This weekend I got to do one of my favourite things — enjoy a Sabbath with no particular church responsibilities, so I could curl up Friday night and Saturday afternoon with new issues of my two favourite magazines.
The fact that my two favourite magazines are O, the Oprah Magazine and Geez produces a level of cognitive dissonance that’s jarring even for me, and I sometimes think I’m the queen of cognitive dissonance.
Probably almost everyone’s familiar with O — it’s the print equivalent of Oprah’s TV show, although for some reason I can’t stand the TV show yet devour the magazine. Glossy women’s magazine, lots of advertising for products that are “great finds” or “things Oprah just loves,” articles with a strong self-help, self-improvement kind of tone. Typical women’s magazine fare with longer, better-written articles than most women’s magazines and a nod in the direction of a more emotionally healthy, spiritually balanced lifestyle than the average women’s magazine offers. Good book reviews, too. I always tell people I buy O for the book reviews, which, while partly true, is sort of like guys insisting they buy Playboy for the articles.
Geez is somewhat less well-known. It’s a little Canadian, left-wing, Christian-ish publication — sort of like a religious Adbusters. It’s gritty and thought-provoking and all about social justice and left-wing guilt and asking difficult questions about our Christianity. It’s irreverent and challenging and occasionally preachy.
These two magazines sit uneasily on my coffee table together, as if they’re the two hemispheres of my brain — different, yet each necessary. Not that they’re the right and left hemispheres — politically, the editorial slants of both O and Geez could easily be labelled “left,” though Geez is certainly more radical. O resides in a comfortable, well-decorated corner of the political left, sort of like the American Democratic party, while Geez is camped outside in the parking lot in a cardboard box.
Both of them contain a lot of good reading — enough to get me through a Friday night and Sabbath afternoon, although since O is a monthly and Geez a quarterly, it’s obviously never enough. I never lay down either one without coming away with a great quote, a new idea, or a thought-provoking concept. Both also irritate me.
O, for all its self-help goodwill, falls prey to the multiple personality disorder common among women’s magazines. Columns on healthy eating sit next to cheesecake recipes. Paeans to the virtues of loving yourself just as you are sit across from articles on weight-loss and before-and-after beauty makeovers. Articles advocating a simpler life with fewer possessions are interrupted by hundreds and hundreds of ads for costly treats and treasures.
My favourite “What the heck?” moments in this month’s O were a fashion feature about summer clothes showing a woman standing in front of a Caribbean beach cabana wearing an outfit that cost, when you added up the items, over $2000 — not my choice for beach wear! Also, a makeover article showing dowdy middle-aged women who wore comfy clothes and no makeup. Three of the four women wore glasses, which had mysteriously disappeared in the “after” photos. All the “before” photos looked just like me, so if I’d been one of their subjects I would, presumably, have walked out of the salon, transformed and glamourous — and walked right into a telephone pole.
Geez is all about social justice and questioning and challenging our comfortable religious beliefs. Which is great, and they do try to keep the tone light, but sometimes it wears on me. Reading through an issue can make me feel like I’m less of a Christian because I still enjoy going to my church every week, and I live in a house in the city and drive a minivan instead of living in a cabin in the woods without electricity, growing my own vegetables. It’s ironic, but it’s also earnest, and earnestness is something best taken in small doses.
Both magazines are a treat to look at visually, but again, for completely different reasons. Geez has that hard-edged, arty look — great, interesting b&w photography and layout. O is great for when I want to sink into the guilty pleasure of looking at full-colour glossy photographs of things I’m supposed to want to buy, but never will. Or formerly dowdy models with their glasses off.
The editors of Geez took a swipe at Oprah in this last issue, commenting on the self-centred nature of her message. Which is fair enough — while O always has articles about brave women in Africa making a better life for themselves and how we all ought to save the environment, the general message is that You Can Do It, if you’re nice to yourself and take enough bubble baths (and maybe a little therapy, and a $2000 outfit for the beach).
But the flip side is that earnest social-justice lefties like Geez are often “all about me” too — all about focusing on how I should be better, and do better, and how by even thinking about these things I am already better than all the people in the pews around me, but still not as good as the guy living in the cabin growing vegetables.
Somehow I’ve just written a blog post about my two favourite magazines and managed to make them both sound totally unappealing. I didn’t mean to do that. But I read magazines a lot less than I read books, and I think I’m more critical of them. (Speaking of books, please go to Compulsive Overreader and post some comments! I’m getting lonely over there!) There’s so much baggage of editorial bias and attitude that goes along with a magazine, and I can’t help analyzing the big picture. And yet you have to believe me when I say that the weekend when I can take a new Geez and a new O to bed with me, knowing I have hours of good reading ahead, is a very good weekend. As this one was.
Maybe I need them to balance each other — the edgy austerity of my Geez self softened by the lush self-indulgence of my O side. Or maybe I’ll sum it up this way: reading Geez makes me feel like I want to be a better person. Reading O makes me feel like I can.