Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What Magazine Titles Say About Russia

BOULDER, Colorado -- Every country has their fair share of stupid publications that probably should not exist - in the United States, U.S. News & World Report probably comes to mind first. Russia is no different.

Russia is facing a severe economic crisis. Its stock market is down 70% in the past six months, and oil prices have dipped below $50 per barrel. The country's richest men have seen nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars shaved off their collective net worth. As Miriam Elder reports in The Independent , Moscow's annual Millionaire's Fair was not the usual exuberant celebration of capitalism run amok. With America's own economy going in the toilet, our super-rich also seem to be turning away from ridiculous magazines about decadence.

Perhaps the age of the oligarchs as it an end. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ethic of the nouveau-riche has taken hold in Russia, as robber barons and criminals sought only to display their ostentation and extravagance, eschewing any notion that with wealth also comes some obligation (other than to the Kremlin). Perhaps. But Russia continues to churn out insipid magazines dedicated to this shameless pursuit of wealth and power. Here are five of my favorites, and what they tell us about contemporary Russia:

Golf Style Next

I first encountered this awkwardly-named magazine several years ago, and I guess it is about golf, and all the sexy, stylish things associated with golf. Someone needs to explain to Russians that yes, golf is a game for rich people, but it is also kind of a game for old people, and few would associate it with cutting-edge style. Like yachting and jet-ski racing, golf remains the ultimate status symbol, but I really don't see any potential for its popularity to take off in Russia anytime soon. There are currently about a half-dozen courses in the country, most of them are only nine holes, and all are located in the Moscow and St. Petersburg areas. There are projects underway to build more, including a professional-quality, 27-hole course designed by British golfer Nick Faldo. The Russian Golf Federation even has an insane plan to build 500 courses in the country in the next 10 years. In the magazine's defense, they seem to have finally excised the nonsensical "Next" from the title, but their website remains an incomprehensible mishmash of Russian and English.


Russian billionaire and accused human-trafficker Mikhail Prokhorov announced this past September that he would be launching a magazine with a provocatively dumb title, Snob. Despite our highest hopes, this title does not solely cater to the super-rich, with articles about the latest model jetpacks and vacations to Svenborgia, but is a more middle-brow affair aimed at professionals. It's too bad, because I was really hoping for a magazine that only Russia's 82 resident billionaires subscribed to. Even so, the title continues the irritating practice of adopting English words into Russian (as almost all these titles do), and it promotes the idea that snobbery and elitism should be embraced.

Sex and the City

Russia has already been cursed with their own version of this tedious program, and now they have a Sex and the City magazine as well, something we can't even claim in the US. The Russian television program, called The Balzac Age, or All Men Are Basta--, was never as celebratory of casual sex or unsustainable shoe consumption (one of the characters drives a gypsy cab) as its American counterpart, so maybe this magazine will survive Russia's economic collapse. It's your standard fare for a women's magazine - articles about how to bone Sergei Lazarev and about marriage by radical writer Eduard Limonov.

Cosmo Магия (Magic)

This magazine is part of the Cosmopolitan brand and is published by Independent Media, one of Russia's largest magazine publishers. I have read this magazine, talked to people who work there, and I still cannot figure out what the hell it is supposed to be about. It has something to do with magic, or horoscopes, or psychology - honestly, it can be hard to tell the difference between those things in Russia sometimes. This is how I-Media describes the title: "This magazine is targeted at educated, successful women who are trying to understand themselves and find inner harmony, beauty and energy." Granted, this is probably no more vague than the PR crap most English-language magazines generate, but I would still like to know what the "magic" is all about.

Ultras Life Magazine

No matter what happens to the price of oil or the financial markets, Russians will always have their national pastime - soccer hooliganism. Luckily for them, there is now a magazine dedicated to it, Ultras Life Magazine. "Ultras" refers to the extreme soccer fanatics - it was a term first used in Italy for the totally awesome club supporters who killed cops and assaulted rival teams' players. So, if you're not in the mood to read about astrology or the new Gulfstream jets, you can read about who's skull got cracked at the latest Dynamo-Zenit match.

[The Independent: Millionaire's Fair: Oligarchs on their uppers]
[Gawker: The Future of Luxury Magazines]

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