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Swing Kids

Generation X's New Magazine Is A Flop

By Joshua A. Kaufman

Don't think this is going to be The New Republic," warns David Lauren about his new magazine, Swing.

He needn't worry.

What Lauren, who is 22, bills as a "general interest magazine for twenty-somethings" offers more of a collection of trends and triggers directed toward Ivy Leaguers. Even in that respect, it fails to be captivating. Lauren's lack of qualifications as an editor confronts the reader on every page.

I called Lauren--son of fashion maven Ralph Lauren--to investigate how he was going to transform the undergraduate journal he created at his alma mater, Duke University, into a national glossy. Swing first attracted my attention at the June Presidential Gala held at the New York Sheraton Hotel. At the Democratic fund-raiser, 20-something women were fawning over a certain not-so-tall guy in a loose-fitting navy pinstripe suit. He was David, they said, and he was starting a magazine for Generation X--American 20-somethings whom he (and the executives marketing Swing) knew to have tremendous economic power.

Lauren's publication is nothing more than a newfangled collection of buzzwords. The cover of November's premiere issue features text-art including AIDS, the Internet, Sex, Phat, Apathy, Slacker, Segregation, Lollapallooza, Beavis, Butthead, Real World, Influential, Multicultural, Promiscuous, Activists, Brady Bunch, Woodstock, Skeptical, Cynical, Bust, Boom, Driven, Idealist and Hype.

Too bad Swing doesn't represent any of them.

Lauren writes ironically in his first editor's note that "Swing is about men and women in their 20s who have ingeniously realized their aspirations in the face of hardship." But the magazine has a great deal more to do with the leisurely diversions of the young, wealthy and idle--including Lauren and his friends who run the publication. Indeed, Swing is a product of spoiled suburban children who play at publishing and editorializing.

In an interview last week, Lauren said Swing aims for the lowa factory worker as much as the college-educated preppie. "Chris Barron (the Spin Doctors' lead singer whom the magazine profiled in its first issue) lives on a farm in Washington," he offers.

Swing's first section sells itself a "guide to the hipper things in life." It contains short briefs on current yuppie trends: indoor rock climbing, coffee houses with computer ports, poetry slams, cigars for women as smoked by Madonna, which bars are "hot" in New York this month and what to drink when you go to them. One column contains advice on how to arrange antiques in your dilapidated apartment; another presents an inquiry on who should pay the check.

Following that excitement comes a flagrantly hypocritical book review of Late Bloomers. The review decries the book's encapsulation of the Generation X philosophy that is ironically the very basis for Swing. In a separate review of a book on Japanese youth culture, Michael Krantz instructs, "Here's how real journalism happens: You find a worthy subject, buy yourself a notebook and go learn something." David Lauren should take heed.

Serious matters face the generation in question, but this magazine hardly defines them. Its cover story and only political piece, "The Paradox Generation," fails in its attempt to place the political identity of Generation X. Author Bridget Quinn--who "runs a not-for-profit rock climbing organization"--notes in the article that while Generation X-ers use computers, they still love books. On this point, she dismisses the entire significance and implications of the information and communication revolution. After all, much of Generation X remains off-line.

On politics, Quinn writes of her generation that "[w]e both participate and we don't." She explains that many volunteer in their towns, but fail to vote because of cynicism about government. Perhaps she was speaking about her editor, David Lauren, who admits that he failed to vote in last Tuesday's elections, though he did "send out chain letters to get out the vote."

According to Quinn, Generation X is utterly confused on every other issue, too, including safe sex, the environment, multiculturalism and alternative lifestyles. In political terms, the article concludes, its readership is hopelessly divided.

So what unites them? Why is Lauren publishing a magazine just for them? The answer lies in the pursuit of leisure.

Other stories printed in the November premiere issue are titled How to Become a Recording Mogul; American and Disaffected at Oxford; Mountain Biking and Me (sponsored by Polo Sport); and A History Lesson with the Spin Doctors' Lead. The heart of the magazine is a Fortune take-off that attempts to portray America's Most Powerful 20-Somethings. That Julia Roberts qualifies for the list is symbolic of the standards. But even more significant is the shallowness of the portraits, including quotations lifted from the interviews of other magazines.

In that piece, Lauren intended to create "positive profiles of people who [sic] we admire." Why not throw the hard questions at them? Why not quiz these "role models" about how they achieved success so early, what motivated them, what obstacles they faced? "Swing doesn't have to be an angry downtown magazine to connect," Lauren explains.

Lauren fails to see the difference between angry and critical. The naive and simplistic writing that results from such an editorial perspective is constant throughout Swing, with one large exception. Of 108 total pages, 37 are filled by advertising.

Swing's hypocritical marketing strategy is bothersome; the magazine aims directly at Generation X but attempts to trash that very concept. If, as Swing says, X is a commercial creation, the magazine is not only playing into it, but profiting from it.

At Nini's Corner, the twenty-something magazine seller told me that he actually thought Swing had definite potential. Out of Town News has given a prominent rack and multiple windows to the magazine. Lauren says his creation "sold out" at Stanford, and beat out Time, Forbes and Esquire for the twenty-something age group in Boston.

We can attribute this phenomenon of sales to a first edition. The numbers give credence to the economists who declare that 20-somethings have money to burn. This magazine, however, does not speak to that generation. The greatest paradox made evident by Swing magazine is its very existence.

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