I am a sucker for a bargain. Every week, I hit the BOGOs (Buy One Get One Free deals – though they really should be called BOGOFs, considering the free portion of the deal is the most important) at my local grocery store, stocking up on olive oil, tea bags, lactose-free vanilla ice cream and A1 Steak Sauce. Okay, in the latter case, it’s more like Buy Seven Get Seven Free, but let’s not squabble over details. Regardless of my penchant for a deal, I pride myself on not purchasing crap we don’t use – which is why our pantry is not stocked with forty-four cans of green beans (Good lord, they can’t give those things away. They’re on sale every single week.) and why Mrs. Paul Fish Sticks remain in the freezer section at the store.
However, there’s something about Amazon.com’s $5 magazine sale that is simply mesmerizing. I love magazines – and for a time, my addiction to periodicals was becoming something of a financial burden, but less harmful to my esophagus than my issues with A1 Steak Sauce. I’d stock up as I waited in the grocery line, carefully stacking not one, not two, not three, but four trash magazines about celebrities and their silly little lives on top of my BOGO cans of diced tomatoes. At anywhere from $2.95 to $3.99 a pop, I easily spent ten to fifteen bucks a week just so I could keep up with who Justin Bieber was dating; whether or not Kim Kardashian’s right ass cheek had suddenly deflated – as I fully expect it will one day; and what species of monkey Snooki is and how I can expedite its extinction.
In this pop culture obsessed era, I can’t possibly keep up with the times any other way since I refuse to watch most tawdry reality programming on television and I don’t own a teenager. If I’d had the sense to purchase a child at the appropriate time, I’d have a serf at my beck and call who would not only be completely prepared to report to me a summary of this week’s Gossip Girl episode and the name of Katy Perry’s latest hit song on demand, but could also explain to me the allure of Chris Brown and why Rihanna continues to associate with him. Is she coming out with a new makeup line that includes eye shadow shades called “Bruise” and “Welt”? What? Too soon?
Were I a complete simpleton, life would be much less expensive because I would stop after snapping up my regular copies of Us Weekly and Life and Style. But I’ve got to have my Vanity Fair, Wired, The Atlantic, Time, Discover and a wide variety of other periodicals that my husband and I inhale the way a college philosophy major sucks up the smoke from the mouth of a bong. Then Amazon.com came into my life – and with it, emails advertising its innocuous $5 magazine sale. For the price of five copies of People, I could enjoy an entire year of Condé Nast Traveler, National Geographic, Popular Science and Woman’s Day. Twelve whole months! But I didn’t stop at four magazines, I clicked the subscribe button again and again, each time mentally figuring my savings. I could read The New Yorker for less than eleven cents per issue; I’d finally have the opportunity to bury myself in the short stories I’d always aspired to write, and read reviews about plays and concerts and gallery showings I’d never be able to attend since I live over a thousand miles away in Florida. How sophisticated I would become – something a free gallon of Breyers had never done for me. And this is where we arrive at the nexus of my problem, otherwise known as Cosmopolitan.
As a twenty-something, upwardly-mobile young woman, Cosmo had been my bible, teaching me everything from how to build abs strong enough to weather a nuclear blast to how to select the perfect jeans for my arachnid-longish legs to how to perform fellatio with warm honey in my mouth without gagging. Okay, I only actually mastered the second item on that list, much to my husband’s chagrin. As I hit my mid-thirties, I discovered that there’s really only about a hundred sex tips out there and that the magazine recycles them, in the same way I pull out that dress I wore to the office Christmas party three years ago and wear it again – to this year’s party – hoping my husband’s co-workers were too drunk to remember that particular chartreuse number. I no longer care to know “What Men Really Think,” only what my husband really thinks when I ask him if I look fat in said chartreuse cocktail dress. Fully capable of achieving an orgasm, selecting a nail polish color without consulting an expert, and extremely competent at flat-ironing my own hair, Cosmo has lost its strange spiritual and maternal hold on me. Yes, I’m all grown up.
Yet, there I was, tempted by the opportunity to again peruse its glossy pages for a mere forty-two cents a month. I couldn’t buy a single can of diced tomatoes for that price. Perhaps there were new ways to remove bikini hair painlessly or a revolutionary naughty move I could try out with my hubby that didn’t involve sticky food products, electronics or furry handcuffs. I could be missing out. So unlike the fish sticks, I stuck a year’s worth of Cosmopolitan – the veritable whore of all women’s magazines – into my virtual grocery cart, paid for it with my debit card and awaited its arrival.
And so it came. Sealed in clear plastic lest the mailman drool over (or worse…ugh) the inevitable display of cleavage on the front cover – a marketing strategy that never quite made sense to me unless the publisher was secretly targeting lesbians and men – I opened it with the hope that something had changed in the decade since I’d read this particular rag religiously. But nothing had. With the sheer exception of Selena Gomez’s ample bosom gracing the cover instead of Cindy Crawford’s, not much was different – the layout, the general content, the sex tips, the platform sandals, the emaciated models – all the same. Except for one thing. The advertisements – which had gotten even worse.
I know. Before you say it – how could advertisements get worse? Especially in the pages of Cosmo. Well, they can. Or, more accurately put, manufacturers seem to have given up when it comes to lower-rent magazine ads – and the products they represent. In fact, they can’t be bothered to even give the product a decent name.
