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October 20, 2004


Race and Consumerism

We young urban people are a popular crowd these days, at least among magazine publishers. Radar (remember that, ADM?) is relaunching with funding from new backers (as mentioned on the Link Factory,) and yesterday I received a mailer detailing how Complex magazine can benefit me, or the "young, urban man" that the enclosed letter assumed I am. While Radar sticks to the same kind of sassy celebrity and pop culture "news" that is pretty much the same territory as Us Weekly or Star, Complex is, as its name suggests, more complex. You see, Complex was founded by Marc Ecko, the white guy from New Jersey who has built a hugely successful street clothing and hip-hop-related brand. The really innovative thing about his magazine is that it combines pop culture news and hip-hop feature articles with, get this, a shopping guide! We all know that men are no longer immune from hyper-consumerism, as evidenced by Cargo and Vitals, so where exactly is the innovation in Complex, except that they think I am a man?

It appears that Marc Ecko, in developing his magazine, figured that if he's white, and he likes hip hop, and lots of black men like his clothes, then there must be a lot more white guys out there like him. Guys that want to read about Eve and Mos Def and Beyonce, and also buy jetskis and underwater cameras. Right? AND, he also figured that since a lot of black guys buy his clothes and like his style, they might also want to read about Franz Ferdinand, Zach Braff, and Sheryl Crow, and also buy watches. [See back issues here for more eclectic cover stars]

OK, Sheryl Crow might have been a bad example because nobody is actually interested in reading about her, but still, my point is that I don't think that these black-kids-into-white-culture and white-kids-into-black-culture exist in the numbers that Ecko seems to think they do. Or if they do, it is exclusively in terms of consumerism. The half-lifestyle, half-shopping guide format of the magazine indicates that Ecko is at least somewhat aware of this limitation. Black guys who like hip-hop and and are somewhat into white culture might want read about some of these products, but probably don't really care about The Beta Band. Likewise, tons of white guys listen to rap and wear sneakers and other athletic gear, but are they going to want to read an interview with Kelis? And is anyone who reads a magazine like this actually in the market to buy a Bentley, as featured in the "Ten Best Whips of '04" feature?

People who are interested in the pop-cultural trappings of another race are probably only interested in just that--the trappings, which is why a magazine that integrates the consumer needs of black and white readers will probably do fairly well. Creating a single magazine that brings together the more general interests of white and black young urban men is an admirable goal, but I'm not sure that cultural interests cross racial lines for the typical American man as much as Ecko thinks they do, unless you're only talking about cool sneakers. And of course, that other universal point of interest, pictures of hot girls making out. It's only $6 for a six-issue subscription, so if you're all about multiculturalism and shopping, this may be the magazine for you. As one Amazon reviewer writes, "I like how they do the flip thing, one side is called the 'magazine' and flip it over and it's the 'guide' which gives you some info (prices, websites, where you can buy it, etc.) on a couple hundred products. I think it's worth the price; especially if you're a big-spender like myself." Hey, big spender, I'm surprised you can even tell the difference between the two sides of the magazine. But that's the whole point, isn't it?

categories: Business, Culture, Media, Race
posted by amy at 3:55 PM | #

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