GQ is a magazine perennially underestimated by my more bookish friends. People who pretend to read The New York Review of Books always make a point of their discrimination; GQ and other ‘men’s magazines’ are sniffed at and deemed beyond the pale of serious readers. For such people, ‘serious reader’ always equates to ‘reader of serious stuff,’ but for me it means something very different: a ‘serious reader’ is somebody who reads anything – but who takes that reading seriously. An enormous amount of work goes into getting a monthly periodical out on time and keeping its editorial standards respectable – and like I’ve pointed out here before, magazines like GQ and Esquire pay some good money for the freelance pieces they accept … which means some of those freelance pieces will be quite good.
Take this month’s GQ, for instance. There’s an article on the victims of the Khmer Rouge, our old friend Alex Pappademas writing about Quentin Tarantino, and a smart, off-kilter guide to travelling in Europe.
But we won’t be talking about any of those today at Stevereads. Instead: bring on the he-meat!
Well, OK, it’s not quite as bad as that. But still, one of the pleasures of GQ is watching its ongoing relationship with young Hollywood. The editors and photographers gravitate toward the almost-breakouts and give them lavish treatment just prior to their receiving said treatment from the rest of the world. No doubt this is all orchestrated by movie studio publicity departments, but it can still make for interesting star-spotting, and sometimes the accompanying articles can be fascinating glimpses into the lives of these plastoid beings, at a stage in their careers before they learn to completely bullshit every answer in absolutely every interview and withdraw into that fully-gated community from which true big-name Hollywood stars never thereafter venture. It’s in the pages of GQ that some cheekboned young thing will blurt out ‘shit’ for the last time on the record – the last legitimate time, after which every blurting of ‘shit’ will be carefully choreographed to feed into the buzz surrounding that young thing’s upcoming movie “Shit,” in theaters July 11.
Of course, movie studio bullshitting classes start earlier and earlier these days, and even somebody like this month’s cover boy, Channing Tatum, somebody who’s still very much in the ‘Channing Who?’ range of the general public’s knowledge, has no doubt already been sat down and given some fairly comprehensive seminar-work on What Not To Say when some perky lady-reporter from GQ comes looking for an interview. This is certainly the case if said young thing is about to star in a summer blockbuster that cost said studio gazillions of dollars (which it absolutely has to make back in the first fifteen minutes of the movie’s opening weekend, or three thousand people will lose their jobs and none of them will ever work in this town again) – which describes Tatum, who stars in July’s G.I. Joe mega-whatsis.
This goes both ways, naturally: that perky reporter – in this case Lisa DePaulo – has no doubt been given her own corporate playcard. After all, can’t have her breaking any scoops or doing any damage to Tatum’s budding career now, can we, not if GQ wants him to return for a photo-spread six years from now, after he’s won an Oscar for his starring role in the critically-acclaimed remake of Rocky (with Stallone in the Burgess Meredith role). So DePaulo has to play along – no mention of recreational drugs, no mention of smoking, drinking described in settings that would please a pair of Mormon parents (in the article, once young “Chan” has had 1.5 beers, he conscientiously refuses to drive DePaulo back to her hotel), no mention of ogling, leering, or groping. Readers are prospective ticket-buyers, after all: they have to come away liking Channing Tatum.
And they do. The star comes across as endearingly genuine, somebody who regularly returns to his roots (in East Bumbfuck Alabama, to a family of rednecks who themselves worry that they’ll look like the Clampetts to Tatum’s more sophisticated Hollywood friends) to get away from the phoniness of the West Coast. There’s the usual pussyfooting about craft – a painful thing to watch when Tatum’s G. I. Joe co-star Joseph Gordon-Levitt tries to spin Godard out of an action blockbuster, but almost as painful here, with all the aw-shucks admissions that G.I. Joe doesn’t really afford its young stars any chance to do any serious acting. In Tatum’s case, the thing could be G. I. Hamlet and still not do so, since he has no serious acting anywhere inside him – he’s just really pleasing to look at (DePaulo also faithfully relays the usual crapola about our young star suffering from dyslexia and ADD, because simply calling him stupid would sound harsh)(even though it’s not – I’ve spent lots and lots of great time with some stupid people and been the better off for it … no, it’s dumb people who are life’s chief irritant, and that’s a very different thing, bespeaking willful ignorance and loud over-talking; even in as carefully-scripted a profile as this one, it’s completely obvious that although Tatum is stupid, he’s nowhere near dumb).
