Perhaps the greatest oddity of the woke moment that we are currently going through is the eagerness with which corporations and other parts of the money-making world have rushed to join in the stampede.
Time and again multinationals and public companies turn out to be as happy as junior members of the Royal Family to sign up to an ideology which will come to eat them next. If anyone is in any doubt about this trend, they should look to the men’s magazine GQ – or what we should more properly describe as the former men’s magazine, GQ.
Firstly, I should declare my prejudices at the outset. Though I have never bought a copy of GQ, I have often flicked through it at the barbers as a way to avoid conversation, and have always found it aggravating in the way that aspirational lifestyle magazines generally are.
By necessity these magazines are pornography for people who don’t have much sex, who feel that looking is the second-best thing to touching. How many of GQ’s readers could ever afford the vast price-tags on the sort of clothes the magazine made it look as though every man wore? How many went to the luxury resorts that were flagged in each issue? Or owned the cars, or generally lived the sort of James Bond-wannabe lifestyle that GQ presented as the achievable ambition of any man? If these flaws were aggravating then they were also embedded. You cannot have an aspirational lifestyle magazine which does not aspire.
Then there was the “Man of the Year” nonsense, the annual jamboree in which GQ got to display its own latest version of the modern aristocracy; a catwalk of public figures who were in turn flattered to be regarded as being in the cool club. GQ was always adept at this, hiring Alastair Campbell to give it alleged gravitas, or handing an award to Russell Brand in order to look like they were on top of each pseudo-serious trend.
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In reality, of course, such episodes showed the vulnerability of these very modern day snobs, the pretence that they were style arbiters and trend-setters rather than deeply unimaginative trend-followers. The inability to take a stand on anything until the precise moment that GQ sensed that the stand was being taken by everybody else. The sucking-up to power wherever it came from. It is an editorial talent of a kind, to be so craven that you will jump on any trend as soon as you think it no longer worth resisting.
With complete inevitability, in recent times GQ has been all too happy to join the woke bandwagon. As the Western world has gone through a set of values-alterations, so GQ has had to keep its antennae exceptionally attuned so as to know where it should follow next.
And one must pity them in some ways, for a men’s magazine like GQ really has only one objective in mind: to trick men into believing that it has the secret (or at least some of the secrets) of how men can attract women. Of course the usual pretence intermittently occurs – as it does throughout GQ’s opposite numbers in the world of women’s magazines – that all of this is only for the personal self-esteem of the readers and to make them feel better inside.
In reality the business model is to pretend that the magazine has knowledge its readers need. And the pity for GQ is that its core business – the whole business of relations between the sexes – has become exceptionally fraught in recent years.
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Inevitably, GQ found a way to roll with that tide. In the year after the “MeToo” movement broke out it was necessary for them to demonstrate not only that they were totally on board with whatever the new consensus was, but that they were – if anything – positively ahead of the curve. That is why the magazine’s UK editor, Dylan Jones, last year editorialised that “For the first time in history, we’ve all been called to account for the sins of the patriarchy.” What does this surrender flag even mean? What is “the patriarchy”? What are its “sins”? Why do all men have to be called to account for them? Have I been called to account? Have you?
That increasingly beseeching, begging tone began to infuse the magazine. When Lewis Hamilton was accused of transphobia in the closing days of 2017 it was GQ which came to his rescue with a reputational repair job. As the cover star a few months later, in August 2018, Hamilton was photographed in a hideous tartan skirt. Though not forgetting to show some carefully rippled abs (for it is important for a man to still have some self-esteem while being forcibly feminised in the name of the new tolerance), the headline read “Lewis Hamilton refuses to skirt the issue”.
And now, a year later, GQ have found their latest surrender-hole. A magazine that solely exists because it pretends that it knows what masculinity is, and what women like about it, has decided instead that masculinity is a problem and that a “new masculinity” is needed.
The cover star this time is Pharrell, wearing a hideous outfit that looks like a cross between a cassock, a tent, a poncho and a dinghy – perhaps in due course it will be known as the life-raft outfit. For its aim, as with the whole pathetic mess that is this GQ issue, is to try to save men from the accusations being made about them: by promising that they have surrendered already.
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A beseeching, begging editorial by Will Welch (the new editor-in-chief) pays its indulgences straight away. He talks about the “pervasive culture of sexual intimidation and violence and blatant gender inequality”, of “victims” and the “discriminatory culture”. How should these things be addressed? Welch writes: “We see every day at GQ as an opportunity to answer that question,” continuing “one way we’ve addressed it is by making a magazine that isn’t really trying to be exclusively for or about men at all.” Which is one hell of a change of mission statement for a men’s magazine.
Inside, readers of this former men’s magazine can find advice from, for instance, someone called Hannah Gadsby, telling men why they “should be more ladylike”, and “interrogate” themselves as to why they might not want to be. Of course the ideal would be if everybody could be allowed to be themselves, whatever that self may be. But just as it is tedious and restrictive to assume that all men should behave one way and all women another, so it is equally – in fact more – ridiculous to insist that men should act more like women and all women perhaps more like men.
Sensible people will simply ignore GQ’s advice, realising that although women want many things, what they want least of all are the ex-men that GQ has now dedicated itself to creating. The magazine always relied on stereotypes, but at least they used to be amusingly aspirational. Nobody will aspire to the its ideals now, and soon perhaps GQ will learn the mantra that Gillette and others learned before them: get woke, go broke.