Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Way We Live Now

It was at any rate an established fact that Mr Melmotte had made his wealth in France. He no doubt had had enormous dealings in other countries, as to which stories were told which must surely have been exaggerated. It was said that he had made a railway across Russia, that he provisioned the Southern army in the American civil war, that he had supplied Austria with arms, and had at one time bought up all the iron in England. He could make or mar any company by buying or selling stock, and could make money dear or cheap as he pleased. All this was said of him in his praise,—but it was also said that he was regarded in Paris as the most gigantic swindler that had ever lived; that he had made that City too hot to hold him; that he had endeavoured to establish himself in Vienna, but had been warned away by the police; and that he had at length found that British freedom would alone allow him to enjoy, without persecution, the fruits of his industry. He was now established privately in Grosvenor Square and officially in Abchurch Lane; and it was known to all the world that a Royal Prince, a Cabinet Minister, and the very cream of duchesses were going to his wife's ball. All this had been done within twelve months.1

Equity Private is annoyed. You might ask what else is new, but she has a good reason: some PR flack almost crashed her e-mail account with a ludicrous promotional mailing for the new Condé Nast business rag, Portfolio, which seems to have consisted primarily of a high resolution screenshot of the magazine launch cover. I would be pissed, too, but thankfully TED flies below CN's promotional radar at present.

From what I can tell, EP has nothing but scorn for CN's venture into "business intelligence," as they rather hopefully subtitle the magazine. This seems to be based upon the rather reasonable sounding assumption that a magazine so subtitled, and one where the corresponding website home page is titled "Breaking Business News and Opinion, Executive Profiles and Careers," should have more than the passing or accidental connection to, well, business. In this, I am sorry to say, EP is mistaken. She has been taken in by a canard, a mere dissimulation.

I have not invested the money—or, more importantly, incurred the future payment liabilities to my local chiropractor—to buy a print copy of the 300-page table brick magazine, so I cannot say that my conclusions are based upon a thorough and impartial examination of the magazine's actual content. (I find it so much easier to criticize from a state of ignorance, don't you?) However, I did take a quick troll through the magazine's website last night after my second bourbon of the evening, and my analysis is based on the impressions formed by that experience.

My conclusion is clear and irrefutable: Portfolio is not a business magazine, it is social pornography.2

Let's look at a few selections from the current issue's primary table of contents, and see if you don't agree with me:

· Profile of Tom Wolfe, writing about silly, vulgar rich people — Check
· Profile of some rich Arab guy with a horse — Check
· Profile illustrated with a picture of Bill Ford wearing sunglasses in a convertible, desperately trying to recapture the 70s, when he was young enough to do such things without looking foolish — Check
· Profile of some redhead in cowboy boots and an evening dress who likes to kick butt somewhere in Canada — Check
· Profile of a young Hollywood hedge fund guy on a beach with a cute dog — Check

Need I go on? I didn't think so.

"Flagging travel publication 'empire'" (in EP's characterization) or not, one thing Condé Nast does seem to know is its demographic. A quick look at their publications (coyly named "Our Brands" on their corporate website) reveals a consistent theme:

Vogue — Fashion porn
Self — Porn for narcissists
GQ — Metrosexual porn
Architectural Digest — Real estate porn
Vanity Fair — Society and political porn
Gourmet — Food porn
Wired — Tech porn

They're all big, they're all glossy, and they all make you feel cheap and dirty after you have read them, just like Portfolio. Get the picture?

God knows what exact demographic CN thinks they are targeting with Portfolio, but I for one would not bet against them. After all, what with seemingly endless numbers of billionaire private equity founders and hedge fund traders running around Greenwich, Mayfair, and Manhattan snapping up overpriced modern art and every co-op and condominium priced over $5,000 per square foot, they are simply spilling out of the pages of Vanity Fair, Arch Digest, and The New Yorker. Condé Nast needs a dedicated publication just to profile them all. Besides, what else is an upwardly mobile young trophy-wife-wannabe supposed to read to figure out her target market? The Economist? The Wall Street Journal? No, she needs (*ahem*) "business intelligence."

How else would you explain the excessively icky profile of Citadel's Ken Griffin and his "glamorous" wife, who is [cringe] "the champagne to [his] Budweiser"?:

They tend to speak in unison and are fond of using the word passion. Such as when Griffin says, "We are, with time, coming to terms with what we’re passionate about in the way of our involvement in the community." Or Dias, on the subject of collecting: "I’ve always been passionate about art"—to which Griffin responds, "It was an unexpected surprise in the context of the relationship that we shared this passion."

Every time the subject of their relationship comes up, they swivel in their chairs to face each other, grinning and batting their lashes. If confronted with a question they aren’t sure how to answer, each stares at the other, as if attempting some form of telepathic communication.

Yeah, like, "Remind me why we're talking to this knucklehead, honey?"

In conclusion, I think it best to close with the mission statement prominently posted on CN's own corporate website. After reading it in conjunction with the profile of M. et Mme. Griffin, the heart and soul of Portfolio suddenly became blindingly clear to me:

Passion is the core of our philosophy at Condé Nast Publications. Our mission is not only to inform readers but to ignite and nourish their passion for myriad aspects of life.

Week after week, month after month, we attract millions of dedicated, highly focused readers. They come to our pages and Web sites knowing they will be engaged by the leading minds of our time: writers, editors, contributors and artists who share their passions and who bring them to The Point of Passion.

The Point of Passion, indeed: Yes! Yes! Yes! Ohhh, yes!

1 A. Trollope, The Way We Live Now, Project Gutenberg edition, Chapter IV.
2 Nikki Finke, via, asserts that Portfolio is "CEO porn." Unh-unh. Right characterization; wrong audience. Most CEOs I know—and I am guessing I know approximately umpty-three million more CEOs personally than Ms Finke—wouldn't touch this shit with a 10-foot pole held by Marty Lipton wearing rubber gloves. Now, CEO wives, maybe ...

© 2007 The Epicurean Dealmaker. All rights reserved.