The Bad News
We at Pissup were saddened to hear the news that both FHM and Zoo were being taken off the shelves. Bauer Media, the publisher of both titles, has decided to cease publishing the magazines by 2016 – in both digital and print forms. This decision comes after both Nuts magazine and FHM’s rival, Loaded closed in both 2014 and 2015 respectively. In 2000 FHM had a circulation of around 700,000 and this has dropped to around 70,000 in the first quarter of this year. While FHM was moving to online digital-based subscriptions these were evidently not coming on fast enough for the publishers. According to the Guardian Bauer has declined to comment on the reasons for the closures, though it’s clear the digital revolution has much to do with this decision.
There is an argument that these magazine closures mark the end for ‘lad culture’. Many social justice warriors are probably popping corks at the news of the end of FHM and Zoo and the death of ‘the lad’. But judging by the popularity of Pissup stag do weekends that could not be further from the truth. Lad culture is alive and well. It is true when news reporters and commentators say that this is the end of an era. So this blog is a tribute to lads’ mags in all their varieties, their history, why they were important (to me and other guys), and what the future will hold for lad magazines.
A Brief History of Lad Culture
One of the first lads’ magazine, Arena, was published in 1986 in the UK. Arena joined a section of the market colonised by GQ and Esquire, titles that has broadened out from focusing on men’s fashion to covering other men-related topics. These titles promoted a high-end luxury living with reviews of 5 star hotels and sports cars. GQ itself has been branded as a ‘metrosexual’ magazine with its features on men’s beauty and top of the range brands such as Gucci and Burberry. Their popularity in the 1980s could be said to have coincided with the Thatcher/Reagan era where conspicuous consumption was all the rage – and looking perfect a la Patrick Bateman in American Psycho was the ideal for a lot of men.
It could be argued that was the reason why the 1990s was the true era of the lad mag. In Britain at least this was a time when pop-culture was starting to reject a clean-cut image in favour of something dirtier and more working class. The 1990s saw the rise of bands like Oasis whose frontman Liam Gallagher dressed in football shirts, sank pints of lager and frequently put two fingers up at the camera. Even in supposedly rarefied sections of the culture artists like Damien Hirst were sawing animals in half and putting them in tanks of formaldehyde. The behaviour of male artists and musicians was barking back to the Hellraisers of the past, working class heroes like Peter O’Toole and Richard Harris who were unashamedly manly. They liked to get drunk, they wanted to seduce women and live life to the full.
FHM magazine (For Him Magazine) was first published in 1985. It’s circulation shot up in 1994 after it became a monthly magazine. Loaded began publication in the same year and soon captured the market with its irreverent style. What singled out both Loaded and FHM was not just the attitude but the content. Compared to GQ the girls featured on the covers were not skinny waifs from the catwalk, but glamour models who reflected what the average guy was attracted to. FHM’s brand grew with the creation of ‘The Sexiest Woman of the Year’ award. These magazines discussed things that men cared about like football, movies – and reviewed stag weekends abroad (including ones organised by Pissup).
Lads Mags – the debate
Picking up these magazines at the newsagents in the late 90s was an education in and of itself. I have to admit I’ve always been more of a GQ man, but I, like many of my nerdish friends would read FHM pretty religiously in our mid to late teens. The problem with GQ was that the life it was promoting was out of reach for most guys – except maybe those who had Rich Kids of Instagram upbringings. The fashion section would review expensive clothes or discuss accessories and grooming products that were only available, pre-Internet, if you lived in London. FHM and Loaded were different in that they were targeting an audience which wasn’t based in SW3 or the Home Counties.
FHM and Loaded were refreshing because they revelled in being a lad. Packed with rude jokes, hilarious interviews, funny pranks and scantily girls – they were a kind of antidote to the serious, politically correct culture of the time. Many lads in Britain will still be able to recall iconic front pages such as the Gail Porter nude cover, which the TV presenter recently recreated to mark her 40th birthday. However at the time of their popularity there were debates about the nature of lads magazines and many a campaign to stifle their more ‘explicit’ content.
Criticism of Lads Mags
Campaigns such as ‘No More Page 3’ which targeted the Sun newspapers infamous topless third page, broadened out to attack lads mags for being misogynistic. Some feminist critics argued that the magazines sexualised women turning them into objects. Martin Daubney who edited Loaded from 2003 to 2010 wrote recently in a piece in the mainstream press stating that he felt he had contributed to the ‘pornification’ of society.
However not all men’s magazines were or are the same. Rosie Boycott who edited Esquire believes that she managed to celebrate women’s sexuality without demeaning it. Others have argued that with the growing availability of porn lads mags look rather tame in comparison. It is clear that at least in public forums attitudes have shifted, but probably their popularity reflected a demand among working and lower middle class lads in Britain for a magazine tailored for them. And this was always going to rub up against metropolitan progressive attitudes.
Whatever your opinion about lads mags it has to be said they were fun: promoting an adrenaline packed, you only live once, pub culture that was accessible to the majority of the British (male) population!
A New Era
Every medium has its hay day – and for FHM and Loaded it was the mid 90s to the early noughts. While criticism from various corners probably did nothing to dent their popularity the digital revolution did. Now young men have access to online content at the click of a button without having to fork out any money for it. And while Loaded pushed the boundaries for what was acceptable with semi-nude women on their covers, online porn makes it look tame in comparison. Since media has moved online circulation for nearly all magazines has gone down. But like all cultural revolutions the move towards digital content has spelled the beginning of a new era for the lad mag. While Loaded stopped printing its magazine in 2014 it has since shifted to a purely online-based platform, and is now producing content that, in its own words, is far ‘classier’.
There are also new players on the scene who are tapping into the new opportunities available online. Online magazines such as Sabotage Times are packed full with lad-related content, and which is open to new contributors. Likewise the Lad Bible has harnessed social media to collate images and stories that are full of the old no-holds barred humour that FHM and others popularised.
So the future looks pretty bright for lad culture as a whole, as shown by the amount of guys booking stag weekends full of guns, booze and girls!