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   ARTICLES : DRUGS : 01.30.01
Poster Boy

James Kent

Choosing who or what goes on the cover of a magazine is one of the most important decisions a publisher can make. Take a look at some of the issues we deal with.

SO I WAS THINKING about relaunching this magazine I publish, TRP: The Resonance Project, but there was a problem with it. The name was too long. People kept mispronouncing 'resonance', or pronouncing it right but confusing us with another fine Seattle periodical called 'Resonance' that covers the dance music scene. It was a pain. The name was meant to convey a complex metaphysical idea within a handy three letter acronym, but some people just weren't getting it. Some understood, a few even cheered the concept of a 'Resonance Project', but everyone else just called it TRP, or Trip.

Yes, trip is a much shorter meme with less baggage and more action. It is nowhere near as academic or arcane as TRP, but it is freer and, dare we say, a bit hipper. It will infiltrate the mind faster, stick longer, and go farther. It is borne into motion and built to travel. That is what it is, a trip, a journey through space and time where every tiny detail is as important as the big picture.

Once we had decided on the name change I began ruminating about what to put on the cover of the first issue. Choosing who or what goes on the cover of a magazine is one of the most important decisions a publisher can make. A cover not only defines who and what you are, but it also dictates where your magazine will be placed on the racks even moreso than actual content. For example, a magazine with Brad Pitt or Madonna on the cover will get front-row placement next to 'Vogue' or 'GQ' even if the magazine is about organic gardening. It is what publishers with fringe markets do to branch out to the mainstream and attract new readers. It is called marketing.

Which brings us to poor Robert Downey Jr. (or RDJ as we like to call him around here). RDJ is in an interesting position right now because he represents the grand paradox of American drug culture. Here is one of our generation's best and brightest, a celebrated actor of exceeding wit and charm, and a purebred product of the Hollywood drug culture. He would be indistinguishable from any one of a dozen of his peers except for one thing: he got himself in trouble. Now he is more famous than all of them, just won a Golden Globe for 'Ally McBeal', and could go back to jail for doing even more drugs! What could be more interesting than that? Let's put him on the cover! Our distributors will love us!

Cashing in on the tragedy of celebrity is nothing new for magazines -- in fact it may be the reason magazines were invented -- but we've never really done it before. Having a celebrity on the cover would definitely mean better placement on the stands, higher sales, more money, and more unsuspecting members of the mainstream being accidently exposed to our supremely radical vision, so the decision seemed obvious. We will sell out. We will put RDJ on the cover. We will rationalize it all on payday.

But then we thought about it for a few days and started to feel icky. The questions started to gnaw at us. Is RDJ really the kind of role model we want for our magazine? Will putting him on the cover glorify his self-destructive behavior? Will our subscribers be offended by this brazen move towards the mainstream? And, most of all, will RDJ even return our phone calls? These are the things we think about, the spiritual politics of playing in the big media circus. Do we step into the mainstream like we're in charge or keep our heads down and walk safely and quietly through the subculture.

In the end we decided the RDJ cover was more of a spoof then a real cover. We chose instead a spectacular image from an underground artist named Morpheus. It probably won't warrant placement next to 'Details' or 'Spin', but it will find a nice spot in the alternative section and probably deserves more exposure than RDJ anyway. And though I hate to use the term "keepin' it real" when I'm not all pimped-out in my black velvet Nike track suit, that is essentially what we are doing here. We changed the name but we heven't changed the game. That RDJ shit, we was just frontin' on that, for real.

Tags : psychedelic
Rating : Teen - Drugs
Posted on: 2001-05-03 00:00:00