The summer passes in an ordinary way. Maria applies sunscreen on vacation in Montenegro. Nikki collects trash on a beach in Santa Monica. Megan ditches Brian to go it alone, she’s always been so independent. Sandra scores a superhot and supernormal boyfriend. Selena wears a vintage cotton scarf; Taylor wears a cotton crop top. Whitney uses an electronic kiosk at Best Buy. Kylie celebrates her birthday — she’s 18! — in a $9,000 Nicolas Jebran minidress. Kevin stretches his quadriceps before taking off on a run. Hope marries Robert at Villa Cimbrone in Ravello, Italy, as their 8-month-old son floats by on a cloud (thanks, Cirque du Soleil). Miranda replies to Blake on Twitter! Minka and Vanessa don the same striped off-the-shoulder midi from Reformation (it looks better on Vanessa). Michelle and Jonathan begin dating; they met through mutual friends. Kim wears custom Alexander Wang for an “LA art discussion.” Jenna and Henry welcome their new daughter, Poppy, her name the childhood diminutive of her great-grandfather George (yes, that George). Britney debuts her total body makeover (she still eats fast food!). Ben fucks the nanny, and Jen, “in shock,” escapes to Atlanta for downtime with friends.
Elsewhere, a woman is asked to leave her apartment. The landlords are expecting a baby. She relocates.
The woman’s new apartment is dark, dank: a basement with seven-and-three-quarter-foot ceilings. She decides she cannot stay for long. She unpacks only what she needs, leaves the rest in boxes, lives amid a maze of cardboard. She nurses a chronic cough. She reads the first thirty-seven pages of My Brilliant Friend and then she doesn’t read anything at all. She does her laundry obsessively, determined to exploit the apartment’s one redeeming feature, a washer-and-dryer set in her kitchen. (The buildings’ two other tenants use the appliances when she is not home.) She subsists on yogurt and teff and prepared salads she buys from LifeThyme after 9 PM when the food bar is half price. She goes to bed late and wakes at 6 AM when an alarm clock sounds in the apartment upstairs, and then again every eight minutes until her neighbor stops hitting snooze. This goes on for weeks, then months. She already has two jobs; still, it is clear that she needs to make more money. She is tired of moving, and she is tired of being broke. She devises a plan. She applies to work at The Magazine.
For the initial interview she faces S., who is research chief of The Magazine. They sit in a glass-paneled conference room at a wood table built for thirty. The table is a dark reddish brown. It reminds the woman of the kitchen and bathroom cabinetry in the cheap renos she has visited throughout Brooklyn. CNN plays on mute on a large flatscreen television suspended from the ceiling. (Breaking: Twenty-two firefighters free an unnamed student from a marble vagina sculpture in Germany.) S. examines her CV, says, “The work here can be slow, and there is a lot of downtime. Are you sure this is for you?”
Downtime appeals to her. The woman also likes the job title she will have: researcher. She thinks it has an eminent quality.
The woman takes the job. As she is leaving, S. hands her a copy of the most recent issue of The Magazine.
At home, now, the woman takes The Magazine from her bag. She pages through it. There are many pictures. Words take up less space. The woman has seen many of the people in The Magazine before — that is, she has seen their images before. These people are real insofar as they exist in the “real world.” The woman had vaguely understood that this world consisted of Los Angeles and New York and sometimes London or the finer beaches of continental Europe. But there are new cities she did not expect: Tontitown, Arkansas; West Monroe, Louisiana; and Anderson, Indiana.
The stories in The Magazine are about a certain set of people doing things. The stories are also about how these people look while doing these things. More precisely, they are about how these people look when photographed doing these things. There are more women than men, and they look really good, usually — their skin luminous, their hair lustrous, their shapewear flattening in all the right places. And if they don’t look good then the fact that they don’t look good is (at least part of) the story.
When the woman was young, her mother subscribed to a magazine that was like this magazine but not this one. Her mother kept it in her room, on her nightstand, to read before bed. The woman, then a girl, never went looking for the magazine, having resolved somewhere around the age of 11 or 12 to be the kind of person who would care only about “important” things. Probably she just wanted to be different from her parents. As she grew older, the feeling stayed the same.
