.”

But also:

DORIAN (Hemdale staffer, posh accent): [...] “Americans think Michael Caine has an upper-class accent. We don’t like that – that Americans can’t tell the difference in our accents.” [...]

Someone once said that every time an Englishman opens his mouth, he makes another Englishman hate him.... But in Los Angeles such distinctions don’t matter. Few Americnas can tell the difference between a working-class and an upper-class English accent....

For Englishmen of humble origins, this ignorance is tremendously liberating. Not only will they not be snubbed just because they drop their aitches, but they will be regarded in the same light as Oxbridge twits.

“Los Angeles: City Without Shame” had to be good because it’s written by the impossibly hilarious Paul Rudnick, a man who can make even Charlie Rose laugh. (I have witnessed this myself.)

In Manhattan a gracious private residence entails 12 rooms in River House, chintzed and swagged and overstuffed by Sister Parish or Mark Hampton in emulation of a rambling Hertfordshire rookery. In Los Angeles, Aaron Spelling... last year acquired the old Bing Crosby place, a scant 24 rooms crowbarred onto an 18-acre spread. Spelling has had the Crosby mansion razed, to be replaced by a more suitably luscious Versailles – 48 rooms incorporating a disco, screening facilities, a bowling alley, an entire floor of closets, four two-car garages and other must-haves, more than an acre of floor space in all.... Both homes are obscene; the Spelling place doesn’t care.

A Manhattan executive, male or female, will appear for work or after-hours in either charcoal gray, ubiquitous black or a daring navy blue; the fabrics will be nail-head woolens and Egyptian cottons, the accessories discreet aligator. A Los Angeles counterpart, studio executive and gynecologist alike, will dress as an oversize infant at Eastertime. The palette is screaming peach, bloody purple, baby-chickie yellow; the exquisitely-rumpled washable silks billow, the jogging suit is fluffy pink cahsmere, the $450 Rodeo Drive sweatshirt glints with the Eiffel Tower worked in gold sequins. The Manhattanite lives in terror of a primary colour or a visible label; the Los Angeleno is a happy billboard, reeking of Giorgio and packing an 18-karat-gold-plated Bijan Revolver.

Rudnick then goes on to blow it somewhat through case-by-case analysis (Valerie Harper, Joan Rivers, Nancy Reagan) showing that “if you move to Los Angeles, you will ultimately become Joan Collins.”

Turning the page, the eye is assaulted by a hideous typographic design in which two paragraphs of display copy alternate lines (and fonts). “A Cavalcade of Schmucks,” it’s called, and fortunately the meat of the article starts on another page.

John Landis

Director–Helicopter Dispatcher

Arguably today’s foremost proponent of the snuff movie. Much of the Hollywood community [sic] took a giant step away from Landis after the Twilight Zone – The Movie helicopter accident. Such an unforgiving town. What had Landis done, really, except violate some meaningless child-labour laws in pursuit of his Vision? And if two children happened to die during an insanely dangerous scene, that’s a small price to pay for Art. After all, it’s Landis who has been through hell: He had to go to all the funerals; endure a trial for manslaughter and almost get convicted simply because the most plausible testimony contradicted his own; and then bravely return to the grind of making films for a lot of money. With his unerring instinct for the inappropriate gesture, Landis invited the 12 jurors who acquitted him to a special screening of his new film, Coming to America.

“Hollywood Royalty” lists a genealogy of Dukes, Duchesses, Earls, Marchionesses (quoi?), Viscounts, and Barons, none of them remotely interesting save for the subheads.

Charlton Heston
tiresome rug-wearing right-wing pomposity
Jill St. John
high-IQ, Bond-girlish, Rat Pack–mollish girlfriend of R.J. Wagner
George Hamilton
bon vivant escort and sometime actor

It was the Village Voice that really summed it up, in “The Last New York–L.A. Article” circa 1986. L.A.: Fuck me. New York: Fuck you.

Let your hair down!

You are here: fawny.orgTen Years Ago in SPYArchives → September 1998

Updated: 2001.10.06

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