By Holly Bancroft
Bauer Media announced a few weeks ago that it is to suspend publication of lads’ magazines FHM and Zoo. With the last lads’ mags closing down it seems as if the industry is well and truly over. For many this should lead to joy over this step towards getting rid of the circulation of sexually-objectifying images. Unfortunately what this really highlights is the move of these images to the online sphere. Don’t get me wrong, lobbying succeeded in putting pressure on big organisations to condemn these magazines, but nothing can beat the growth of the Internet when it comes to killing print publications. This truth is something people should be a lot more worried about. Lads’ mags were easily identifiable culprits to target but the world of online pornography, which could be replacing them, is far harder to regulate, far easier to access and a lot more hard-core.
This shift is something Bauer Media completely understands. In their statement addressing the difficulty of running the lads’ mags they said “men’s media habits have continually moved towards mobile and social.” Campaigns such as ‘Lose the Lads Mags’ helped achieve the decisions of big supermarkets, in 2013, to take a stand against these magazines. The Cooperative group demanded that lads’ magazines mask the explicit pictures on their front covers and Tesco said they would only sell the publications to over-18s. However, when campaigns such as ‘Lose the Lads Mags’ became prominent, circulation figures of such magazines had already dropped by a tenth of their 2004 peaks. Many of the decisions of these big supermarket chains simply confirmed a trend that was already arising due to growth of the Internet.
One of the qualities of the Lads’ mag, and why it hung on for so long, was that it could carefully toe the line between being a provider of all things lad-culture – of ‘harmless fun’ – and a provider of semi-explicit misogynistic content. Often playing the line of irony or purposely affected ignorance, it was never 100% certain whether they took themselves seriously or not. Loaded’s strap line was “For men who should know better”. Titles such as FHM and Zoo were known for their brash tone and nudity but didn’t really go beyond this. It is true their writing was derogatory, with women often being seen as a commodity, however they never offered graphic content to the extent it can be found on the internet. Their tone was centred more on ‘laddish’ banter combined with the girls to sell it. In one issue of Maxim the headline “Fresh off the boat” gave readers the chance of a date with an immigrant, or the latest “hot foreign girl looking for love as a way to avoid deportation”. Another feature encouraged readers to compete for a date with a picture of naked model who had her head covered, being warned that she has a problem with her face.
From this I think we can all agree that it is good that Lads’ Mags have died, hopefully never to come back. However, this depends on what the gap they have left is filled by. Lads’ mags could be being replaced by sites such as theLADbible or theSPORTbible which already claim 127 million readers, simply acting as a ‘laddy’ version of BuzzFeed. Although these sites may propagate unhelpful views of ‘lad culture’ they are perhaps better than the other alternative: porn. For young men with access to a limitless array of free pornography the allure of a ‘tastefully nude’ glamour model is no longer such as draw.
Lads’ magazines may have had pictures of scantily-clad girls but those girls were sometimes given a voice and they were at least accompanied with feature articles on men’s health or entertainment. This cannot really be said of any porn film. Whatever they are being replaced by we have to recognise that the issues these magazines presented have not gone away, they have just transitioned into a different medium.
The work to eradicate them is not yet done.
Image: Peters, Hans / Anefo via Wikimedia Commons