But here, looking through The Magazine, she worries this may have been a mistake. Behold, inside, the whole of America: fashion knockoffs, “diets that work,” stratified wealth, divorce, couture latex, infidelity, single moms, contouring, God, fame, infamy.
She thinks, All I have to do is check the facts.
It is her first day. The shift begins at 3 PM; the magazine will ship to the printer that night. She and the other researchers sit in an area called “the pit,” where they are joined by the copy editors. The pit is in the middle of the office, a large rectangle surrounded by a pony wall. The computers are circa 2009. She finds a seat at an empty computer.
S. stops by to run through the basics. For each weekly issue, every word and image must be reviewed twice by someone in research — once in “first” and once in “final.” Not only those words and images that form “news” or feature items, but those that make up thematic commodity roundups (“Standout Sneakers,” “Brushes with Greatness”), fitness advice (“Workout Moves You’ll Love”), reviews (“My Top ’80s Tracks”), the cover, the table of contents. Everything must be checked. The work is assigned by page. The pages are printed out on 11″ × 17″ sheets of paper. She must mark her corrections in red, then discuss them with the editor or the writer or both. She is to bring her pages to the copy editor tasked with entering the changes into the layout.
S. warns, “Even though Mariah Carey’s age is widely known, we must never print it in the magazine.”
One of the first stories she is assigned tracks five women who have recently undergone multiple hair-color transformations. That is, they have dyed their hair more than once in the past several months. For each, a series of images chronologically evidences the metamorphoses, with captions noting the date of the dye job as well as the star’s natural hue. The captions mention the celebrity’s last appearance on an album or in a television show or film, and sometimes also the colorist or the salon responsible for the latest look.
She spends an afternoon scrolling through Instagram timelines, looking for sudden changes in color. Much of the job of checking facts will entail prowling the depths of various social-media accounts. Later she will come to curse the platform for not providing a search-by-date function. For now she is enthusiastic. She begins to familiarize herself with the personae. She makes connections between the various stars — who sleeps in whose bed, who hangs in whose squad. She skims interviews for clues about the celebs’ natural shades. Sometimes this information has been entered into IMDb.com.
A fellow researcher leans in to introduce herself. “I’m a poet.” The poet points to one of the copy editors and recounts how he wrote his first book during downtime at the office. The copy editor is an associate editor at a literary magazine called δ. He went to Harvard. The poet reveals that she is working on an essay about the adverb there as used in works of literature over the past 300 years. It is for a publication of some note. The poet has searched for there in Google’s Ngram Viewer and is assessing a list of titles published between 1748 and 1772. The poet says, “This job is great because it leaves me plenty of time to work on what is important to me.” In the corner, another researcher is editing the Wikipedia entry for Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party. Next to her a third researcher is taking a BuzzFeed quiz: “Swipe Through the Founding Fathers on Tinder and We’ll Tell You if You’re Destined to Die Alone.” The woman watches long enough to see the researcher left-swipe George Washington. The Magazine provides dinner — on that particular night, pan-seared chicken with herb jus, crispy Brussels sprouts, farro and tangerine salad, braised kale, flourless chocolate cake for dessert — and if she stays past ten o’clock, she can take a car home on the company’s dime.
“It’s so flush,” she tells a friend.
She struggles, at first, with the complexities of Los Angeles’s geography. When Porsha is spotted “carbo loading” at Crustacean, she can be described as having eaten her spaghetti either “in Beverly Hills” or, if space is limited, “near LA.” But never can she be said to have been “in LA,” even though Beverly Hills is in LA County. When Sophia exits a popular grocery store “with Lifeway Kefir and a bouquet,” she can be said to have been leaving a “Hollywood Bristol Farms” or an “LA Bristol Farms,” Hollywood being in the City of LA.
