The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of a White Male “Mainstream”

With the tagline “The Magazine for Men,” it is almost unsurprising that Portmagazine, a British quarterly, celebrated “A New Golden Age: The Increasing Importance of Print Media” (Summer/13) by putting six white men on its cover. Not surprising, but also not excusable.

To introduce interviews with the editors of the magazines New York,Bloomberg BusinessWeek, the New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, Wired and GQ, Port editor Dan Crowe wrote:

For our current cover story we thought it would be the right time to champion print, and put the editors we admire on the cover of Port. FromVanity Fair’s Graydon Carter to the New York Times’ Hugo Lindgren, we feature the editors running the best magazines in the world…. These editors are producing magazines that are bold, confident, sexy, smart and growing.

Apparently, no magazines producing similarly “bold, confident, sexy, smart and growing” content are led by women or people of color.

The cover inspired a flurry of Internet activity. “A new golden age! It looks so much like the last one. And the one before that,” the New Republic’s Ruth Franklin wrote in Jezebel (6/13/13).

But what was more outrageous than the cover was the editor’s response to outraged readers. Crowe (Gawker, 6/11/13) wrote: “Well, we did ask a woman.” Yes, they did ask Anna Wintour of Vogue but, after she declined, apparently Port just stopped there. News flash, Dan. There are other notable magazines with female editors out there.

What exactly were the standards for selecting these “golden” six editors/magazines? Circulation didn’t seem to be it, as Policy Mic (6/17/13) pointed out:

Well, I think the editors of Port must agree that circulation is not the marker for a magazine’s greatness as Vanity Fair is trounced by Ebony magazine in the United States–and it’s run by Amy Barnett, a black female editor, and the difference between Wired magazine (which was represented) and Women’s Day (which was not) is 2,555,022, paid circulation.

Instead, Crowe said the editorial team was simply aiming for “mainstream” American magazines.

The trouble is that “mainstream” essentially means white and male. (GQ bills itself as the “definitive men’s magazine”–but that doesn’t make it not “mainstream.”) So when Crowe feigns surprise that this was the outcome, it doesn’t come across entirely sincere:

We were very aware that running six white American guys in positions of power on our cover was going to raise some eyebrows, it certainly did in our office. But the nature of our cover story required us to talk to the most respected and influential magazine editors in the world, and this is who we think they are. It isa shame there isn’t, for example, a gay person or a black woman editor in there, but unfortunately these are not the people editing these magazines. Skin color has nothing to do with it.

Let’s let that sink in for a moment. “These are not the people editing these magazines.”

Now, if that were true, wouldn’t that be worthy of a story? Much more than six white guys talking about an industry largely controlled by more white guys, I bet.

But it actually isn’t true. There are gay editors, editors of color and female editors of American magazines. Port just didn’t think of them, or didn’t think their magazines “mainstream” enough.

The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel

The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel: Not “mainstream” enough?

  1. Gawker (6/11/13) corrected Crowe: “GQ editor-in-chief Jim NelsonNew York magazine editor-in-chief Adam Moss–so a third of the cohort–are gay.” And it noted, for women, “There’s Ellen Rosenbush atHarper’s, Katrina vandenHeuvel at the Nation, Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery at Mother Jones.”
  2. Port ignored MoJo and the Nation due to political alignment: Their progressive take on politics was not “mainstream” enough. You can see where this standard begins to get limiting. It seems the only magazines which don’t buck “mainstream” culture are headed by white males. And Anna Wintour.
  3. Port could have had a much more interesting conversation within their pages if it branched out just a bit. But they put their blinders on from the start: They looked for “mainstream” publications and were surprised to end up with “mainstream” editors. Truth is, they could have never found anything else with those expectations, stuck instead inside a self-fulfilling prophecy.