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A Look at Esquire Magazine

At first glance, Esquire magazine seems harmless enough. In fact, I often thought of it as the magazine for an unenlightened J. Alfred Prufrock. J. Alfred Prufrock was the dissatisfied upper class crybaby created by T. S. Eliot. Both Prufrock and Eliot himself choose to use initials instead of full names to accomplish an air of upper classmanship. This is very much in the same vein as naming a magazine Esquire which, according to my computer thesaurus, is synonyms with such words as sir or aristocrat. Certainly not terms of the lower or middle class. Upon further inspection I find that to be somewhat true. The overall messages seem to reiterate certain ideals held valuable among the young, urban, professional male. The magazine frequently deals with that lifestyle by focussing on fashion, sex, top of the notch booze, designer cars and even preys on their fears with fitness and hair saving products.

To begin my research I literally tore apart my copy of the March 1999 Esquire. Once all pages were ripped out I began to organize them and make calculations and judgements upon that. All in all, including cover pages and ads, there were 201 total pages. Of these 201 pages the advertisements add up to 93.33 pages or 46% of all pages. For reference, I also calculated two other Esquire issues for a frame of reference. The findings were similar there too. For instance, in June 1999 66 of 168 pages were ads equaling roughly 39%. October of 1998 was also close with 74 pages of 185 equaling 40% approximately. There weren’t any real surprises to be honest. Of these pages almost everything I thought there would be a ton of didn’t really add up to much. Alcohol ads only account for 8% of all the ads. Tobacco companies accounted for 10% of the ads. The tobacco ads were tricky to count. The Davidoff Company has three pages worth of ads. This company produces some of the world’s most popular cigars. Here in the magazine they simply advertise two of their colognes, “Good Life” and “Cool Water”. Also tricky in the tobacco ads was a 1/3-page advertisement promoting a Blues festival so-sponsored by Esquire and Camel cigarettes.

Fashionable cars only totaled out to 9.2%. These ads were such brand names as Lincoln Navigator, Chrysler 300m and even BMW motorcycles. 10.7% of the ads were for personal products. This category was set to include vitamin supplements, sex related merchandise (i.e. condoms, viagra, etc.), hair growth products and any fitness or grooming implements. Travel and tourism ads only accounted for 5.36% of the ads.

The one section that completely dominated the ads was fashion. I hadn’t expected to see so much emphasis on fashion in a man’s magazine yet 47% of all the advertisements were. This makes sense considering the audience. The men they pander too are to urban professionals and apparently always aiming to look their best.

The content got really interesting when I started to weigh out the articles. I had broken these up into sections as well. This took some judgement on my part to decide what was a legitimate article, what was filler and which of the sections were just blatant product endorsements. Of the original 201 pages, 108.66 pages were structural (i.e. cover, contents, credits and contributor bios), feature articles and serious journalism. Of this 108.66, only 29 pages were serious articles. These 29 pages only account for 14% of the entire product. This section contained hard articles dealing with the possible resurgence of the AIDS epidemic. I was impressed with the content of these pages but that sheer briefness of them was overwhelming. It was well written and chosen however considering the audience. The readers of this magazine are likely to favor themselves as players and most probably are sexually active. This magazine aims at the young man between 20 and 40 and therefore represents a large risk pool in the AIDS realm.

Besides these real articles, there were a total of 72 pages of content that were neither advertisements nor endorsements. This still only account for 36% of all pages. The gratuitous endorsements, primarily fashion spreads, total 14% or the magazine. Two of the endorsements are for high priced cars. The VW Pasat has a short write up. The Mercedes Benz-S class had one of it’s own. There were forty different fashion companies endorsed and of those, 25% of the companies advertised somewhere in this issue. Many, many more of those advertise regularly in Esquire as well. Not included in the endorsement totals was a two page article about how some guy really likes Pinot Noir wines and then goes on to endorse fifteen different brands. This appears in a section called “Man at His Best”. The “Man at His Best” section is a regular appearance in Esquire. Within that section they have subsections such as the wine review which appeared under the subtitle, “Drinking”. It was also in the “Man at His Best” section that the car endorsements were in.

This draws certain questions out. If the primary goal for this section is product endorsement, then isn’t it a bit sneaky to name it “Man at His Best”? By doing so, isn’t it apparent that they are simply trying to promote an extremely expensive lifestyle as the best way to be. If owning all these things makes a man his best, than obviously he needs to buy at least some of them to move up at all in status toward his ‘best’. In fact, “Man at His Best” only has 2 of 8 pages, which aren’t endorsements, and those interview segments with an athlete and an actress separately.

There was some serious judgement errors on someone’s part at Esquire. Accompanying the articles on the AIDS epidemic were advertisements for a sex toys catalog and a lovely set of Irish panties to buy for St. Patty’s day. This seems to me bad placement for those kinds of advertisements. Directly following the tasteful and informative AIDS article was a section that is frequent in Esquire. This feature is called “What I’ve learned”. Each time they run this feature they have a different celebrity write it up. In this issue, after the AIDS scare article featured Larry Flynt, porn mogul and editor in chief of Hustler magazine. A perfect role model for the aspiring professional.

This particular issue was far tamer than I had expected. It used eight respectable public figures (Madonna, Tom Hanks, Lauryn Hill, Sharon Stone, Chris Rock, Grant Hill, Natasha Richardson and Dr. Mathilde Krim) to appear on the cover to promote sexual awareness and the article inside. Though not necessarily earning them any Boy Scout badges, Esquire seems to be producing at least minimally revolting material. Including all ads, articles and content, I found absolutely no instances of the objectification of women or derogatory slants against them. There is a great deal of stock market and financial information included in the issue. I don’t find stocks particularly interesting but I’m fairly certain that their typical reader might.

I find it very interesting thumbing through this magazine. I don’t exactly agree with the ideals that it represents yet I find very little fault within it. Besides the content breakdown I’ve had very little to be disappointed in. All of their slants and images are presented in an extremely straight forward manner with the exception of the “Man at His Best” features. When you find only one example of serious difficulty you must wonder then if it’s an intentional attempt at leading their readers. If there were other subtle intricacies that slanted the same, I might say yes. However, with only one real example a conspiracy to brainwash the reader is rather inconceivable.

Perhaps fashion plays a big role in this magazine. That’s what their readers like and they simply provide it for their readers and their advertisers. Alcohol, Tobacco and cars were virtually identically represented. It’s the view of the whole that makes a difference I suppose and this magazine is definitely an interesting package. The main elements were Fashion, sex, tobacco, cars and alcohol respectively. These seem to be values of a group, or an ideal of a general generation. The question remains, are they producing these ideals or simply reiterating them? I believe for the most part that they just try to offer what they think the audience was.

Bad judgement or not, I find no real fault at all with this magazine. Occasionally you stumble on something distasteful but it’s rare and certainly not flagrant like some of the others they compete with. The one spread of a female inside the issue was fully dressed in a hockey uniform and read more like a praise of her versatility. You don’t always agree with everything in the world but in this particular case, I can’t say I find them at fault of anything at all.

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