X Close

How lads’ mags went soft Masculinity has lost its sense of humour

Loaded magazine: the pride of Fleet Street. (Bruno Vincent/Getty Images)

Loaded magazine: the pride of Fleet Street. (Bruno Vincent/Getty Images)


March 8, 2024   5 mins

“We hired a helicopter, we got hold of a sniper rifle, we shot radioactive wolves…” Writers at loaded magazine used to pride themselves on their wild gonzo journalism and madcap antics. It was, as founding editor James Brown described it, Arena edited by Hunter S. Thompson. The lines between the reporter and the reported were deliberately blurred, with the writer’s stimulant-fuelled mishaps often being the main event.

But that was 30 years ago. As a relaunch is prepared, the publicity makes it sound more Women’s Weekly than Fear and Loathing. Apparently the all-new online loaded will “give members an edge, helping them live their best lives, keeping them connected to interesting stuff, fun people and awesome experiences”.

Back in the heady mid-Nineties, no one connected to loaded would have been seen dead trying to live his best life — not unless that life involved hijacking a passing army tank under the influence of class As. In fact, antics at the magazine would have been too ludicrous even for Raoul Duke. One regular correspondent would roll dice to determine what self-destructive act to commit next, and then to write about. Actions of his while on the payroll included buying and consuming five speedballs from a “filthy bloke in a filthy pub in Hastings” and cruising for gay sex, all because the dice told him to.

Another writer related how, in search of a story, he had “streaked at a women’s football match, been blown up in a car, set on fire by stuntmen and starred as a circus knife-thrower’s assistant”. Elsewhere, the same bloke described how a “top-heavy blonde” called Moira once performed a consensual sex act on him as he reported on an orgiastic Scottish Association of Young Farmers disco in Perth Town Hall. (A spokeswoman for the association later pronounced herself happy with the piece, noting  — with no pun presumably intended — that the public image of young farmers “used to be all tractors, wellies and checked shirts”, and that she was “pleased” that the article “has blown this out the water”.)

Perhaps needless to say, feminists absolutely hated loaded at the time. Their still-canonical history of the title says that, once upon a time, there was a backlash against the progressive gains made for women in the Seventies and Eighties. The dashing young blade of the Nineties was fed up with being expected to be a sensitive “new man”, and was looking for an outlet for his aggression, stupidity, misogyny, and lust. Along came loaded to fill the niche, its virulent sexism barely suppressed under a clever veneer of jokes and approachable blokeyness. The lads’ mag was born, along with its concomitant social construction, the “new lad”; and from then on, it was a race to the bottom, both metaphorically and literally.

In the decade that followed, the market became flooded with improbably pneumatic babes in g-strings talking about how much they did or did not actually enjoy sex on the beach. Rival titles FHM, Maxim, Zoo, and Nuts took a cue from loaded and grabbed their own handfuls of silicon-enhanced flesh. Pithily summarising what was assumed to go on in the brain of the average male reader, industry insiders variously described the emerging business model in the 2000s as “birds not words” and “tits and lists”. Having ushered in this brave new era of woman-hating, loaded eventually threw off its ironic fake moustache and became the visual fleshpit it had secretly longed to be all along, occasionally interspersing images of naked women in patent leather handcuffs with football banter or aspirational stories of Mexican drug cartels.

Eventually third-wave feminists arrived, accusing lads’ mags en masse of fuelling violence against women. In 2013, they managed to get the magazine sold by some retailers in “modesty sleeves” on the top shelf. An incoming editor promised under pressure that there would be no more nipples; and since the copy had only ever been the pretext for soft-porn consumption, already dwindling sales slowed to a trickle. By then, more hardcore stuff online was all the rage anyway. The gateway drug of the lads’ mag had served its sinister purpose.

“An incoming editor promised under pressure that there would be no more nipples”

Or so the well-known story goes. Recently though, there are signs of a thawing in progressive attitudes towards loaded in particular, as commentators look back with something like nostalgia for the title’s comparative moderation, cleverness, and wit in its early years, relative to the humourless internet depravity we see now. This month, the Guardian of all things did a largely affectionate piece on “the legacy of lads’ mags”, with Nineties loaded featuring heavily, and described by former female employees as a “brilliantly supportive environment” and “mind-blowingly fun”.

