Boys will be boys: as the Nineties progressed men's magazines "had only one button to press: sex". Photo: David Turner/Rex Features
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Dylan Jones: The New Lad – my part in his downfall

Two decades ago, a new kind of man emerged intent on having it all. GQ editor Dylan Jones asks what happened to him.

The New Lad died a long time ago, but although I certainly had a hand in leading him to the edge of the cliff – he was smart enough to jump before he was pushed – I have to hold up my hand and admit I was partly responsible for his birth.

In 1991 I was the editor of the men’s magazine Arena, which was an offshoot of the 1980s style bible The Face. That year we published a piece called “Here comes the New Lad”, 1,800 words that heralded the emergence of

. . . a rather schizoid, post-feminist fellow with an inbuilt psychic regulator that enables him to imperceptibly alter his consciousness according to the company he keeps. Basically, the New Lad aspires to New Man status when he’s with women, but reverts to Old Lad type when he’s out with the boys. Clever, eh?

The essay anticipated the publication of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, a book that not only elevated football to a cultural position it hadn’t held since the glory days of 1966, but also allowed men to wallow in their obsessional tendencies in a way that had rarely been done before, creating a publishing genre bolstered by Hornby’s next book, High Fidelity, which explored the male fetish for cataloguing music.

Suddenly, men were encouraged to revert to adolescence, to become myopic in their pursuits, and to claim cultural emancipation in the process. And there appeared to be hundreds of thousands of them. Our piece had identified men’s sympathetic responses to feminism, yet their inability to embrace it wholeheartedly. More importantly, it identified a stereotype that would soon start to define the 1990s – a man who started to have magazines aimed at him: Loaded, FHM, Maxim, Front, etc, ad nauseam, repeat to fade.

To look at the dozens of men’s magazines that launched in the 1990s, seven or eight years after GQ, you could have been forgiven for thinking that the Alpha Male had had some sort of frontal lobotomy. Apparently you couldn’t be a man unless everything you consumed, everything you appreciated, everything you read, watched and listened to came complete with its own inverted commas – big yellow foam inverted commas that proved you didn’t take things too seriously.

Thankfully, that culture has largely disappeared and the dozens of lowbrow men’s magazines have disappeared. As the zeitgeist shifted, and men started to look elsewhere for their entertainment, so these magazines had only one button to press, which they pressed with some repetition and rather a lot of glee: sex. But the circulation woes of these magazines coincided with the mass migration to the digital world, one that was more than happy to offer any kind of sex you wanted.

Personally, I am happy that many of these magazines have gone to the wall, because even though they initially brought a lot of young men into the market, fundamentally they were reductive products that ended up insulting their readers.

When I was commissioned to write this piece, I was asked if, in editing a men’s title, there was a “balancing act” between sophistication and geezerness, the masculine and the metrosexual, the confessional and the confident.

The constituent parts of our magazine are remarkably similar to what they were when we launched in 1988. GQ was born on the back of a massive consumer boom, and reflected all the traditional, Route One virtues of manhood. It was a period when men had started to consume in ways they never had before, embracing designer lifestyles that had hitherto been denied them. Whether the GQ reader was an architect or a banker, whether he had spent his formative years reading The Face and Arena or the Guardian or the Financial Times, in 1988 he found a place to rest his head – or, rather, a place to rest his Mont Blanc fountain pen, the keys to his Porsche 911 or the Soul II Soul CD (that place probably being a Matthew Hilton “Flipper” glass coffee table, complete with cast-aluminium shark fins masquerading as legs).

The GQ generation had ambition and self-fulfilment hard-wired into it from the get-go: and we liked it that way. We embraced the exercise boom as the body beautiful became a male ideal, and we all started to become educated consumers, consuming more like women, in fact – the most sophisticated consumers of all. Some tried to label us New Men, but I don’t think many of us were comfortable being called feminist-influenced sexual revolutionaries (not in public, anyway). GQ was the manifestation of what we secretly knew to be true: we can have it all.

At least once a week I meet a journalist who has just been “let go” by a national newspaper, someone who has almost certainly had at least 25 years’ experience, but who will probably never have a newspaper staff job again.

As newspapers appear uninterested in spending money on anyone other than above-the-line columnists, so your average, well-educated, heavily experienced Fleet Street professional has become surplus to requirements. This means that there are a lot more journalists to choose from, although the content of the magazine is still largely decided by a very small team of men and women who are well versed in the issues of the masculine and the metrosexual, confessional and confident.

The trick, I think, is to trust your instincts always, to go with what you feel rather than what you think other people might want you to do. This is not an original thought, but it’s an important one. As Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Like many other publications, GQ now exists in various different digital guises. Today we are even more aware that we’re not simply competing with other magazines, but with everything that passes in front of someone’s face, whether they’re in a newsagent, on a train, a plane, in a car, on a beach, or in bed. Is our customer reading a book, his iPad, his iPhone, his laptop? Is he watching a film, talking to his wife, embracing his boyfriend or girlfriend, reading a magazine, playing a game, or writing yet another scathing report on TripAdvisor?

We are fighting for space in a world where we have no right to expect anyone’s attention. Consequently we are working harder than we have ever worked before. I don’t think there has ever been a more exciting time to be in our industry, because we live in a world now of horses and motor cars. There are still a lot of people who think they can survive simply by riding faster horses. And they’re the same people who once believed in the New Lad.

