Unlike the plain vanilla critique services offered by many ex-editors turned critique specialists whose commentary is usually sugar-coated in the hope of repeat business, my company offers a rather harsh and in-depth analysis that goes deep beyond editorial and design requirements to inform the Mag owner if its actually worth publishing and selling. Of course, there are numerous editors and publishers (usually those with huge vanities) who disagree with our critiques, find them biased and continue to produce worthless prose month after month until the Mag bleeds them dry.
I have to admit though that there have also been a quite few (actually a miniscule minority) who disagree with our recommendations and in reality go on to take their publications to great heights. As test subjects, these successful mags offer new insights hitherto unknown and help us save similar embarrassments in the future. There is no stop to learning, is it?
Recently, we were recently approached by a big-time American publisher at our Delaware office to do a critique of a new magazine they intend to launch in India.
Well, it was a Sex magazine. Yes, you read it right - a SEX magazine for India and they already had 3 Pilot issues ready! For starters, it was indeed about Sex but the Erotica type and not the hardcore porn variety. A magazine aimed at portraying sex as something normal, natural, healthy, celebratory and fun. With erotic/nude photography plus short stories, essays, news, poetry and everything else that had to do with sex, they claimed it would be a turn-on for both the mind and body, for both women and men, separately or together. A literary aphrodisiac for the Indian masses, a sex journal that was intellectually demanding and at the same time, physically stimulating.
Sexism and not sex degraded women, they claimed. In a way, they were right. After all, adults should be free to read about sex and view sexual imagery without consequences from thought police of any stripe. To club everything sexual together as humiliating to women implies that women DO NOT enjoy sex, that they don’t engage in it out of their own will and that something that’s intensely pleasurable to every man must necessarily be acutely repulsive to every women. This false attitude is denigrating to women.
The promotional literature that came along with the sample copy claimed it wanted to set standards for literary erotica in India – an intrepid publication aimed at the open-minded, adventurous Indian men and women craving provocative, sexually charged reading that was equally smart, bold, sizzling and entertaining. A sex magazine that was meant to be sex-positive, gender-equal and all embracing in terms of sexual orientation (read GLBT friendly) and given the numerous anatomies involved, so much fun as well.
Obviously, I had very high expectations. A true sex magazine for India would be a kicker. Until the internet arrived with its dose of free porn, Debonair with centre-spreads of buxom topless women was the only respite for an Indian male. Besides, there has never been an outright sex magazine for the Indian women. Cosmopolitan comes close but it’s not enough.
My review copy arrived in a brown cover at my desk on a Saturday evening. Anticipating a good read and wanting to scrutinize it in full, I took it home. On boy, I was disappointed and I imagine you should be too. I consciously wanted to cheer up - first issues of new mags are always terrible. They are like getting laid the first time (if you remember that is) but they improve!
Yet, I wanted to vent out my dissatisfaction. I wanted to write a letter, those damn letters to the editor where you rant and complain. I don’t know if he would have been able to endure my destructive criticism for I was on full speed 'complain autopilot'.
Frankly, I hated everything about the magazine. The cover art illustration featured an alien looking hermaphrodite duo from outer space with a bizarre Taj Mahalish background. It was truly a disgrace, no matter what other ass-kicking and empathizing friends of the editor were wishing him to believe. The sexless back cover illustration of over broad shoulders, buttocks and quadriceps was equally bad. I couldn’t decipher if it was a prelude to anal intercourse with muscular male athletes or a sublimal shock experiment to gauge reader reactions.
Contrary to all the marketing pitch, the mag content was likewise dreadful veering towards the same-sex type as if India was some kind of sodom wonderland and all Indians were closet members of the GLBT type. And when the heterosexual type was discussed, it was all about erogenous zones, foreplay and masturbatory self-satisfaction, as if Indians never like to copulate or have children. How I wish it was all true. Maybe, I couldn’t figure out the median age of the target audience they were trying to tease.
The only saving grace were the really awesome photographs – nude, erotic and beautifully composed except a few that blurred sometimes between eroticism and borderline porn, a few splendid poems on bodily love and observant articles on polygamy and AIDS in India. Everything else was glorified crap on glossy paper and artsy clothing. This was no way going to sell in India and probably get it itself banned unless you are referring to an India of an alternative universe!
I could perhaps go on with my neo-candid line by line clinical dissection and probably bore you to death. But pardon my foul language, for all the pre-launch hype, all I wanted to ask the editor was “where the ‘fuck’ is the ‘fuck’ in your supposedly ‘fucking’ sex magazine? Now, I feel much better!