Much tends to be made of the quality of the writing at that point, before it later went tits up, quite literally. One enthusiastic blogger describes it as “swashbuckling, provocative, exciting writing … aimed at men, but not in a patronising, lowest common denominator way”.  (Inspired by loaded, he also describes himself as having gone on “to create the gonzo school of property journalism during my time at Estates Gazette”.) A defiant Brown, meanwhile, stresses that for the first few years, it was mostly male stars on his covers and not half-naked females: “We could sell a third of a million copies with Harry Hill sitting on a stuffed badger.”

The main appeal of early loaded, viewed retrospectively, was its construction of masculinity — at least, in comparison with some of the awful options we see now. For a good while, for instance, we have been stuck with the wheyfaced, ponderously self-regarding backlash to the new lad — the new new man — whose current iteration lectures women about what a woman is, organises teetotal vegan supper clubs in Hackney, and possesses a moustache like that of a zookeeper. Faced with this horror, was the Nineties loaded lad so very awful? You wouldn’t catch him waffling on about the importance of intimacy or the prioritisation of self-care — all his anecdotes involved being lost for five days after a bender on the way to Malaga airport.

A different contemporary totem of masculinity is the Andrew Tate type, and again here, in comparison with Tate’s bombast and prickish posturing, the Nineties loaded lad looks preferable. There was an emotional vulnerability about him that was under-appreciated at the time. He admitted when he was frightened, made jokes at his own expense, and presented himself as a sometimes unwitting and confused passenger in his own life. And he also could see the funny side of failure.

Despite or even because of the smutty winks, references to bashing one out after failing to chat up a bird, and so on, arguably the magazine bestowed a lightness and fun upon sex talk that has gone from the public domain, possibly forever. What pop star these days could say in an interview, as Damon Albarn did in 1994 just after the release of Blur’s Parklife, that his favourite sexual position was “the French Maid” — involving “for the benefit of the uninitiated, a fair bit of bending down and picking up imaginary feather dusters”?

Irreverent jokes and banter are what both pious and macho male types tend to lack. And contrary to the original feminist analysis, the use of humour, irony, and silliness in early loaded was not there in order to cunningly disguise darker violence and misogyny; it was a sign that such forces were mostly absent. Mockery of the opposite sex is not toxic in itself. In fact, it was only after the writing stopped being funny that things got really ugly, and that’s not a coincidence.

In getting rid of the Nineties loaded lad, we did not get anything much better in his place. The arc of masculinity, it turns out, does not always bend towards justice. Instead, the pendulum swings erratically; or if you prefer, what we end up with is determined by a roll of the dice. If the new editors of the revamp have real ambition, they’ll try to load the dice by hiring bright young things fed up of current masculine archetypes, giving them freedom to be outrageously rude and anarchic in creating something new. But — a bit like Moira of Scottish Young Farmers fame, perhaps — I won’t be holding my breath.


Kathleen Stock is an UnHerd columnist and a co-director of The Lesbian Project.
Docstockk

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

71 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Rob Macf
Rob Macf
2 months ago

I recall some time around 1994 or 95 reading my first loaded article. The magazine had been left in the pub in which I worked. IThe article was a report from some idiot who had joined a Camel Trophy land rover going through some jungle or other. It left me wide eyed and open jawed. And inspired. I departed from bar work and had the next 20 years at sea, jungle, desert, mountain, valley. Thanks, loaded.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  Rob Macf

“I departed from bar work and had the next 20 years at sea, jungle, desert, mountain, valley.”
You joined the Royal Marines?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago

Nah he just got lost on his way home

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
2 months ago

I recently finished a history of Prohibition in the United States, and one of the most repeated motifs was the way in which Prohibition did not eliminate drinking culture but rather vulgarized it by removing its legitimate outlets. The quality of alcohol went down and so did the quality of the people drinking it, regardless of social class. Once you ban something, all transgressions against the ban become equal; rotgut is just as illegal as Glenlivet, and much more readily available. If certain impulses are ineradicable, then banning them simply opens the door for them to be expressed in the most vulgar and base way possible. The penalty’s the same either way, and the lowest common denominator often seems much more fun.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
2 months ago

Very enjoyable, easy read. Made me nostalgic for the days when censors went after porn and rock music.