Dylan Jones is the editor-in-chief of GQ

His latest book, “Elvis Has Left The Building: The Day the King Died” is published by Duckworth (£16.99)

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Grayson Perry guest edit

India Bourke
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Pegida UK: the new face of Britain’s far-right movement, and how to challenge it

“Let them drink tea,” Birmingham tells Islamophobes.

“Spooky,” is how Pegida UK – the latest branch of a global, anti-Islam, protest group  chooses to describe its silent march on the outskirts of Birmingham. 

“Islam is Nazism incarnate,” announces its new leader, Paul Weston, to a few hundred soggy, sober, brolly-clad protesters waving “Trump is Right” placards. 


Pegida UK protestors march through the rain. Photos: India Bourke

Such numbers are a far cry from the tens of thousands who attended the movement’s inaugural rallies in Germany in 2014, in response to the perceived “Islamisation” of Europe. And they would be derisory if the cheers Weston receives from his supporters weren’t quite so chilling, nor echoed so far.

For Pegida UK is not alone. From Calais to Canberra, thousands marched in the name of the movement’s toxic platform of anti-immigration and anti-Islam last weekend. I went to see the Birmingham rally to find out why such a protest is taking place in Britain.

***

"Today is the first of many European wide demonstrations that will bring people together like never before,” Tommy Robinson, UK founder and ex-EDL leader, tells the assembled crowd. “It's planting the seed of something huge.”

Robinson hopes to exploit a gap within Britain’s far-right. Traditional groups are fractured: the British National Party was decimated at the last election, standing just eight of a previous 338 candidates. In its place, a swell of smaller, extremist bodies – from the Sigurd Legion to National Action – are pressing an ever more militant agenda. Pegida hopes to scale back the hooliganism in order to garner a wider appeal, but it shares these groups’ confrontation with Islam, and each may spur the other on.

“With Pegida we’re seeing the rise of a seminal new threat,” says Birmingham MP Liam Byrne. “In the rise of Isis and politicians like Donald Trump, you have forces determined to promote a clash of civilisations between Islam and the West. Pegida is trying to surf that wave and make sure it crashes on our shores.

Opponents hope the movement will suffer the same implosion that felled the BNP and EDL, with both leaning  too much on their leaders’ personal brands. Robinson certainly seems as adolescent as ever: laughing as he swipes away a photo of a scantily-clad blonde on his iPhone screen to show me the international Pegida leadership’s “hidden” Facebook group.

Their new apparently "suited and booted" middle-class following is also less than wholehearted. One pin-striped IT executive I speak to seems embarrassed by the whole affair: “I’m just a cowardly family man who can’t see a solution being offered by mainstream politicians. I’d be sacked if they knew I was here,” he says, declining to give his name. 


A Pegida protestor poses in front of the main stage.

As long as such hesitation prevails, Pegida UK will struggle. Still, there’s a sense more needs to be done to ensure its demise.

Matching protest with counter-protest is the traditional leftwing response, and this weekend saw thousands of Pegida opponents take to the streets across Europe. Yet, in some cases, direct confrontation can risk drowning out – even alienating – the very voices it seeks to win over.

“Smash the facists into the sea,” instructed the Twitter account of the North London Antifa group ahead of last weekend’s far-right, anti-immigration protest in Dover, where injuries were sustained by demonstrators on both sides.

***

Instead, many now believe a better answer begins with that most British of pastimes: tea and a chat.

On the day before the Birmingam march, hundreds of the city’s cross-party leaders, religious figures and citizens gathered together at Birmingham Central Mosque to share their concerns over shortcake and jalebi.

“Groups like Pegida are parasites on the real concerns people have,” says John Page from the anti-extremism group Hope not Hate. “So we have to listen to these issues to close the cracks.

Initiatives around the city will attempt to take this approach, which sets a welcome lead not just for the UK, but Europe too.

The blanket smearing by groups like Pegida of Islam as a religion of sexist, homophobic Jihadi Johns places the burden of action disproportionately on the city’s Muslims. “It is our turn now to suffer these attacks,” says Mr Ali, Birmingham Central Mosque’s 42-year-old administrator. “It was the Irish, then the Jews, and now it is the time for us. But we are proud to be British Muslims and we will do what we can to defend this country.” 

A permanent visitors gallery, Visit-my-Mosque events, and publications that condemn Isis, are just some of the ways the community is challenging demonisation. It is even hosting a documentary crew from Channel 4 – a bold move in a city still reeling from Benefits Street.


Birmingham resident, Luke Holland, at a peaceful counter-protest in the city centre.

Mr Ali says: “The extreme right know nothing about Islam, but neither do many Muslim extremists.” The mosque is therefore in the process of formulating a “code of conduct”, making clear that hate speech of any kind is unacceptable.

"We have to help young people become the next Chamberlains and Cadburys and Lucases of this city," regardless of background, says Labour councillor Habib Rehman. Instead of letting them slip into despair and extremism of any kind, "we have to tell them: 'Yes You Khan!’”

Tea and talk is not the most dramatic response to Pegida’s claim it will have “100,000 decent people on the street” by the end of the year. But, in Birmingham at least – the city of Typhoo, where bhangra is as familiar as Bournville, and “No dogs, no Irish!” still sits heavy on the collective mind – tea, for now, means hope.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.