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The Month in Magazines, August 2010: Why So Negative?

[This is the first installment in a new C4 column that will highlight the best pieces of journalism in magazines each month, all available free online unless noted. Follow it here and other ongoing features here.]

Sea World is a weird place...

I love magazines.

I’m not talking People, Us, Maxim, or any of their like-minded counterparts who believe the American public is no longer capable of reading more than 500 characters at a time. When I talk about magazines, I mean the purveyors of substantial, long-form journalism. I mean the type of articles you find later in Best American Essays and Best American Travel Writing. You know, the type that exposes insubordinate generals or brings humanity back to a hated woman.

To me, a magazine article is to a nonfiction book what a short story is to a novel. The best examples of both short forms are self-contained pearls, with dynamic narrative arcs and gripping stories to tell. And if the writer is great, he or she can elevate a simple subject into high literature.

I don’t know if Nico is correct about the ad he recently thumped on this site—don’t know if it is somehow a strange and desperate ploy to stay relevant in the internet age (it’s beyond a Condé thing, by the way. I’ve also seen it in ESPN and Esquire). But I do know that I want more people to read magazines. That’s the point of this little column. I want to highlight articles from the month that caught my attention. They might not all be high literature, but each will have, for some reason or another, stuck with me.

Of course, I will never profess to having read everything, so if you think there is something I left out, feel free to send it along to marcos@chamberfour.com.

And one last thing: a lot of magazines require that you have a subscription to read their articles online. I can’t fault them for protecting their market, but it does cramp my column a bit. I wouldn’t want my suggestions to make your coffee table to look like mine, So I’ll do my best to keep my suggestions to free articles.

Off we go:


Wanna feel bad about killer whales?

What if Free Willy went the killer whale version of psychotic, pulled that nosey little kid into the water, and held him there until he drowned? Next summer’s blockbuster thriller? No, that shit could have happened.

Also this article contains the best sentence of the month:

“Early in the morning, the animal-care crew would take hot-water-filled cow vaginas and masturbate the males in the back tanks,” says John Hall, a former scientist at SeaWorld. “It was pretty interesting to walk by.”

Try to get that out of your mind.


Wanna feel bad about financial reform?

Since the Wall Street bubble burst, Matt Taibbi has been writing articles about our financial system for Rolling Stone. Each one gets more and more depressing.

I was happy about the passing of financial reform, happy until Taibbi made me question the foundation of that happiness. Temperamentally, Taibbi is a cynic—harsh at times, and sometimes he can be straight offensive. But maybe cynicism is critical to financial reporting in our time, when it seems Congress is more motivated by political victory than by actual progress.


Speaking of Chris Dodd…

Once, at a WWE event (WWF back then), two of my friends sat in the rafters so close to the curtain that they could see what happened just on the other side of it. They didn’t expect anything to be real of course, but it still shocked them to see the buxom Trish Stratus take a chair to the face, be carried off on a stretcher, and then pop up on the other side of the curtain and walk away. Nothing in WWE-land can be taken at face value, which makes me think that Linda McMahon’s senatorial campaign is just a prelude to an October ladder match—I’m still waiting to see the other side of the curtain. However, not only is she a viable candidate, she might actually win.


Wanna feel bad about winning “The Price Is Right”?

Chris Jones is one of my favorite magazine writers, and this isn’t the first time I’ve recommended his work on this site. But this time, I think the subject of the article shines more than his writing. I mean the homie in this story guessed the exact price of his showcase, the only one to do so in the history of the show, says he has a method that took him years to develop, and will do anything to prove his legitimacy. Yet there still remain substantial and well-founded doubts about his win. OK, so Jones’s writing did play a part in my enjoyment of this article: notice the way makes his story ambiguous but still complete.


Wanna feel bad about our treatment of Native Peoples?

The Iroquois Flag: because after the July they had, they deserve more respect

The Iroquois Lacrosse team is the only Native American team that competes internationally as a sovereign nation. However, when the Nationals tried to travel to Great Britain to play in the World Lacrosse Championship, our government wouldn’t let them travel out of the country on their Iroquois National passports.[1]


I know I said no paid articles, but…

There’s just too much negativity in my choices above, so I gotta bring in something hopeful. I know my status as a Boston College alum and BC Football season ticket holder makes me biased, but if you can’t root for this kid, who can you root for? Find someone with an insider password; you’ll need this article if you read all that negative links I posted above.


That’s it for this month. Again, if you feel I missed anything, feel free to post in the comments or send it along to marcos@chamberfour.com.


[1] The US State Department eventually caved, and granted the Nationals a one time exemption to travel to the Championships, but then it was the Brits turn to be a bunch of hot-water-filled cow vaginas. British Authorities would not grant the Nationals visas because their Iroquois Passports were not scanable. USA beat Canada in the final 12-10.

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