Studio Largo
Studio Largo
2 months ago

Fed up of? With all due respect, Dr Stock, what the hell?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Studio Largo

I say I’m fed up of something, what’s your point? People in Britain have different ways of talking in case you haven’t noticed

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

It’s fed up with, wherever you live.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

With is probably the “correct” way of writing it, but of would be much more common when spoken in my opinion

Rob Macf
Rob Macf
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Wouldn’t matter if we were all still hammered half the time. I miss the 90s, too. What days they were.

Andrew H
Andrew H
2 months ago
Reply to  Rob Macf

Agreed (not aggrieved)

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Fed up with the grammar police diverting the conversation. Yep fed up of those people

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 months ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

This is a particularly bad and obvious one though. I think we should hold writers to a high standard.

RM Parker
RM Parker
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Not in Hull, luv.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 months ago
Reply to  Studio Largo

Very sloppy and low brow.

Studio Largo
Studio Largo
2 months ago

Thanks for the support. As you say, we hold writers to a higher standard.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago

Looking back, what a happy time the 90’s were. Perhaps it’s my rose tinted glasses, or the fact I was hammered for half of it, but everything just seemed so much more carefree and less judgemental. The lads mags just summed it up nicely, basically Men Behaving Badly in print form

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Hear, hear! If you can remember the 60s, you weren’t really there? Maybe true of Mick Jagger and his middle class mates all flouncing about in Carnaby Street. The 90s was were it was really at. God, I miss those days.

Timothy Baker
Timothy Baker
2 months ago

I was there in the 60s a lived in Brighton. That I remember them is a minor miracle, but if you missed them you have my sympathy.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

If you liked the 90s, you would have loved the 80s.

Ralph Hanke
Ralph Hanke
2 months ago

Then you really would have loved the 70s. We neither remember them or feel inclined to brag about that fact. 😉

Fafa Fafa
Fafa Fafa
2 months ago

Thank you. Reminded me of my 1990s when, doing something stupid and slightly crass again, my gf made some comment to the effect that “men are assholes”, to which I came back saying something like that my behavior was an example of “male mystique”. As a counterpart to “female mystique”, which is something presumably to be admiringly accepted by males but understood only by females. No, I was told, only females have mystique, males are simply assholes. (Now, of course, it just proved my point…)

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
2 months ago

Kathleen Stock seems like a woman who put you in your place if she thinks you’re behaving badly, being rude or talking rubbish. She seems a woman who really cares that women get a fair chance and will stand up for their rights. She’s married to a woman.

But she also seems to like men and appreciate men. She seems to be as much on our side as on women’s side.

She’d be great company in the pub. I really enjoy her work

Dillon Eliassen
Dillon Eliassen
2 months ago

She doesn’t suffer fools gladly and she’s a philosopher who often writes on topics in terms of right and wrong, which is uncommon. She’s also not a one trick pony. “Material Girls” is an easy to understand critique of the trans movement, whereas “Only Imagine” is a dense, academic work on the nature of fiction writing.

David Hirst
David Hirst
1 month ago

That’s a shame. I’m a fool.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
2 months ago

“Let me get you another drink and we can discuss more opinions I already agree with.”

Jae
Jae
2 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Oh do be quiet for once, you’re as boring and predictable as the “Wheyfaced” types Professor Stock refers to here.

But I guess we should put up with you, mostly, you’re in a minority, and you only confirm what we already know about whuzzy leftists.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
2 months ago

Yes she does seem to understand men better than most and most certainly better than men understand women.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

That’s not hard. I understand quantum physics better than I understand women and I’ve been married to one for years

2 plus 2 equals 4
2 plus 2 equals 4
2 months ago

I’ve no idea what possible purpose an online version of Loaded would serve these days when everything from mildly titillating celebrity photos to hard core porn is available for free on t’internet.

Andrew H
Andrew H
2 months ago

Refreshing, amusing and spot on yet again from Professor Stock.