She ranks the relative exclusivity of LA’s various gated communities (in order: Beverly Park, Brentwood Country Estates, Beverly Ridge Estates, Mulholland Estates, and Bel Air Crest). She dedicates an afternoon to untangling the Kardashian empire. She checks a map of the family’s collective real estate, roughly 85,000 square feet of interior space distributed throughout Westwood (City of LA), West Hollywood (LA County), Calabasas (LA County), and the gated community of Hidden Hills (LA County). She takes special note: Hidden Hills, itself a city, is also part of the City of Calabasas. This, it seems to her, is categorically impossible. Still, she resolves to accept what she cannot understand.
She feels a sense of satisfaction with the new subject mastery she has acquired. An editorial assistant stops in front of her desk: “Wanna vote?” The assistant holds up side-by-side images of Ryan Gosling, Matthew McConaughey, and Chris Hemsworth, with beards and without. The woman squints. She performs the act of scrutiny. “With, with, without,” she replies. The assistant marks down the woman’s responses on the back of the page.
When she tells people that she works as a fact-checker at The Magazine, they often seem perplexed. “What does The Magazine need fact-checkers for?” they say. Or, when they want to be clever, “But there aren’t any facts!” Others are surprised that a research department at this particular genre of publication is so robust when at traditional news magazines, many such departments have been all but gutted.
“But there are facts,” she will say. Fact: Kylie posted on Instagram, “I love being able to take care of myself and others at the same time.” Chiwetel Ejiofor spells his name C-h-i-w-e-t-e-l E-j-i-o-f-o-r. Jessica Biel wore a Giambattista Valli Couture 5 embroidered silk dress with Giambattista Valli heels to the Tiffany & Co. Flagship Opening on the Champs-Élysées on June 10 in Paris. Mango’s polyurethane Zip tote featuring twin top handles and a snap-button fastener costs $60 on mango.com.
This is for the most part what her job entails: checking the accuracy of personal names, brand names, dates, locations, ages, times, prices (always retail, never sale), descriptive nouns (is that a midi or a maxi?), quotes (word for word if published elsewhere), web addresses, times married, children born, months pregnant, film or TV show last starred in, charities founded, charities supported, town born in, properties owned, square footage occupied, brands loved, weight lost, clubs visited, bandmates undermined, restaurants dined in, husbands abandoned, boyfriends dumped, carats worn, weight gained, lawsuits pending, rivals avoiding, orphans adopted, islands visited, Oscars won, designers worn, products used, cleanses completed, weights lifted, Emmys won, nannies hired, nannies fired.
Before working at The Magazine, the woman worked at another, much smaller magazine. She took the job at The Magazine so she could afford to continue to work at the other magazine. Now she works at the other magazine in a lesser capacity than she once did. Maybe she’ll find time to write. She is not the only one in the pit who works at another magazine. There are two other editors from the magazine the woman works at. There is also the book-writing copy editor from δ and four of his colleagues: they don’t get paid for their work on δ, which is why they work at The Magazine. All the editors are also writers. One of the editors is a writer and a dancer.
Then there are the poets, four of them, give or take. Performance artists, three. Dancers, including the editor-writer, two. Novelists, two. There is one visual artist, one oral historian, and one comedian. And there is one politician, a Democrat. All of these pit workers take shifts at The Magazine to support whatever else they do and care about. Most of these pit workers are women. The others in the pit (also mostly women) are “career.”
This makes The Magazine, unbeknownst to its publisher, editor in chief, editorial director, deputy editor, design director, entertainment director, senior editors, writers, reporters, and the rest of its staff, most of whom tend not to demonstrate much interest in the pit workers, a benevolent sponsor of the city’s high-minded literary and arts communities.
A not insignificant number of the people in the pit went to Harvard or Princeton or Yale or Columbia, or leave because they will be going to Harvard or Princeton or Yale or Columbia.
The people who work in the pit come and go.
