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  In praise of Radar,
a promise delivered

Sorry Tina, Talk was not this good. You go, Maer.

By Jeff Bercovici

    Debuting amid a monsoon of buzz in April, Radar, the new magazine from Tina Brown protégé Maer Roshan, demonstrated abundant initial promise.
   Now, with its knockout second issue, Radar has made good on that promise.
    Snarky, literate and subversively inventive, Radar is looking more and more like the best new general interest magazine to find its way to newsstands in ages. It is that incredibly rare thing, an artifact of mainstream popular culture that is genuinely hip.
    Sorry, Tina. Talk was never this good.
    Radar’s secret weapon is its bracingly bitchy attitude toward the rich and famous. Whereas magazines like People and Us Weekly assume their role is to lead us in celebrity worship, Radar regards Hollywood’s Olympians not as idols but as human traffic accidents, fascinating mainly for their ugliness.
   This sensibility is manifest throughout the front-of-the-book section, Static, which opens with a hilarious monologue-style rant by Daniel Radosh.
   “There was a time when the statement ‘I really treasure my privacy’ did not mean ‘I’ve decided to host a dating show on Fox,’” observes Radosh of Monica Lewinsky’s “Mr. Personality” gig.
   The dirt really starts to fly in “Fresh Intelligence,” where the stars receiving their comeuppance include Michael Savage (it turns out the rabidly anti-gay radio host once swapped homoerotic notes with Allen Ginsberg) and Tobey Maguire (since appearing in “Spider-Man,” the newly-minted diva will only drink imported bottled water on set).
   The theme here is social justice, of a sort. Though harmless figures like Justin Guarini and Hilary Duff get made fun of, too, the sharpest barbs are reserved for universally reviled red-carpet tyrants like Naomi Campbell and Tara Reid.
   Standing in contrast to the bracing freshness of Static is In Play, the faces-and-trends section of the magazine. Apart from a great chart revealing the secrets of nightclub bouncers, In Play consists of standard-issue product spreads and mini-profiles of up-and-comers – staples of every magazine this side of The Economist. Radar can do better.
   For proof, skip ahead to the issue’s centerpiece, “B-List Nation,” a tongue-in-cheek celebration of the way in which the growth of reality TV and entertainment news media (think Us, E! and “Access Hollywood”) have combined to create a universe of quasi-stars who exist mainly to populate premieres and launch parties.
   For the piece d’resistance, Radar’s editors conducted an experiment, posing as publicists for Gwyneth Paltrow (A-list) and Melissa Rivers (B-list) to see what kind of perks they each rate. (In case you’re wondering, Gwyneth gets comped seats behind home plate at Yankees games; Melissa has to pay her own way.)
   It’s this kind of puckish ingenuity that makes Radar so much fun to read. Elsewhere, the magazine asks celebrity hairstylists to critique Donald Trump’s hairdo, brings three top gossip columnists together for a trash-talking session and polls passersby on “Who’s kinkier in bed: Joe Lieberman or John Kerry?” (A slim majority picked Kerry.)
   The funniest stunt of all may be the political ice cream taste test on page 31, which is just too complicated to explain here.
   With so much imagination devoted to enterprising mischief, it was probably inevitable that the features would seem flat in comparison. Though the articles on Bill Clinton’s post-presidency and violence in the hip-hop world are intelligent and well-written, they really belong in a more conventional magazine – say, maybe, Talk.

June 20, 2003© 2003 Media Life


-Jeff Bercovici is a staff writer for Media Life.


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