Editor-in-Chief Janice Min arrived at what is now Us Weekly in 2003, and has since remade the once middling Wenner Media title into People‘s nearest rival in the battle for checkout-aisle supremacy. Her strategy was as simple as it was brilliant: tell the reader (who skews younger and more affluent than the typical People devotee) whom to adore and why (abs, real estate, and shoes being common inducements), and then bring the focus of said adoration squarely down to earth. Sometimes within the same issue.
In every edition of Us, there runs a substantial photo spread somewhat unsurprisingly titled, “Just Like Us!” A recent browse revealed (seriously) that Hilary Duff visits the dog park, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger blows his nose, and Charlize Theron has (a non-trivial amount of) cellulite. All this is utterly riveting, because–who knew?–they are JUST LIKE US!
Us Weekly has a particular fascination with celebrity pregnancies. One recent cover shouted, “IT WAS IN VITRO!!” over the smiling visages of the impossibly attractive Brangelina. Inside the mag were stealthily captured paparazzi shots of a half dozen celebrity “baby bumps” in various stage of bumpiness, helpfully highlighted with big red arrows in the more incipient cases. As ABC News recently noted:
A generation ago, we never saw this side of our icons. There were no pictures of Bogart buying toilet paper or Bacall workig off the baby weight. And no one knew that Tracy and Hepburn were having an affair. But in the age of “reality” TV, anyone can be a celebrity.
Or, it seems, the nominee of the Republican Party for Vice President of the United States.
There has been much kerfuffle and outrage (does the McCain outrage stockpile never deplete?) concerning the recent Us cover featuring a (grinning) Gov. and (sleeping) baby Trig Palin, over the headline “BABIES, LIES, & SCANDAL.” Supposedly, the magazine suffered 5-10k canceled subscriptions as a result (I’ll check to see how many showed up at National Review) , and there was much recriminating over whether the reporting was “fair.” All of this seems a little surreal about a story which just precedes a stout think piece entitled, “David Duchovny: I AM A SEX JUNKY,” and features such investigative nuggets as, “there’s always been a rumor he’s generously endowed. Women want to find out for themselves.”
As Dan Ackroyd-playing-Tom-Snyder used to say: “Fair enough. I’ll buy that.”
It’s clear that budgets are being slashed everywhere when the irony police have been furloughed wholesale. Sure, Jan Wenner is an Obama supporter. But Sarah Palin IS the US Weekly Veep. Hers–and her new septugenarian sidekick’s–is entirely the politics of biographical resonance. Knew somebody who died or was injured in the war, when maybe you didn’t even go to war? I’m your guy! Have a big family, a special needs infant, and a pregnant 17-year old? I’m your gal, because I’m sassy and easily under-estimated…JUST…… LIKE YOU!!!
Tom Friedman’s assertion that voters listen with their guts rather than their ears sums up the play this team will run for exactly the next 55 days. They wish it were 54, and they’re damn glad it’s not 56, but their strategy is locked and powerfully loaded.