Sunday, November 23, 2008

NYT Magazine Sells Out, For No Reason

What can explain -- or excuse -- the Times Magazine's lame use of Jennifer Aniston on its cover today? It even comes with a brain-dead Q-&-A that looks like a deal was made, Vanity Fair-style, for favorable coverage in return for a photo shoot.

Strange behavior for a magazine that doesn't sell on the newsstand, or need to cater to publicists' demands, or have any editorial justification for putting a movie star on the cover of an issue devoted to television and new media. Except for brief appearances on "30 Rock" and "Dirt," Jennifer Aniston hasn't been on television since 2004!

Never mind that the entire issue -- under the intellectually rigorous title, "How We Watch Stuff" -- reeks of a desperate effort to seem relevant to readers under 30. It even includes the byline of twentysomething former Gawker editor Emily Gould, who last appeared in the magazine on its cover with an controversial essay about her blogging life. The issues balances essays by A.O. Scott (at 42 the youngest old fogey in America, who marvels at the experience of watching "It's A Wonderful Life" on his laptop) with reporting on Netflix innovators, the future of advertising and an endless thumbsucker by an editor at Wired. Something about the Internet.

Never mind, either, that the Aniston photograph on the cover has no meaning or relevance to the issue, except to remind us that the former television star still has great hair. (And, on the inside photo, great legs.)

It's the Lynn Hirschberg interview with Aniston that most seems out of place in the Times Magazine, where the editor-at-large has delivered multiple celebrities for the magazine's cover in recent years -- among them Bill Murray, Sofia Coppola, Daniel Day-Lewis and Tyra Banks. Hirschberg was once legendary as a takedown artist at Esquire and Vanity Fair; her VF hatchet job on Courtney Love inspired the Hole song, "Bring Me The Head of Lynn Hirschberg."

These days, Hirschberg functions more the way celebrity wranglers do at other magazines -- delivering movie and television stars for various Times covers, including the "T" fashion supplements where she also works.

The excuse for today's cover story seems to be that despite her ubiquity on television, Aniston doesn't devote much time to watching herself. This point gets made ironically in the two-page "photomontage" by Ruven Afanador, who shows Aniston studying photographs of herself in a museum.

Counting the cover, the magazine devotes four pages to photos of Aniston, and one to the interview itself.

As for the Q-&-A, little is learned about Aniston that couldn't be picked up from a quick look at her Wikipedia and IMDB entries.

Some of the inane Hirschberg questions that we could find answers for elsewhere -- even from just a casual perusal of Aniston profiles over the years -- included:

When did you first appear on a screen?
Did you make a lot of pilots before "Friends?"
During the huge success of "Friends," were you anxious to parlay your popularity into movies?

Others, we would simply be embarrassed to ask ourselves, unless we were writing up the interview for Tiger Beat:

If "Friends" comes on when you're home, will you watch?
Do you find TV-screen fame different from movie-screen fame?
And now you're with Owen Wilson in "Marley & Me." Did you read the book?

We won't even mention -- oh, what the hell, we will -- that Hirschberg even managed to mangle the title of Aniston's next movie, "He's Just Not That Into You." She substituted "she" for "he," but hey, what do you expect? It's the Times. They can't be expected to keep track of movie star trivia, not when they're trying to deconstruct the future of television.

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