For every story she is assigned, her inbox fills with backup forwarded to her by the story’s writer or editor. The backup consists mostly of a compendium of emails sent and received over the past several days, or weeks, or months, compressed into a series of attachments that open into individual windows. Checking a two-hundred-word story can mean navigating between twelve open windows, each window an email thread of its own. The emails contain links to stories at other outlets and to Twitter and Instagram posts. They contain press releases from publicists: “Irena wears MeMee’s Luxe Ready High-Rise Skinny Jeans in Vaunt while out shopping on Melrose Avenue on April 28.” They feature publicists hawking client brands — “Hi love! Can you run something on the new Charcoal Pure₂Vitamine Elixir by EVETA? Celeb fans include Lillie, Alicia, and Christiana” — and publicists issuing official statements: “It is with heavy hearts that we move forward separately. This was a very difficult decision, but we have come to an amicable conclusion on all matters. Our primary concern remains the well-being of our children, and we ask with profound gratitude that you respect our family’s privacy at this very sensitive time.” Sometimes there are publicists acting as sources: “There really was no drama. They tried to make it work but found they were headed in separate directions. They are still friends, and it’s all completely fine.”
In other emails, eyewitnesses relay reports (“She had her hand on his chest and the biggest smile on her face”), as do friends of celebs offering inside information (“It’s nothing serious. They’re just having fun”). Reporters file transcribed interviews, which get mined repeatedly over the years for direct quotes, and conduct favors for sources: “Can we please plug Heather’s new bridal line in an upcoming Hot & Stylin’? She’s been so helpful with celeb weddings.” From time to time, experts offer expert opinions: “Marianne Evans, Nutrition Health Consultant, ThinNow, tells The Magazine, ‘The last ten pounds is the hardest to lose. This is because when there was famine we have stored the fat to make us survive. That’s how the human race has survived all these years.’” The woman squeezes the fat on her abdomen and rolls it around in her hand.
The Democrat is sitting to her left. He is affixing mailing labels to a stack of what must be three hundred envelopes. An equal number of nondenominational holiday cards fan out toward her keyboard and mouse. “They’re for my donors,” he says. The Democrat is a Manhattan district leader. He knows a lot about rent stabilization and neighborhood bike lanes. She is excited to know someone who has his own Reddit AMA thread. He is running for state assembly. She thinks he might win.
Outside the conference room, people are congregating. The woman walks over. Dinner has arrived: Happy Valley Meatballs, Seasonal Upstate Mac & Cheese, Braised Beef, Charred Chicken, Golden Beets with Quinoa and Orange, Grilled Organic Tofu, Kale with Dates and Granola. A line wraps around the conference room. The line begins to move. The woman is next in line. A certain editor who believes she is too important to stand in line walks in front of the woman. The editor grabs a plate and begins to fill it, taking the last scoop of Seasonal Upstate Mac & Cheese. The woman waits for her to finish.
After a shift one evening, she meets with two friends. The friends are older than she is. They own a limited-liability corporation together. Actually, no, they are married, but sometimes the woman thinks there may not be much difference. They have 2-year-old twins. The twins are home with a sitter. The wife relays how they may consider investing in a third child. The husband lifts his Negroni, and the ice cubes clatter against the glass.
A server stops by to drop off a trio of delicately plated fish tacos. The husband turns to his wife. “I want a picture. Move in closer together.” The woman nudges closer to the wife. She smiles awkwardly. The flash goes off. “You two look great.”
The couple finds her job humorous and possibly a little worrying. “Maybe you should aim a little higher?” the wife suggests with some concern. “Maybe,” the woman says. The wife sips her white wine. The husband’s ice cubes clank louder now.
In the photo department, the woman passes an enlarged pap shot of Suri Cruise in a pink princess dress and matching headband. Suri is standing inside FAO Schwarz, her face red and covered in tears. The photo is pinned to the wall.
The woman hears the photo editor in his office, where he speaks in tones that sound important. She lingers and pretends to consult a reference book called Celebrity Pets. The editor is complaining about the fact that more and more of the images in The Magazine first appeared on Instagram. The old agreement has been upended. The deal used to be: the magazines offered an audience, and the A-list celebrities provided access. Sometimes the magazines offered money — one paid $4.1 million for the first pictures of Shiloh Jolie-Pitt in 2006. Now the A-listers just post the pictures themselves. Conversely, the celebrities who first rose to stardom on Instagram or reality TV — the D-listers or Z-listers — are eager, desperate even, to be in The Magazine because it confers legitimacy on their status as stars (hence the appearance of Tontitown, Arkansas, and other Middle American cities). All this affects readership, which affects ad sales, which is bad news for The Magazine’s business model.