His family, not so much so. It will come as no surprise that rural East Bumbfuck Alabama is no more ready for its close-up now than it ever has been. Tatum’s kinfolk disdainfully refer to President O-bam-a (DePaulo’s discretion is marvelous to behold here – she never comes anywhere near saying or transcribing it, but you hear the word “nigger” clear as a bell), and at one point one of the women, talking about the stern paterfamilias, says “my daddy never even seen a homosexual before,” to which this reader wanted to respond: “Oh yes he has – but you can be damn sure that ‘homosexual’ didn’t identify himself, because he knew if he did, your daddy – and a buncha his good ol’ boy friends (because bigots never act alone) – would have beaten him just plain dead.
Tatum tells DePaulo that he’s currently studying for his upcoming role in Eagle of the Ninth – so our poor dyslexic ADD-riddled pretty boy has two Roman history books on his Kindle, and somewhere a Hollywood handler is hoping Eagle of the Ninth will be Tatum’s Gladiator. It could very well be, if G. I. Joe isn’t – time will tell, but whether it’s burnout or coronation, GQ was there nice and early.
Same thing with the issue’s other piece of he-meat, the ethereally beautiful Hunter Parrish, who stars in Weeds and did a memorable turn in Spring Awakening (he has a lovely if predictable singing voice and the requisite poreless porcelain skin, although a burgeoning tobacco habit will take care of both those things pretty quickly). Unlike Tatum, Parrish is already a complete creature of sound-bite publicity hacks; if you look at six or seven Youtube clips of his various interviews, you’ll see a script performed with myna-bird precision every time. To its credit, GQ doesn’t bother actually talking with this kid – they just dress him up in various “college”-inspired outfits in order to give their readers, the great majority of whom are young cubicle-dwellers pining for their great old collegiate years, some sartorial inspiration. The copy is hilarious, as all fashion copy is: “When we say collegiate-inspired gear, we don’t mean a USC sweatshirt and a pair of Adidas slides. Think about the kind of East Coast classics that a Kennedy might have worn back in the day.”
Parrish’s career has yet to map the kind of inevitable-feeling trajectory that Tatum’s has, despite the fact that Parrish is considerably prettier and every bit as willing to hit the weights. There’s a big-cast romantic comedy on the horizon for him to get lost in, but apart from that, only the barren wasteland of Weeds stretching until contract’s end. If Parrish is smart (sentences have had stronger beginnings), he’ll soak up as much craft as he can in that time; a gorgeous young man who learned acting from Justin Kirk and comedic timing from Kevin Nealon could come to rule Hollywood, if he played his cards right. No doubt GQ will be right there on the spot when and if that happens.
P.S. OK, OK – as shamelessly eye-candy as this post is, it’s still Stevereads! I can’t leave a discussion of this issue of GQ without mentioning that at least one thing in it will thoroughly engage your brain, not your, er, other parts! Michael Joseph Gross turns in an absolutely fascinating article, “Sextortion at Eisenhower High,” about that kid in Wisconsin who tricked lots of his male classmates into emailing him naked pictures of themselves (they thought they were sending them to a hot female classmate) and then extorting sex out of those poor saps or else the pictures would go all over the Internet. Gross does first-rate work, and this piece deserves to be anthologized somewhere far away from profiles of Channing Tatum. Writing about the kid whose Internet machinations will likely land him in prison for the rest of his life, Gross smartly hits a bigger note:
He rode the wave that more and more kids ride, out to a place where every flesh-and-blood kid is also a phantom, where adolescence isn’t so lonely, where you don’t have to wonder, isn’t there anybody who wants what I want? In this world, no IM goes unanswered – and for every teenager who types the question will u send it? there is another typing, Yes.
That’s good stuff, and a normal Stevereads entry would have started with it and only latterly got around to mentioning the fluff and hypocrisy of photo-features on the likes of Hunter Parrish. But it’s a bright sunny summer morning, and youth, too, has its allures!
Back to books next time, I promise.