Jon Morrow
Jon Morrow
2 months ago

Brilliant review, I reckon a new version of Loaded would be wise to offer Kathleen some column inches.

Roddy Campbell
Roddy Campbell
2 months ago
Reply to  Jon Morrow

Said Finbar…

RM Parker
RM Parker
2 months ago
Reply to  Roddy Campbell

Fnarr fnarr

Stuart Bennett
Stuart Bennett
2 months ago

Loaded Reloaded? If they’re taking the general perspective of someone like podcaster Chris Williamson it would be worth it, he’s doing good work. If it’s being written by and for woke millennials it’ll fail.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Stuart Bennett

Millennials were the ones originally reading it first time around, along with Gen X

Stuart Bennett
Stuart Bennett
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I’d have put it more as a late Gen X thing in the earlier days. But if not what hell happened to millennials to make them so wet.

Matt M
Matt M
2 months ago

Looking back, what strikes me about the Nineties is how British the culture was then. Loaded, Viz, Blur, the Happy Mondays, etc. The were all homegrown – and regional – rather than being US imports. We loved Tarantino and Nirvana, of course, but the British culture was dominant over here. It was the last decade before the great global homogenisation? Bloody internet!

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

In my opinion one of the hallmarks of the British culture back then was that there was a range of opinions and attitudes rolling around together quite happily.
Since then British culture has been colonised (see what I did there?) with a developed world, one note, grey, only-what’s-permitted, auto-tune, collective sneer.
Ordinary people still manage to get some joy out of life, but they are so very careful not to draw attention to the fact.

Jae
Jae
2 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Well said.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 months ago

Where did all these hundreds of thousands of slim girls with big ‘bits’ come from?

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
2 months ago

Essex ?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

Glasgow?

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
2 months ago

I can only assume you have never visited!

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
2 months ago

Correct.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
2 months ago

Fair enough. I won’t shatter your illusions regarding the fair maidens of Glasgow then.

Hilary Easton
Hilary Easton
2 months ago

From the plastic surgeon’s clinic

Saul D
Saul D
2 months ago

I heard they were Bristol’s

David Hirst
David Hirst
1 month ago

The nation’s less stellar high schools.

Dillon Eliassen
Dillon Eliassen
2 months ago

Online porn and lad mags is an interesting dynamic in marketplace competition. In the 2000s Playboy and Penthouse went softcore around the time dial up internet gave way to much faster internet speeds. But the market was already saturated with magazines that showed boobs (covered or uncovered) but not genitalia and had articles too edgy to appear in normal periodicals. Circulation kept dwindling as a result. In other words, everyone who said he subscribed to Playboy “for the articles” was of course obviously lying.

anthony killeen
anthony killeen
2 months ago

I have to admit I loved Loaded when it came out in the mid 90’s as someone in their early 20’s in the cultural backwater of West Cumbria. It had some really great writing. The mixture of travel, drinking stories, football and Britpop was ideal for that cultural moment.

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
2 months ago

Prior to the advent of Loaded, the ‘New Man’ was meant to be a mild-mannered, somewhat post-hippyish, bearded, semi-androgynous specimen who (never actually saw this myself) knitted on the Tube on the way to work.

Clearly, that could never last.

JOHN KANEFSKY
JOHN KANEFSKY
2 months ago

Nothing wrong with nipples, I have two myself.
Context is everything.

Jules Anjim
Jules Anjim
2 months ago

Men of the heterosexual variety generally like looking at naked women, at naked women having sex with men or other naked women or even just with themselves. Is that wrong ? Is that so wrong ? And so what if men like to look at women’s breasts ? And arses. Breasts and arses together, preferably. And a bit of minge if you don’t mind. Is that wrong ? Is that so wrong ? To want to see women naked. To see their breasts and arses and minge. All the time. Is that really so wrong ?

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
2 months ago
Reply to  Jules Anjim

Would you like a Kleenex ?

Jules Anjim
Jules Anjim
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

If you’re done with them

Mike Downing
Mike Downing
2 months ago
Reply to  Jules Anjim

Whatever’s wrong with the curtains?