Case in point: Dolce & Gabbana’s fragrance, light blue. Dominating the back cover of Cosmo in a full page, color ad – generally one of the most expensive placements a sponsor can purchase – the promotion insulted me with both the female model’s wide-angled, white bikini-clad crotch shot, and Dolce & Gabbana’s failure to even try when it came to selecting a moniker for its over-priced eau de toilette. I mean, really. Light blue? That’s the best they could come up with? Were azure, aquamarine, beryl, turquoise, teal, sea, sapphire, ice, cerulean, topaz, ocean, daffodil, pale, Prussian, smoky, baby, royal, indigo, cobalt, ultramarine, cornflower, berry, sky, periwinkle, wisteria, violet, steel, electric, powder, cyan, midnight and Persian really already taken? It’s as though D&G’s marketing department decided to pull an April Fool’s Day prank on its designers and said, “Hey, let’s tell ‘em the focus groups LOVED the name light blue! We’ll say it test-marketed off the charts. It’ll be payback for last year’s crappy Christmas bonus. Italian bastards!”
Naming a perfume light blue is worse than just calling it blue. At least, blue is simple. In fact, it’s elegant in its purity and restraint. It’s evocative. It could be a color. It could be an emotion. It could be part of a French curse. Perhaps that’s why Chanel called one of its fragrances, Bleu de Chanel. (Don’t even try to argue with Coco or her company – even though she’s dead, her pearls and taste live on.) However, by prefacing blue with something as utterly dull as the word light, D&G effectively spit in our collective female faces, then said in a withering Italian accent, “You just weren’t worth the effort. We couldn’t be bothered to come up with something memorable or interesting or elegant, you silly readers of American slut magazines. In fact, we’re not even going to bother capitalizing the name. Vaffanculo!”
Now, I wouldn’t expect Wired or National Geographic to advertise perfume, so I turned to my trusty copy of Vanity Fair, the bastion of expensive advertising. Sure enough, D&G didn’t dare run an ad for light blue in VF’s pages. Why advertise their unimaginatively-named toilet water in a magazine read by people for whom sapphire and Tiffany blue are the norm? (What? I have sapphires. They’re my birthstone.) Possessing higher expectations than the average Cosmo disciple, VF readers have paid top dollar over the years for the likes of wordsmithing by Christopher Hitchens, Salman Rushdie, Dorothy Parker, Clare Booth Luce, Langston Hughes, A. Scott Berg, Dominick Dunne and Sebastian Junger. Somehow, I just don’t see Rushdie ever penning an column for Cosmo entitled, “Little Black Dresses That Will Garner You Death Threats” or Berg authoring an in-depth profile on Charles Lindbergh’s “Top Ten Sexual Positions Bound To Drive Your Man Airborne.” Nope. They have higher standards and – at 43 – I probably should as well.
But I was conned by the promise of a $5 bargain. Sucked into the frigid, air-conditioned pages of a glittering casino-like magazine splashed with bright, gaudy colors; tantalizing words like sex and orgasm and shoes and pedicure and handbag flashing at me like a strobe light above a one-armed bandit; and a veritable smorgasbord – an all-you-can-eat buffet, if you will – of information about understanding and pleasing the complex species known as Man, and how to look skinny, fashionable and youthful while doing it. And now, I’m paying for it. Five whole bucks – and I’m forced to look at the perfectly-waxed crotch of an anorexic, spray-tanned model wearing a white bikini (Hello! Always a mistake – I don’t care if they’re supposedly lined.) while being embraced by an equally-bronzed male model who stares at me mockingly while hocking a woman’s perfume that doesn’t have the decency to don an appropriately vivid and eloquent name in the same manner that one dons a robe before answering an early-morning knock at the door.
Before I completed my character assassination of D&G’s lame ass branding (How’s that for eloquent?), I figured I should see if any other designers, pseudo-celebrities or perfumeries put as little time and effort into naming their fragrances. Perhaps this isn’t indicative of disrespect for the Cosmo-level clientele on behalf of the perfume industry; perhaps the people who make “stink-um,” as my grandmother used to call it, are just lazy by nature. My research uncovered a vast spectrum in the fragrance-naming game, but here are a few of my favorites:
Cumming by Alan Cumming
Funeral Home by Demeter Fragrance Library
Full Choke by Francesco Smalto
Solar Donkey Power by Henrik Vibskov
McGraw Southern Blend by Tim McGraw
Of course, my taste leans towards the gutter and the latter sounds like a whiskey I’d buy if I drank whiskey. That said, even
morons celebrities like Paris Hilton put more thought into their perfume branding than D&G. Though Heiress, Can Can, and Fairy Dust aren’t names that reek of elegance or imagination, at least they smell of some level of effort, however small. And how embarrassing is that? Yes, Dolce & Gabanna, Paris Hilton did a better job at something than you – and it didn’t involve wearing an uber short dress, carrying an accessory animal, being talentless, or shrieking, “So hot!” when prompted.
And with that, I am cancelling my subscription to Cosmopolitan, folks. My aging heart can’t handle the rage that burns in me when insulted by fragrance ads aimed at vapid college students who think cunnilingus is the latin word for clever. Or worse, a sexually-transmitted disease. Bargain or no bargain, I can’t afford to believe there are more sexual tricks than I already know – or am sufficiently-flexible to perform upon request. Fashion has already been restricted to black, basic black, slimming back, lacy black, sparkly black, sexy low-cut black, clingy black, black Spanx and the jeans that Cosmo taught me years ago I could wear without looking ridiculously pear-shaped. And I understand my man – at least enough to know that my roasted rosemary chicken served up with steamed asparagus makes him deliriously happy and that he really appreciates it if I put the television timer on before we fall asleep at night. He’s my real bargain – and there’s not another one like him to get for free if I tried.