One of the annoying parts of reading all the lad-mags I do is that they believe they need to pander in order to pay their bills. I don’t think it’s true – I think the, um, slightly older segment of their demographic spread would keep them in business even if all the brainless twenty-something business drones drifted away. But the magazines themselves certainly believe it: they routinely barnacle their content with grabs for the attention of people they’d go out of their way to avoid at a party (or on a hiking trail). Specifically, the much-coveted ‘male, 18-25′ bandwidth.
The problem is, males 18-25 are epically stupid creatures, most of them. They want to figure out a way to be, the kind of person they want to be – but not for any higher reasons of self-discovery, but mainly just to get all that ‘way to be’ shit out of the way so they can spend the rest of their lives amassing money and screwing their wives and mistresses. So the most convenient way to sell them ways to be is to do it in packages: not choices but lifestyles. Most ‘lad mags’ spend an annoying amount of their time trying to sell a lifestyle to that one moron demographic.
It’s a lifestyle in which you might read a couple of books a year (any more would be suspect), but you’ll need to be told which ones they should be (and they must be written by writers who box semi-professionally, which kind of limits the field). A lifestyle in which you’ll need tips on the best cigars to buy but somehow won’t get addicted. A lifestyle in which insights into the female mind exclusively take the form of sex-tips. You’ll be told which back-countries to hike, which CDs to bring along, and which sunglasses to wear. That male, 18-25 demographic finds it all very comforting (even though, at the movies, those same coveted viewers don’t hesitate to boo the zombies and Imperial storm-troopers they are willingly becoming), and the rest of us put up with it in exchange for the usually first-rate contents found elsewhere in these issues.
The problem, for me, comes when something that’s actually important gets lumped into one of ‘lifestyle’ diktats. Take, for instance, the latest Outside magazine. It has an absolutely great article by Bob Friel on an unsolved string of murders and disappearances along a lonely stretch of highway in British Columbia – but it also has an extremely annoying feature by Josh Dean on “The Ultimate Outdoor Companion” … i.e. the dog.
But not just any dog: the trail-dog, the mountaineering dog, the running, hiking, and whitewater-rafting dog. There’s a full-page spread showing all the latest gear you can get for your gnarly, outdoor-companion dog, and the spread couldn’t make it any clearer that the dog is itself is just another purchase, as vulnerable to the fads around the office water cooler as anything else. As if to underscore the point, the feature lists a few breeds that are touted as the most ‘adventure-ready’ breeds these males, 18-25 can buy. Leaving aside the fact that almost any young dog of almost any breed is going to have five to ten times the speed, strength, and most of all stamina of even the most athletic human (and ‘adventure-ready’? I don’t even need to pontificate on that one – have any of you ever met a young dog of any kind who wasn’t ‘adventure-ready’ at all times?), some of the breeds on this list – standard poodle, Siberian husky, even (God help us) Australian Shepherd – are extremely wilful, extremely complex specialized breeds. They aren’t ‘beginner’ dogs. An 18-25 year-old brainless man, getting one for what is very likely his first solo-ownership dog, is 100 percent certainly going to be dropping such an animal off at the local high-kill dog pound within a year. And it’s all so wasteful, so completely unnecessary. I’ve covered a lot of terrain in my life with a lot of ‘outdoor companions,’ and I’m telling you true: any happy year-old mutt can handle any outdoor activity you can throw at it – and requires not one single item of all that shiny ‘gear.’ Dogs were running tirelessly over all terrains 60 million years before the first human said ‘dude.’
But the feature has an even darker aspect, one it shares with anything pitched for a ‘lifestyle': mainly, that there’s no such thing as a lifestyle. There’s just stuff people do, and the times and ways they do it. So you buy an (God help us) Australian Shepherd because Outside tells you they’re “good companions for dynamic, fast-paced activities” like hiking, running, skiing, kayaking, and “especially mountain biking.” This is insane (try running with an Ausralian Shepherd and get back to me), but OK – except what does your dog do for the 99.2 percent of your life when you’re not doing any of those things? The rest of your new gear doesn’t mind, because it’s inanimate. But if you buy a living, breathing being – a complex creature with emotions, imagination, and personality (and one who ages ten times faster than you do – what happens when Champ can’t kayak anymore? You throw him overboard and keep paddling?) – purely for a niche-activity (and stop kidding yourself: that’s exactly what it is), you’re perpetrating a cruelty you certainly wouldn’t want done to you (your girlfriend loves your back-rubs, fine – but imagine if that was the only thing she was interested in you doing, or let you do, for the rest of your life). And whenever a ‘lad mag’ like Outside runs a feature like this, they’re abetting that cruelty.
So you love running and hiking and camping? Great. Trust me: go to your local dog pound, pick out the first two young dogs you see. Feed them, love them, and let them love you. Presto: the ultimate companion, outdoor or in.