Though my new issue of ReadyMade Magazine arrived almost three weeks ago, I had sort of forgotten about it. I'd been reading some trashy Judy Blume adult fiction and then I was busy and then I was enjoying the weather and anyways I just sort of forgot about it.
I finally cracked the thin spine of April/May 2009 on Sunday and all I have to say is....blech. I mean, you all know I can be sort of a stickler for these sorts of things. Just like as soon as you know there's high fructose corn syrup in something, it's a little harder to enjoy it. Now that Readymade's getting crafted in some megamagazinal factory in Des Moines, right alongside the issues of Family Circle and Better Homes and Gardens, I'm just feeling more critical. You can taste the corporate conglomeration, I'm thinking as I read the projects and even if that is wholly psychosomatic, it's also no less real.
Beginning with the first Editor's Letter from new Editorial Director, Kitty Morgan. She weaves some tall tale about the post-modern nature of design these days and the diversity of place which informs DIY culture. It's a lengthy excuse for ditching Berkeley, the magazine's birthplace and home of the former editorial staff, in a consolidation move and a half-hearted case for the national landscape of the do-it-yourself scene. Though the scene is certainly alive all over the place, the letter read as an obligatory nod to the magazine's former self and disingenuous explanation for moving the magazine's HQ, especially as several of the issue's features are California specific: "Tilling Our City Soil" (p. 56) and "Tao of Pie" (p. 62). If the magazine's "roots" are no longer California, the content should showcase this, no?
I heard from a little bird that hardly any of the regular contributors stuck with the magazine in the move. Indeed, superstar Todd Oldham is absent, but there were a few people who were listed on the Contributor's page as 'veterans', to use the term loosely. Overall, it definitely had a tired feel. I took issue with (no pun intended) Big Screen Debut (p. 24), a piece about a small screen printing studio started by a UPenn grad in Des Moines that makes kitschy t-shirts. I'm not sure which is less impressive, the fact that they are showcasing a screen printing studio, of which there are thousands of more original, more interesting concepts or the fact that the guy's t-shirts look like gen-x urban outfitters-type, complete with faux patina. Also, The Back Story (p. 32), which suggests taking photos of the back of your own head and blowing them up to life size for hanging on the wall in lieu of real art; Cheap Frills (p. 36) suggests ways to trim an old denim skirt to make it look new again, yielding results that invoke the fashions you might find in the junior's section of Walmart, one in a yellow and blue gingham palette and another with applique tie dye; Home Worked (p. 46), instructions for a bright home office that belongs on the pages of Martha Stewart Living; and worst of all, Plastic Surgery (p. 38) which suggests turning plastic bottles into papier mache vases.
The result looks cruddy even in their fancy professional photos. And one of those aforementioned features, Tilling Our City Soil, discusses urban farming as though it hasn't been covered To Death over the last year in every news source from the NYTimes to independent weeklies across the land and even an issue of RM last spring. RM old school would have featured urban & rural foraging projects, a true cutting edge in sustainable food.
A year ago, in the April/May 2008 Green Design Issue, former editor Shoshana Berger titled her opening letter "The Greenwashing Issue: What happens when what you've always believed in becomes a fad?" It was RM's way of saying, we know it's getting a little crazy out there with eco-friendly everything, repurposed whatnots and recycled whozits, and we're still trying to stay innovative without latching on to the trend that continues now in 2009, as Payless announces a "green" line of their shoes. I really respected Shoshana's candid acknowledgment and the April/May 2008 issue's attempt to dig into the heart of Green by documenting the corporate co-opting of the environmental movement and other lesser mentioned aspects of environmentalisms. It was a great way to set RM apart from the chorus of other magazines only now catching on and I thought of that letter when reading this year's "Sustainability Issue." A fact that I only noticed when on their website just now, because there is nothing particularly sustainable about this issue.
Morgan writes in her letter Does place matter? Not entirely...Readymade is no longer exclusively anywhere. She may be right about that. But ReadyMade has always seemed to come from people, who were very specifically located on the cultural arteries of DIY activity. I have no issue with Des Moines. But those people pulling strings from a corporate campus, taking time out of working on Ladies' Home Journal, are simply not capable of putting together a magazine for the demographic that chooses to make and not buy, that chooses small over large impact, and that wants to be surprised by the pages of their favorite magazine. It seems like such an experiment to me. Can a corporate office complex really pull off the manufacturing of an underdog magazine, historically connected to the indie music, design, craft scene, and hide their seams? I remain skeptical. I don't think credibility can be forged or that connectivity can be improvised.
In the end, I don't need to subscribe to a journal of ideas, companies, and projects I've already heard of. And I'm up to renew in July...