The woman tries to look busy. She turns to the entry on “Hannah” (Britney Spears’s teacup Yorkie) and then to “Mr. Butler” (Olivia Palermo’s white Maltese terrier). Now the editor is complaining about celebrity bloggers. Some of the earliest bloggers have agreements with agency photographers from a time when no one thought the internet would matter. The bloggers pay next to nothing for agency images and post them online hours, sometimes minutes, after they were taken.
By the time The Magazine appears in the supermarket checkout aisle, everything inside is old news.
The office is decorated with a set of dry-mounted paparazzi shots of various celebrities circa 2003, a time capsule of a onetime A-list: Catherine, Beyoncé, Kate (pregnant with Ryder), Scarlett, Nicole, Carmen, Katie, Cameron, Drew, Jennifer, Demi. These most precious of artifacts have been enlarged to something approximating life size and hung throughout the office. On one wall, the photographs are arranged in tableau fashion, an opulent dreamscape where women in floor-length gowns and pinned updos hover above an expanse of plush red velvet. This wall is her favorite. In the background are ornamented iron railings and gilded plaster detailing. Men, if they appear at all, serve as accessories, second only to the women’s handbags and shoes.
It strikes the woman as odd that The Magazine has not replaced these images with the newest, hottest, most popular, best-dressed stars. Not that she is complaining. On the contrary, she welcomes the opportunity to familiarize herself with an earlier era. She has always loved history. And the photos are office landmarks, useful for providing lost newcomers with directions. To get to the women’s bathroom, make a left at Demi Moore, then hang a right at Carmen Electra.
The Magazine’s compulsive quantification is most rigorous when accounting for the passage of time — how long a star has lived, how long a relationship has endured, how long a star takes to get back her pre-baby body. For example, a wedding: “The reality star’s 7-year-old son, Bentley, served as ‘mini best man,’ says Taylor, 29. The boy escorted his sister, flower girl Jayde, 16 months, down the aisle while pulling 4-month-old Maverick in a wagon. Then Maci, 25, strode to her love of four years.” In three sentences, six different measures of time. The woman must verify the accuracy of these quantifications by ascertaining the past date in question, then calculating the difference in years or months or days between this past date and the day the issue goes to press.
This is one way The Magazine elicits self-comparison (“Sooo glad that’s not my life”) and judgment (“What is she doing?”), usually of the moral kind, without being explicit about it. Were the woman to know nothing else about Maci, she could glean from this paragraph alone that Maci and Taylor had two children before marriage, and that Maci’s eldest child was born to a different father, possibly out of wedlock, when Maci was just 18.
She sits next to B., the comedian. B. relies on an online age calculator to determine the ages of celebrities. But the woman, having read elsewhere in The Magazine that “doing math in your head can help prevent memory loss” and having long been worried about the prospects for her own memory, decides she will begin a preventative regimen.
She spends a lot of time looking at faces — the subtle asymmetry of a pair of eyebrows, the curvature of a chin. The Magazine’s address, its appeal to intimacy, pivots about the face. The face — it is corporeal, physical, but it is also something more. It is a kind of artifact, something assumed or worn. Reproduced as image in an infinite stream, the face slips easily into the realm of the idea. It comes to stand for a concept — a set of traits, a collection of credits and commodities.
So that when she looks at a picture of Kim, she reads: Family-oriented businesswoman, hypersexualized (but not vulgar!), with a domestic streak and an agreeable air. When she looks at a picture of Angelina, she sees: Compassionate global citizen, a cosmopolitan humanitarian and philanthropreneur. When she looks at a picture of Bethenny, she reads: Brassy, joke-cracking, down-to-earth hustler who worked her way up from the bottom. When she looks at a picture of Taylor, she sees: Wholesome emblem of girl power projecting indie cool and mainstream cool.
