Sunday, February 21, 2010

O Canada

So a recent opportunity saw me pick up a few stray issues of some Canadian publications - the internationally-available (and personally adored) ELLE, and the Canada-only FLARE.

O, O Canada. Thou hast missed the mark.

Nations have personalities - often informed by broad strokes and outdated stereotypes, but as I flipped through these shy-of-the-mark versions of what should be perfectly sumptuous glossies, I found myself slowly shaking my head. Was Canada REALLY the clueless, adorable, utilitarian-minded nation all the sketch comedy had suggested it was? Was there truly no tiny vein of hedonism, no nominal cache of decadence in the Canadian collective psyche?

The paper stock inside the ELLE cover was rough and thick, almost industrial. Any semblance of the rich, mirror-polished pages of US ELLE or the thin-but-slick oversized pages of UK ELLE was completely lost - this was almost a parody of the publication, as though some Canadian magazine-smith was re-creating the title from a distant memory and all the wrong ingredients. "I seem to remember there were photos," she'd say, "and possibly they were of women?"

The ads were low-rent, and for mundane items more at home on a Wal-Mart discount shelf than at a Fifth Avenue department store. I've always applauded ELLE for being upper-middle-couture; it doesn't get as lost in its escapism as VOGUE or the more independent off-format titles, but even the most populist issue of ELLE rests glamorously on a satin-clad bed of advertisements for unattainable baubles and apparel. It's an important substructure; this is a fashion magazine, after all, and if pedigree isn't on display, then delicious artifice quickly starts to taste like tawdry commercialism. I shouldn't feel advertised to, I should feel as though I'm being decadently exposed.

If you can remember back to your childhood, over at a friend's house and eating some homemade version of a popular commercial snack that someone's mom painstakingly (but misguidedly) engineered in her non-commercial kitchen, that's ELLE Canada. ELLE Canada is your friend's mom's homemade "Snickers Bars".

On to FLARE.

I have to start by saying that any positive bias for this issue is fully credited to my admitted Selma Blair crush; it's hard to completely discard any issue that grants me full-page photography of Ms. Blair, so adjust your expectations accordingly.

FLARE suffers from the same populist-plebeian aftertaste that ELLE Canada gives, the notion that this is a magazine for fashionistas whose ancestral DNA lies in the lumbermill and not at the boutique. The pages in this case suffer from that greatest of flaws: the too-cheap transparency that makes backside text bleed through onto lighter photoshoots. There's nothing so mood-breaking as a gorgeous, white-backed full bleed photo with the next page's title poking through in the negative space. It's like dipping a diamond in ketchup. While the content is more focused on lifestyle than fashion, there's nothing delectable, nothing decadent in these pages. It's answering the call for excess with "that'll do". And again, maybe that's the heart and soul of Canada - in which case the rational individual in me praises them for their sensibility and resistance to abhorrent commercialism. But the glossy junkie in me knows now to steer clear of the Great North.