2015 has brought a number of things for people like myself to celebrate. One Direction started splitting up, the President of the United States took a selfie with Jedward, SeaWorld promised to stop captive whale breeding and Adele released a new album for us to weep to. The death of the lad mag should be on this list. It should be a cultural triumph, but it is not. It is in fact exceptionally worrying.
The past two years has seen the close of the four big boys. Nuts busted last year, Loaded was unloaded shortly after, and last week saw both FHM and Zoo empty their cages.
I am sad to see the lad mag go. This is not because I will miss big, bouncing breasts in print, or because my life will not be the same without features like “big rat runs down street carrying pizza slice”, but because it signifies a cultural shift I am not looking forward to.
I don’t know an awful lot about lad mags truthfully. I can’t understand the thinking behind FHM’s 100 sexiest women (Mary Berry came just one position behind Angelina Jolie), in fact, I don’t even know what FHM stands for. Fat, horny men? Female hairless models? Ferocious, hanging….perhaps ambiguity is for the best. However, what I am certain of is that the alternatives worry me greatly.
It seems the lad mag era, perhaps like some of its readership, finished as quickly as it started. Within 10 years, Zoo magazine was created and then discontinued. A cultural phenomenon perhaps, that was born with a particular generation. This was the generation that enjoyed 10p Freddos and portable CD players and video tapes. The generation that now can’t afford a Freddo without taking out a mortgage, and have moved their favourite Nelly CD to their iTunes account. The generation that grew out of porn mags and grew into internet porn.
What once were the industry big boys, are now being dominated by online productions that seem to recognise and relate to modern men more. The ‘Lad Bible’ being a particularly popular example. The masterminds behind the Lad Bible have produced something rather extraordinary. A combination of women and celebrities and current affairs and general ‘boy stuff’ and instead of being a car crash, it’s extremely successful.
How much more intellectually stimulating the Lad Bible is in comparison with the magazines is debatable. When Nuts printed articles like “Who’s the mummy” [rate your mates mum], and Lad Bible responds with “Why you should never hold in a poo” perhaps it’s challenging to distinguish between them. The difference maybe is where the traditional lad mags assumed men’s interests to be females, food and football, the Lad Bible has recognised most men have a little more substance. They combine current affairs, news, and important commentaries for modern men, including the importance of checking your bits, being safe with drugs, and how not to piss off women. Which is great, and significant.
Initially, perhaps naively, I assumed that the decline in porn magazine readership was partially because it is no longer exciting or impressive to see breasts and arses, because we see them everywhere. You only have to look on social media to see topless girls, and it far from uncommon to see naked or nearly naked females on women’s magazine covers or in music videos.
However, upon explaining this theory to male friends, I was corrected, and assured that breasts still are very much impressive. Therefore, it can be assumed that the readership of the magazines are getting their tit-fix elsewhere, but where? If only there was an easier, more instant way of viewing naked women, without the awkward encounter with the cashier as they search for the bar code and expose to everyone your interest in seeing ‘Curvy girls naked!’ If only there was an infinite stockpile of pictures and videos and pornography that didn’t cost you anything…
I despair. Whilst many dance around and burning copies of Zoo in delight, I can’t help but feel anxious for the future. I’m worried because the demise of the lad mag does not signify the end of the objectification of women, it just means there’s an alternative means to do so.
The alternative to lad mags is internet porn. It’s cheaper, it’s reachable and nobody else has to know you’re indulging in it. However, the list of positives for this alternative culminates there. It can also be extreme, violent, and perhaps most dangerously, it is constantly accessible to anyone, and everyone.
Porn magazines were not ideal, of course they weren’t. That said, it is significantly less harmful to browse through photographs of cheery, busty blondes, and reading how Charlene from Birmingham loves partying and horse riding and has five GCSE’s, than staring at hours and hours of unrealistic, hard-core pornography, often with storylines of rape or abuse.
Loaded, amongst others, would interview the women that they photographed. Not in a ‘casting couch’ style, ‘how good are you at sex?’ manner but rather what she likes to do in her spare time and what she wants to do in the future. Fair enough, Tracy from Stockport didn’t get a chance to discuss her religious beliefs or her views on the migrant crisis, but she did have a chance to speak, which is more than can be said for the majority of internet pornography.
Pictures of happy-looking girls with no top on is no longer satisfactory to those who are exposed to hard-core internet pornography. Internet porn makes lad mags look no more explicit than the Tweenies.
We know that it isn’t as simple as all their readers moving online, because their online sites are entertaining only minimal audience’s too. In terms of online pornography, the big players in the magazine industry just don’t size up. If you search Zoo in Google, naked women are nowhere to be seen, and if you search Nuts, there’s a whole lot of cashews to search through before you find something worth dribbling over.
Obviously, in an ideal world, neither would exist. This is the kind of world I would one day like to live in, a world where women are not objectified and the female body is something that is appreciated on a personal level, rather than a public one. That said, I am realistic in my expectations and know that as long as there are women who want to share their bodies, there will be men who want to look at them, and this is ok. It seems though, that rather than stepping towards a world free from misogyny, we are running head first and blindfolded into a scary world of accessible and hard-core internet porn, the effect of which is yet to rear its ugly head.
So before we rejoice and dance around a large pit of burning lad mags, consider the alternative. Let’s not be naïve enough to assume their demise has come from disinterest. Porn is now found elsewhere, and it’s a realm which is uncontrolled and unmonitored and full of nasty stuff that nobody should be watching. This is not a triumph for feminism, the magazines have fallen out of demand for a reason, and it’s not because boys no longer like boobies.