They are the faces of women who flaunt the legacies of feminism and at the same time pronounce its irrelevance. They are the faces of women whom America can understand.
The copy chief and her deputy (“the copy ladies”) occupy two large cubicles adjacent to the pit. They have worked at The Magazine for a long time. The deputy arrived after being laid off from a newsweekly around the time the phone stopped being just a phone. The Xerox machine is stationed immediately to their right, which means any number of persons pass their desks. The ladies, who are chatty and affable, also entertain themselves (and others) by talking to these passersby. They talk to each other, to the designer who sits on their left, to whomever is in earshot. Pronouncements of the latter kind tend to ridicule a celeb or to praise her. Jennifer Aniston is an abomination, as far as the chief is concerned; Ice-T’s wife, Coco, can do no wrong. These allegiances are so passionately expressed that they dispense with any need for justification. That the copy ladies have seniority, maintain the highest of standards, and are unanimously beloved by staff lends these declarations a certain level of authority. Also, they are funny.
“What do you call those cutout holes in dresses?” says the copy chief. “Dress holes? Slut vents? ‘J. Law stuns in slut vents at the Hunger Games premiere in LA’?”
When their voices shift from pointedly audible to a low murmur — and this happens a lot — it is impossible not to want to know what they’re whispering. Gossip, its public performance, is tantalizing. Inevitably, the woman strains to hear.
The copy ladies both have curly hair that falls just below their chins. Hair management is another important topic of conversation. (This is of particular interest to the woman, who also has curly hair.) The chief feels her curls are too flat, while the deputy feels her curls are too stiff.
The woman goes to a party in a museum for the opening of a new exhibition. A friend has brought her along as a plus one. She takes three laps around the floor and retreats to the bathroom, to use the toilet but also to take a break. She lingers in the stall, reads email on her phone. Four distinct voices enter the room. She can see the intruders through the crack between the door and the doorframe. They are laughing, twentysomethings, three brunettes and one blonde. Their hair falls to the middle of their backs and lacks not for volume.
The blonde shimmers in silver sequin tulle mesh that matches her four-inch booties. The first brunette stuns in an embellished silk mini and Louboutins. The second brunette models a leather-belted crimson jersey frock and black combat-style boots. The third brunette channels old glamour in a black velvet midi with long sleeves and a plunging V back. They crowd before the mirror and plump their hair. They lean in close to inspect their eyeliner. They powder the shine on their foreheads, drag highlighter across their cheekbones, coat their lips in color. Then the photo shoot begins, phone by phone, their lithe limbs in various tangled arrangements of BFF. Minutes pass. “Did everyone get the shots they need?” one asks. They swipe through their camera rolls, each looking for the shot in which she looks better than the other three, even as the other three still look very good. It’s a fine balance. “Yes,” the others respond. “Let’s go then.” They leave. The woman flushes the toilet and heads toward the sink.
The researcher who swiped left on George Washington is yelling into her cell phone in a Slavic language while carrying on a Gchat conversation (“huh ? / aight / lmfao / you dirty / VBG”). The research chief walks by and drops off a spread for the woman to check: “That’s Amore! George and Amal Say ‘I Do.’” The woman sits down with her plate of food — Mediterranean vegetable medley, kebabs, mini spanakopitas, pita triangles — and a dribble of baba ghanoush falls from her fork and colors the left margin. She wipes it away. It leaves a translucent mark that glistens on the page. E! News is streaming from someone’s desktop at a high volume and no one turns it off.
She dials the number to Consorzio Motoscafi Venezia. The time in Italy is 4:00 AM. A man answers:
There is static. It is hard to hear.
“Hi. Do you speak English? I’m trying to find out . . . How long does it take to travel from the Cipriani to the Àman Canal Grande Venice in one of your water taxis?”
“I’m, uh . . . I’m calling from, um, a magazine. In New York. To travel from the Cipriani to the Àman hotel — how long would that take? It’s for . . . George and Amal are getting married.”
“Ah, si! Twenty-five minutes. Maybe twenty-eight.”
