Friday, February 25, 2011

Busting A Nut

Womens magazines that actually seem to like women are few and far between. Forget Cosmopolitan and its ilk: that's all about how the sex you're having is lackluster and boring, and what you really need to be A Real Woman is beachy, tousled hair, a tropical-print dress, a boyfriend who was chiseled out of granite, and a sex life that would exhaust bunnies. Oh, plus a career. And endless nights on the town. And embarrassing moments! All the while avoiding the pitfalls of whatever Scare Of The Month Cosmo has drummed up: abortion clinic arsonists one month, home-invading date rapists, the terrors of aspartame and secret cancers that will invade your body and make you sterile, fat, and ugly.

I miss Jane, which was funny, raunchy and had great clothes that sometimes (gasp!) came from chains or department stores. If Cosmo is that girl who posts pictures on Facebook of her enormous engagement ring and her fifteen sorority sisters all posing in front of a sunset during their all-inclusive vacay to Veradero, then Jane was that girl from your office with chipped nail polish and a snarky sense of humor.

But Jane is gone and is stagnating in some lonely corner of the internet. What's a magazine-loving girl to do? Shameless is geared towards a slightly younger crowd, and the voice of Bitch can be, well, a little bitchy. I love women's magazines, but I don't always need a stridently feminist voice in my readings. Bitch is great for when I want to feel righteously affronted, in the same way that I read Utne when I feel like vegging out and feeling groovy (and out of its intensely American loop), but for the times I feel like being a girl, a woman, a babe and a bitch, Bust fills that niche in all kinds of ways.

Where Jane leaned heavily on celebs, Bust takes a cool-nerd approach. Recent cover girls have included Sofia Coppola and Portia di Rossi, neither of whom do massive box office, but who have a je ne sais quoi regardless. Between the covers of the most recent issue, readers can find travelogues, recipes, sex surveys, interviews with various entertainers, thoughtful articles, comics, and reviews. It's all done with a femme viewpoint, is queer-friendly, and the fashion and photography is accessible and well-designed.

So why don't I read Bust more often? It fills a void that was left behind by other glossies, but it's sufficiently aspirational that I don't feel like I'm reading someone's crappy basement DIY 'zine. It's radical in its politics, likes to talk about sex, and exposes me to interesting women and cool movements. But there are issues, too. It's a little skimpy on content. I guess the biggest problem is that I feel like an outsider when I read it, and I am, like, the definition of its demographic.

Magazines should invite their audience in - even though I'm not a dude, I occasionally read GQ and have a blast. It's funny to read, handsome to look at, and meaty to hold. Their feature articles are great, long, 8000-word monsters about Iraqi war vets or dramatic rescues at sea. When I read Wired, I feel like the articles I don't really care about - tech reviews! So! Many! Tech reviews! - are balanced by interesting and esoteric articles about things I didn't even know I was curious about. Bust, while it's trying really hard, just leaves me sort of...meh?

The thing is, and I hate myself for even suggesting it, but here we go anyway: Bust isn't hilarious. GQ? Funny. Wired? Funny! Bust? Not so funny. Us chicks already suffer from a dearth of humor in our lives. According to Leah McLaren, it's because we're too busy nursing and being offended at poop jokes. I think she's terrible, but she does have a point: there aren't a ton of ladies out there whose stock in trade is "the funny girl." We're pretty, well-dressed, sexy, honest...but funny? Nah.

Which is boring. And it doesn't have to be that way. I think jokes about breastfeeding are boring and weird, in the same way that I think jokes about buttholes and foreskins are boring and weird. I don't think I'm alone in this, and there are dudes out there whose noses wrinkle up when someone cracks a joke about Dutch ovens. And Bust could totally bust out of their earnest-girl editorial voice and learn how to take a leaner, funnier stance on things. Maybe add a few pages to their feature articles - I was seriously disappointed by the lightweight article about the women who crusade against ladies who watch porn, because that seems insanely interesting - and try for some non-Etsy advertisers. I know ardent Bust readers would loathe changes in their mag, and I feel for them. But Bust has the potential to be a great, powerful counterpoint to Cosmo's ridiculous consumerism: a magazine with a zesty feminist appeal, a smart and funny editorial voice, and that has become a place for women who truly do have something to "get off their chests" a place to be heard and seen.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hosting With The

