Parody Of (in order): Vanity Fair, People, The New Republic, Architectural Digest, Esquire, Rolling Stone, New York, GQ, New York Times Book Review, Harper’s.
Title: “Coming Soon to a Newsstand Near You.” Parody In: Spy, August 1991. Pages: 9. Contributors: Uncredited. Availability: Not hard to find.
Kurt Andersen and Graydon Carter launched Spy in 1986 as a new kind of humor magazine, one that would mock New York’s rich and powerful by snarkily dissecting their actual behavior rather than making stuff up: “Not parody, [but] satire,” the prospectus said. But parody’s ability to make satire look believable proved too tempting to resist, and after a few years Spy took to running pieces that were fact-based without quite being real, like 1990’s Annual Corporate Report from the Gambino crime family. Another, more fanciful feature (“A Casino Too Far,” August 1990) used fake newspaper clippings to show Donald Trump’s fall from mogulhood to bankruptcy over the next six years. If they’d just looked a few decades further …
Spy’s “Coming Soon to a Newsstand Near You” also peered into the future, but only a few months, and only to cover an event everyone knew was coming: the September 1991 publication of Harlot’s Ghost, Norman Mailer’s much-ballyhooed novel about the CIA. On Spy’s newsstand, Mailer’s 1,300-page gobstopper is mere grist for the editorial mill. “Harper’s” counts the book’s four-letter words for its Index. “People” probes Mailer’s love life, while “GQ” and “Architectural Digest” grade his clothing and shelter. “Esquire’s” Jim Harrison can barely hear Mailer over the burble of his own gastric juices, and “Vanity Fair’s” Nancy Collins turns what should be a portrait of the artist into an advertisement for herself. In the broadest and funniest bit, Jan Wenner drops names, diet tips and the conversational thread in a “Rolling Stone” interview with his clearly bored subject:
JW: “You know what Mick does to stay fit? One weekend a month he does nothing but drink carrot juice.”
NM: “The ectomorph? With the articulated rib cage?”
JW: “Yeah. Now, you wrote The Executioner’s Song, right? …
Salman Rushdie in the “Times Book Review” and Leon Wieseltier in “The New Republic” are almost as self-absorbed, though they name-check Musil and Doctorow rather than Jagger. The navel-gazing climaxes with a gossipy “New York” magazine item about the story behind Wenner’s interview with Mailer that doesn’t even mention the book. And it’s not like those who do stick to the subject have much to say: A running gag shows each publication struggling to make something out of the same ho-hum Mailer remark: “A damned fat old man, that’s what I am.”
The parodies range in length from a few sentences to double-page spreads and are visually and typographically impeccable. As always with Spy, some of the choicest bits are in the tiniest type: Headlines on fake mini-mag covers include “The 50 Greatest Fretless-Bass Players” (“Rolling Stone”) and “The Oreo Returns” (“New York”). Humor magazines regularly ran multi-title “Burlesque Numbers” like this in the 1920s and ’30s, but for some reason they fell out of favor after World War II. Spy’s “Newsstand” is proof the old formula still has life in it. — VCR