David Hirst
David Hirst
1 month ago
Reply to  Mike Downing

They’re oddly brittle.

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 months ago
Reply to  Jules Anjim

Serious-minded women have always hated – and when I say “hated” I mean a visceral, furious loathing – the fact that even serious-minded and intelligent men are perfectly happy to put up with complete morons in feminine form as long as they possess the attributes you describe.

I have never been able to decide whether the fact that women tend not to behave the same is a failing of men (as women maintain), or actually a failing on the female side. I’d say there are arguments in favour of both sides.

As for the part where men tend to like looking at the naked female form, well that one always ends up in vacuous arguments about objectification, which I consider idiotic. The entire basis of human prosperity is specialisation of production and diversification of consumption, and specialisation is just another way of saying that a human as an economic unit is objectified in terms of what he or she can produce. Thus objectification, far from being something that only ever happens when a woman’s physical appearance is promoted over the totality of her personhood, is something that happens to every single human on a daily basis and is welcomed by each person as the principle means by which they prosper.

I realise that I digress somewhat, but it’s in support of the wider issue that men should not be made to feel guilty over how they appreciate the female form.

Ron Kean
Ron Kean
2 months ago
Reply to  Jules Anjim

I miss the old days of Benny Hill and the Playboy mansion. Fun and fantasy.But then again I remember the 60’s and being disappointed that Free Love wasn’t really free. Maybe a couple of times. Maybe video tape made hard core X-rated movies too easy and the addiction became in some way mentally harmful for a few guys including Middle Eastern dictators.

Timothy Baker
Timothy Baker
2 months ago
Reply to  Jules Anjim

Why bother with magazines, the real thing is just so much better, and afterwards they can cook you a
pizza and open a few beers for you.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
2 months ago

Society was more tolerable when we didn’t take ourselves quite so seriously, weighing every word for possible but unintentional offense, and being able to laugh at ourselves if not others.

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 months ago

“In getting rid of the Nineties loaded lad, we did not get anything much better in his place. The arc of masculinity, it turns out, does not always bend towards justice.”

Well no, and there is a simple reason why it has not proved possible to improve men by any of the means attempted by Progressive activism: all forms of such activism make people less free, not more. That’s why the officially-received version of masculinity keep failing to satisfy: they are men who cannot be themselves. And as long as feminists have any say in the matter, we’ll have useless men as the answer to their questions.

Luckily, for most men, all this nonsense applies only at the bien-pensant level and doesn’t affect us.

John Galt Was Correct
John Galt Was Correct
2 months ago

I remember the 1990’s as being a lot of fun. One of the reasons we did a lot of the things that we did, and read stuff like Loaded was because we were fed up of being told what to do, what kind of men we should be, by entitled people who thought they had the right to change others to be as they wanted them, and just said ‘f**k it’ and did what we wanted instead. Younger Males now do it differently. they just don’t get involved and live their own lives and ignore the people trying to tell them what to do, because there does always seem to be someone, usually Female, telling men what they should be doing.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
2 months ago

Many disappearing comments here today. Mine and threads to which I replied. Into the entropy well they go. Nothing more than the occasional use of non-profane slang or euphemisms which were entirely in keeping with the tone of the article.

RM Parker
RM Parker
2 months ago

“Entropy well” – beautiful. May I use that (with attribution)?

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
2 months ago
Reply to  RM Parker

Of course!

Kasandra H
Kasandra H
2 months ago

Guess everything is censored nowadays..perhaps it’s a cycle of censorship that will be awash in a new wave of something else later. X

N Satori
N Satori
2 months ago

A somewhat patronising (or should that be matronising?) lecture by a lesbian feminist in a same-sex marriage on the topic of blokey-blokes as an endangered species.

Not a surprise really. I always expected that when feminists had completely hollowed out the masculine world their next move would be to provide a definition of ‘manliness’ that suited the new woman and (as women always do) bemoan the failure of men to live up to it. Men themselves would have little to say in the creation of that definition.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
2 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

Who hurt you? Was the divorce so hard? At least you can console yourself knowing that you kid’s lives are so much better no you are out of them.

N Satori
N Satori
2 months ago

More sucker bait from sham socialist.