Radar “is aimed at young, urban readers with a special sensibility,” Roshan told the Sun. Young urban readers with special sensibilities already have, among other publications, The Source and The Fader and Vice, indisputably original, authentically generation-specific magazines—and it seems telling that while Radar has an ordinary Q&A with the front man of the eighties band New Order, the profoundly irreverent Vice has a piece by the guy in its current issue.
Radar “has a little bit of an Internet sensibility,” explains its co-owner Mort Zuckerman, and that’s true—but it may be misguided as a basis for a new bi-monthly magazine in 2005. I wonder if radio executives in the fifties pitched new shows with the promise that they had a little bit of a television sensibility. In fact, Radar’s Website is entertaining and robust—and by its very existence suggests that online is the more appropriate medium for the Radar idea.
But enough about you.
“Of course,” Roshan said to the Sun about his magazine, “there are bits and pieces of other magazines.” According to Radar’s media kit, “We’re poised to become one of those rare titles—like Rolling Stone in the 70s, Spy in the 80s and Vanity Fair in the 90s—that define a cultural moment by getting there first.” I guess the present cultural moment must be extremely similar to the cultural moment of the eighties, because Radar has quite a few rather striking similarities to Spy.
This may be graceless of me to point out, since I co-founded Spy nineteen years ago (and a decade later hired Maer at this magazine). However, I have always been delighted by Spy’s various influences on other publications. And maybe Radar is the very sincerest form of flattery, like a tribute band.
Yet Spy itself, although influenced by The New Yorker and Time and Mad and Private Eye, digested those influences to create something more or less original. That’s what any new publication ought to aim to do—you may or may not like Wired, Maxim, Martha Stewart Living, Fast Company, In Style, or Lucky, but each was a sui generis creation, not a sampled and remixed cover version of another magazine.
Radar officially describes itself as “Funny and Fearless,” half of Spy’s founding slogan. At its launch party were life-size cardboard cutouts of Paris Hilton with which one could pose; at Spy’s were life-size cardboard cutouts of Tina Brown and William Shawn. Radar contains a dozen funny charts, and many dozens of small, silly, silhouetted photographic heads; Spy essentially invented both forms, as it did the comic real-world hoax, each of which was labeled “A Spy Prank.” In the new magazine, a stunt involving fake celebrity-branded bottled water is labeled “A Radar Prank.” Radar opens with an essay that archly stitches together stray bits of recent news, just as Spy did. Its cover package resembles several Spy cover packages, as well as one of Spy’s NBC specials (How to Be Famous). Radar’s Four Seasons VIP seating map is reminiscent of Spy’s Russian Tea Room VIP seating map. (Spy billed itself as “The New York Monthly,” and embraced its parochialism unabashedly; Radar is launching as a national magazine, and it’s possible that some people beyond the metropolitan area may not be desperate to know where The Four Seasons’ owner would seat Leslee Dart and Bonnie Fuller.) Radar’s joke clip-out form for libel plaintiffs appeared in Spy in 1989, and its piece about William Shatner self-parodically remaking his career was done in Spy in 1991. Radar’s clever back-page index to the issue is an innovation since the last issue; Spy’s started appearing in 1990. And so on.
Yet if you’re going to simulate Spy, you can’t also be, oh, Details-like. After thirteen pages of nonstop smarty-pants skepticism, you can’t suddenly run straight-ahead puff pieces about the director of Donnie Darko (“living with buddies in a Venice Beach . . . bachelor pad”) and up-and-coming rock acts (“The New British Invasion: Introducing five bloody good U.K. bands”).
Like Talk before it, Radar seems beset by a fundamental uncertainty about what it’s supposed to be. Talk’s raisons d’être were Harvey Weinstein’s burning desire to own a magazine and Tina Brown’s burning desire to start her own company at a moment when everyone appeared to be getting rich starting a company. Radar seems driven by Roshan’s burning desire to start a cool magazine, not by any singular, fresh editorial vision. Mort Zuckerman, more power to him, is candid about his own jones. “I am insane,” he told the Sun when he was asked why he had funded Radar. “I have been in the magazine business for 30 years. And wanting to be in this business is not rational. But I love it.” In other words, having sold The Atlantic and Fast Company, and failed to buy New York last year, Zuckerman, left only with the also-ran tabloid (the Daily News) and the also-ran newsmagazine (U.S. News), hankers to own a publication that his friends might read or talk about. The financial risk for him is minor—the launch and four issues published this year shouldn’t cost more than a few million. I’m glad there are still angels like him around, rich guys willing to underwrite irrational, mischievous long shots, and that there are smart, passionate editors determined to start new magazines. It’s too bad, though, that this particular long shot is more of a revival than an original show.