Friday, May 10, 2013

Cosmopolitan: The New High School Textbook

Cosmopolitan is one of the best-selling woman’s magazine, enticing its readers with beauty facts, sex tips, and celebrity gossip. Its bright colors, descriptive headlines, and celebrity focused cover draw your attention on the news stand. Just by looking at the bright pinks and headlines, you can tell the demographic trying to be reached is women. If we get more specific, according to Cosmo (2011), 58.7% of their readership is women ages 18-34 years. With the explicit content of the magazine, having articles such as “7 things “Real” Guys Want in Bed” and “How to Pull Off Friends with Benefits,” you would hope Cosmo would be directing its magazine towards this age demographic. Cosmo also prides itself in its readership of educated women readers. Over half of their readership has attended/graduated college. However, if we look at the readability statistics of Cosmo magazine, its average article comes in at a 7.8 grade level. It is this statistic that unnerves me. Is Cosmo purposely making their magazine easier to read to spread their readership to a younger demographic of women? Although their demographic age range is 18-49, Cosmo has been appealing to younger readers to purchase their magazine. 

Before even getting a chance to read the actual articles of the magazine, you are bombarded by images. The cover hosts a familiar celebrity. For the March 2013 issue, you see Miley Cyrus in a less than modest white suit, holding the suit coat open to expose her body. Miley Cyrus is well known for her Disney channel show, Hannah Montana. She acted as a role model for, now young teen, girls as they grew up watching her star in their favorite TV show. Next to her face, the headline “It’s Miley B*tches…” is predominately displayed. The fact that Cosmo chose a young actress that appeals to a younger audience says words. Looking back at Cosmo’s demographic age range, Miley is not relevant. They didn’t watch her playing a middle school preteen only a little over 2 years ago. So even before seeing the content of the magazine, young girls are attracted to who they see on the cover.

As you open the cover, celebrities, advertisements, models, and products cover each page in bright and inviting ways. You see perfectly curved women scantily dressed on the arm of a half-naked male model with rippling muscles, seductively smiling. You wouldn’t have guessed it, but these two are actually trying to sell Dolce and Gabana’s new fragrance. Because nothing says you will smell good like a picture of sex. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and after skimming through the images of Cosmo, you’ll believe it. These images, no matter if you can read or not, say enough. The explicit images paired with each sex article rival the line of pornography. Even if you don’t know what the 20 Sex Moves for Every Mood are, you will after seeing each position laid out.

Then, let’s say you actually want to read an article in Cosmo. The writing in Cosmo is not strictly plain style. It is definitely a mix between plain and creative. Some elements of creative style would be the witty banter/writer’s voice you hear in each piece, also an element of plain style. A lot of the articles include simple humor to help relate to the audience and make the topic of sex and relationships less tense and awkward. For instance, when opening up the article 20 Sex Moves for Every Mood, Jessica Knoll writes “You are a woman of many moods, and sometimes those mood are not consistent with having insane, contortionist, bend-over-backward-and-balance-on-one-hand sex.” Funny? Yes. Relatable? Very. It is these simple humored sentences that are seen throughout Cosmo. However, the writing is very plain creative. Plain to the point where the supposed age range being targeted could feel as though the writing is dumbed down. For example, when explaining explicit sex moves in this same article, the sentences are short and sweet, active voice being used throughout. “Slip into a hot bubble bath together. Sit between his legs. Put your back against his chest.” This writing is not only awkward, but a step by step guide on how to have bathtub sex. Simple enough sentence structure that, if you are under the age of 18, you can very easily not only read these sentences but follow them and understand them. As a 21 year old adult, I feel like these instructions are not only a little insulting to my intelligence but very explicitly put not for my benefit, but for the benefit of those younger than me that may need simpler sentence structure to understand the material. Notice no sex jargon has been used or descriptive words that may confuse the reader. These instructions remind me of the pamphlet I got from my Ikea bookshelf, simple and direct.

So after the 20 Sex Moves for Every Mood, the next article is titled So You’re Thinking About a Threesome… The stories shared by readers are short and simple, following the same format as the previous article. Throughout the magazine you see a parallelism with the structure. Each article is the same laid out, with small sub sections and topics, big bold quotes picked out, and simple sentence structures. Not only do you see parallelism throughout the magazine, but specifically in this article. Each new story starts with “I had a three some with…” Besides the parallelism, you see the active voice also being used throughout this article. Advice on how to have better sex, I can understand why that may be needed to explained simply, but stories about threesomes? The examples, or personal stories, used throughout this article make this article super easy to understand and relate to. It is written like a high school diary, something in which a young reader could understand and look to for advice.

The fact that plain style is so evident in this magazine makes me question who it’s real demographic is. Paired with the celebrities seen, the bright, cheap looking cover colors, and headlines that could make anyone look, Cosmo’s demographic is starting to seep down into a younger age group. And is this appropriate? Should Cosmo be read by high school girls with content such as 20 Sex Moves for Every Mood and So You’re Thinking About a Threesome…? Cosmo, if you’re actually are aiming your readership to educated 18-49 year olds, the content of your magazine should be at a higher caliber, cause as of now, it’s a little insulting. If not, take some social responsibility because do we really want teen girls to follow the Cosmo motto as Helen Gurley, the legendary editor of Cosmo once said, “If you’re not a sex object, you’re in trouble.”

Meg S.

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