Friday, November 30, 2012

Cosmolicious: Career Advice from a Once-Monthly Sex Almanac

Usually, there’s nothing wrong with simplicity.  I myself prefer writing that adheres to a “get to the point” basis, which not only allows you to get through a lot of information in a quicker way, but also gives you a sense of accomplishment, should you choose to read a multiple of similarly written sources.  The particular article that I wish to draw attention to is one that came from the popular and revered women’s magazine, Cosmopolitan (Cosmo for short).  Usually a magazine written for younger adult women and those more inclined to fashion and sexual exploration, the content that can be expected from such a publication can hardly be regarded as trivial.  I don’t mean that in a negative way, but as opposed to other factually based magazines like Time and National Geographic, it is generally understood that Cosmo is sold as a form of scintillating entertainment. 

The one educational gem I was able to glean from Cosmo’s webpage was an online article aptly titled “How to Deal with Difficult People at Work” by Korin Miller.  Though my expectations were not high to begin with, I determined with astounding clarity that this piece was more akin to a child’s picture book than an actual article.  The format and sentences were simple (to its own detriment), thus classifying itself as a perfect example of Plain Style writing.

The first point of interest comes simply from the aesthetic experience the reader gets while breezing through this article.  The formatting and layout is incredibly well done, both pleasing to the eye and easy to navigate.  Where most articles are just one page text blocks with a title, author and maybe a picture, this editorial took sentencing and image arrangement to a whole new level.  The amount of informative content is small... yet somehow stretched out through eight unnecessary pages, complete with “next” buttons and the occasional ad to which viewers are forcibly subjected.  Each page consists of maybe three sentences at most. Illustrating each brief bit of prose is a massive picture that is supposed to reflect on what each small stipend said.  I say “supposed to” because the photos are as unnecessary to the functioning content of the article as an appendix is to a human body.

Here’s a fun example:

The screenshot I included is from the middle of this piece, articulating the importance of listening to coworkers.   The editors obviously must have thought that the brief three sentence blip wasn’t enough to explain what was already so plainly written, including a picture that dwarfs its accompanying literature in size and interest.  Obviously that seductively glamorous woman staring expectantly at you is supposed to demonstrate what effective listening actually looks like, just in case you were confused.  Comparable to a child’s book, there is way more illustration here than actual writing which transforms the article into just a bunch of spaced-out captions.  This format draws attention from the content and suggests that the main point is actually the pictures.  Though this is mostly just a hunch, I’m willing to bet that the magazine layout manager, the model and the photographer probably got paid more than Ms. Miller did for writing the article in the first place.

According to the author’s prelude, it consulted two published professionals on work-related issues, yet the writer could only sparsely fill eight pages worth of content.  It’s so dumbed down that it severely lacks credibility.  Ms. Miller establishes that her information comes from legitimate and published sources, but she hardly does justice to the integrity of those works when she restates them in a flashy slideshow. 

Furthermore, she does herself no favors in regards to reliable source material when she leads off her article with “Rumor has it…” and elaborations on celebrity gossip.  As much as I’m sure everyone wants to hear about Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey’s catfights on American Idol, this inclusion has little to do with the work relationships that a normal person would have at a normal job.  Anyways, since when has gossip ever been considered credible?

The voice Ms. Miller uses when she writes suggests that she writes how she speaks.  She breaks up her sentences in the same way regular people break up their speech, placing in unnecessary words like “um…” to give off the impression of more informal writing.  Here’s some attempts the author makes when she tries to sound relatable to the reader:

How to work with someone who is, um, difficult. By reading this, you can almost hear her know-it-all voice in your head.  “Um” especially has a connotation to it that suggests the speaker is trying to politely downplay what she hasn’t even said yet.  Just that small written sound insinuates that she initially meant to type “bitchy” instead of “difficult,” but decided to show her own self-correction to make a point.  It indicates a certain level of intelligence; she portrays herself as someone who can restrain their usually non-publishable thoughts, and can instantly formulate a more appropriate variation of what was originally intended to be said.  Also here is the recognition of our own social standards and what language is appropriate in print versus what is unacceptable. 

Something about this chick drives you completely nuts, and she's pushing your buttons.”  Just one cliché acceptably denotes unoriginality… but two clichés in one sentence?  There is overemphasis here that (to me) is unnecessary; the title of the piece already indicates that someone at work really makes you, the reader, angry.  Allow me to insert another cliché to comment further on clichés: Ms. Miller’s restatement of two identically-themed idioms beats the proverbial dead horse into one badly bruised, decaying carcass. 

The article’s subtopics start out with some valuable pieces of advice, but the actual suggestions that follow up are so ridiculously flimsy that they cannot possibly expect to be helpful.  It was especially amusing to me that a publication known for headlines like “50 Ways to Own His Orgasm” would really publish career advice.  No person with actual work-related problems would instinctively page through Cosmopolitan for guidance, especially when the content on the very next page caters mostly to sex addicts and fashionistas.  

This piece is the epitome of everything that I would consider Plain Style, as its presence’s only purpose is mostly visual appeal.  There are plenty of beautiful people out there that have nothing going on between their ears; now there is literature that perfectly suits this particular audience.  The fascinating part of all of this is that Cosmopolitan is one of the most popular and highly circulated women's magazine subscriptions in the nation.

By Shelby Phillips 

 The original article can be found here:

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