Man Enough

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Man Enough

It used to be that the only safe place to read a men’s magazine was in the can or on a 2,000-meter, free-fall parachute jump. Of course, you didn’t want your peers to know that you were actually reading those “fashion magazines” because that would put you straight into the metrosexual category and you would have to admit you were soft as vanilla. Those days are over. In a society that is still somewhat conservative, men are not ashamed to admit they read magazines for metrosexuals - er, men. At least, the numbers say so. Some industry insiders now claim they have hundreds of thousands of subscriptions. Back in the ’80s and ’90s when there was no market for magazines catering to men except Playboy, fashion-conscious men here looked to Japanese magazines such as Men’s Non-no to get a clue on how to dress well. Or the closest person you could ask for fashion advice was your own mama, a person who had given you your haircuts since kindergarten and would consider anything other than the color white for a dress shirt alien.

But it’s not only fashion. There was little else to learn from. No sex advice, no dating advice, nothing about how to weather a breakup or the top 10 things not to do during a rebound. In other words, men, left to their own devices, were poorly dressed schmucks.

Today, GQ, Esquire, Arena and whatnot are proudly displayed in the magazine sections of bookstores and it’s surprising to note how many FEMALES actually stand around peeking at those magazines, making one wonder why they would do such a thing.

“I want to know what men think!” says a serious-looking 23-year-old college kid who just broke up with her boyfriend of three years.

“I get advice from my girlfriends, but I want to know what makes a guy tick!” declares a pimple-faced woman in her late 20s.

I’ll tell you what makes a real man tick! “Godfather” movies, Monday Night Football, booze and army stories - but those magazines won’t tell you that. They just say that men occasionally withdraw into an imaginary “cave,” and only come out on Monday nights.

Still, these magazines have quietly carved out a niche in the psyches of men. Granted, there are a lot of advertisements in those magazines and the standard photo shoot still operates on the old concept of the all-out-flesh magazine, but these are not the main attractions, except for men in the military who make a point of ripping them apart just to stare a hole into the poster of the half-naked actresses posted above their bunk beds.

For a country in which the name Dolce & Gabbana hardly rang a bell only a decade ago, the function of men’s magazines cannot be underestimated. As South Koreans have said goodbye to the old virtue of saving to go on an all-out shopping spree, men in general here, especially the younger generation, are much more self-conscious about how they want to present themselves - and they don’t rely on mama’s advice anymore, nor are they reluctant to let the wife stake out her territory in the realm of men’s fashion.

That is why it’s very important for these magazines to be credible, and not serve as just another rumor mill. When some magazine writes that the color orange is in, for a man whose closest fashion encounter with it is the orange-colored thong worn by the opposite sex, something more than the writer’s own voice is needed (because the information is often presented without a name).

I want experts like Suzy Menkes to convince me that she knows what she’s talking about, not some fat dude behind a desk masquerading as a fashion guru, because I am man enough to admit that I am reading the magazine.

*The gwangdae were entertainers in ancient Korea who wandered the land in search of their next joke or adventure.


By Brian Lee [africanu@joongang.co.kr]
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