Come Dine With Me Canada is both gross and grossly addictive. Five strangers throw dinner parties for each other, vying for a thousand bucks in cash and the title of best host. The entrants come from all walks of life, ranging from strippers to florists and from PR professionals and coffee shop owners, and their homes range from designer condos to fake-English cottages. They start as strangers, getting to know each other over the course of the five dinner parties, which comes with its own pitfalls. As we all know from watching other reality programming, the kind of personality that signs up for reality television can be sort of tough to handle, and Come Dine With Me Canada is no exception.

The combination of food, competition and bitchy strangers is kind of perfect. The talking-heads sections, when they interview the contestants individually, are contrasted with the group dynamic. Dishes that are praised to the host's face are trashed in private, and at the end of the night, each contestant rates the host on a scale of one to ten, taking into account the host's entertainments (one woman played the tuba for her guests, leading to barely-contained laughing fits at her expense), cooking chops, and all-over style. The host with the high peer-given marks takes home the cash and the bragging rights.

It's gross – all the disgusting behind-the-scenes mistakes are captured on camera, including entrees that make a pitstop on the kitchen floor and cat hair that gets mixed into the crab cakes. Hosts strive for originality in their presentation, so veal, lamb, and foie gras are prepared, testing guest's ethical commitments. Some folks refuse the dishes, leaving the hosts stranded with hungry, annoyed guests. The flip side is that some guests swallow their morals/taste buds along with the milk-fed veal, leaving them resentful and their hosts blissfully unaware...until the score comes in.

The W Network runs marathons on the weekend, subjecting viewers to the kind of television experience that sort of leaves you pinned to the couch. It's fun, because the contestants are Canadian and the houses that host the parties are scattered throughout the country's cities. It's low-impact reality TV: nobody is bouncing off padded piglets into chocolate "mud" water...although some of the desserts might be described as such.

it's fun to see all the different takes on what "a perfect dinner party" means. For some, the flavour of the evening comes not from what's on the plate, but what's in the mouth: a pithy bon mot is worth its weight in truffle oil. Promptness is key, with many hosts losing points for failing to bring out main courses before midnight. And homemade dishes are essential: cheating with store-bought or pre-mixed is deeply frowned upon. But it also comes from being a gracious host. People fail to engage with their guests, telling "jokes" that aren't funny and guzzling too much booze. And guests behave badly, storming off to smoke snooty cigarettes while the hosts fumble in the kitchen. The show doesn't have an element of sabotage, and guests rate their hosts with an degree of good humour, so rewards often are well-deserved and the host who places last has usually screwed up his evening to a monumental degree.

In a world where the old-fashioned dinner party is sort of on the wane - when's the last time you got invited for a formal sit-down occasion? - it's refreshing to see. Maybe I'm too young to really get invited to all these fancy dinner parties, because the ones I attend are usually some variation on the BYOB vegan potluck. While that's not a bad thing, there are only so many forkfuls of soy cheeze I can muster before I crave a hot dog. Maybe when I get older, my friends and I will start making enough money to be able to afford to dole out the cost of a dinner party - pour the wine, roast the beef, scoop the ice cream, and host the hell out of an evening.

Until then, I'll be taking pointers from these poor unfortunate souls: make sure to serve your guests in a timely fashion, make sure you don't get too drunk while you braise the carrots, and consider food allergies and preferences before you serve up the peanut-encrusted lamb. Moreover, a little graciousness goes a long way. Even if you're a prim-and-proper kind of fella, keeping a game face on when your guests start working blue is hosting with the most. Every dinner party has the element of surprise, be it the roast plopped unceremoniously on the floor or the guest who drinks too much shiraz and vomits in the credenza. Dealing with both with style and aplomb is the mark of a great host, and worth more than a stack of twenties any day of the week.