She thanks the man effusively and hangs up. She drafts an email:
Hi! The water taxi “ferrying guests from Venice’s Cipriani hotel up the Grand Canal to the luxury Àman Hotel” takes twenty-five minutes, approximately, and not “seven,” as the story currently claims. Do you want me to change it?
Also the suites at the Àman, according to the hotel receptionist I spoke with, begin at 1150 euro, or around $1500 US, so I’ll mark this change as well.
She presses send and signs off. She watches a researcher and a new copy editor flirt in the nearby conference room, an enormous croquembouche towering between them. A few of the profiteroles are missing, and the pyramid looks a little lopsided, or so it seems from her vantage. A man walks in wearing dark jeans, a button-down, and what looks to be a miniature desktop computer passing for a watch: a visitor from TechRadar, the tech and gadget magazine that occupies the other end of the office. Occasionally the woman will go out of her way to use the Xerox closer to TechRadar when she needs a reminder of the ongoing masculinity crisis. Also, they often have snacks. The man eyes the croquembouche, circles it once, warily. From his back pocket he pulls out a bushcraft knife and removes it from its sheath. He jabs the knife into one of the cream-filled puffs of choux pastry and frees it from its glazed edifice. He deposits the profiterole into his mouth.
One day, as the woman is verifying the contents of Aja’s bag (“‘I have a lot of stuff,’ the star says of her Madewell leather tote”), she is interrupted by the sounds of laughter and squealing delight. A small crowd gathers in the area where the editors and writers sit. The woman wanders toward them. Justin Bieber has sent over a special gift: twelve(!) bite-size cupcakes with white and pink frosting. The Magazine has favorably reviewed his new album, and he has sent a thank-you gift. The cupcakes are gone before the woman can push her way to the front.
Kim Kardashian joins Snapchat. Kendall joins soon after, and Kourtney soon after that. But Kylie was first, a full year ahead of her sisters. Within weeks, the woman, who was surprised to find that Snapchat hadn’t already gone the way of Friendster, finds that it is now a place where news unfolds. For instance: “Kylie Raids Mom Kris’s Fridge and Pantry While Kris Is Out of Town.” She asks B. if B. can explain Snapchat to her. B. shows the woman how to set up an account and to record and caption a video. B. says, “Now send me a snap.” The woman cannot think of anything to send.
She looks over at the copy ladies, who are whispering. She decides to walk over and pretend to make a Xerox. She hears the chief say, “They’re saying as many as fifteen people.”
The backup for a story arrives in her inbox. The story is about an ongoing feud between Alexa and Alana, two women on a reality TV show that documents how difficult it is to have a husband with a lot of money.
A source close to Alexa says:
Alexa and Alana had a big fight when they filmed on Tuesday night over politics. Alexa is a huge Hillary supporter (she tweets every day about how great Hillary is and how horrible Trump is) and Alana is supporting Trump. Alana turned her back to Alexa at one point and refused to acknowledge her. Alexa interjected and said, “Let’s keep politics out of this.” Alexa doesn’t like talking about it on camera. But Alana wouldn’t let it go. She kept picking a fight with Alexa, calling Hillary a two-faced liar and telling Alexa that she was voting for a sociopath, and that if Alexa were voting for Hillary then Alexa must also be a sociopath.
The woman looks up. Three men with long, scraggly beards and black T-shirts are being led through the office by the editor in charge of entertainment. The men wear bandanas. “And here is where our writers sit,” he says. He moves his outstretched arm in a sweeping motion. The apples of his cheeks are plump and the skin so taut it is shiny. She is pretty sure he has just had Botox injections. “And here is our fashion department,” the editor says as he leads them down a corridor to the easternmost end of the office. The editor does not stop to acknowledge the pit. The copy ladies are speaking so as to be heard: “Why is Duck Dynasty here?”
At that point Alexa tried to leave the room but Alana was like, “What, are you too scared to fight it out like a real man?” And then Alana threw her glass of wine onto Alexa (rosé, luckily). At this point, Alexa was furious and was like, “No. You. Didn’t.” She was soaked in wine but she got up in Alana’s face and screamed, “Take it back!” Then Alana pushed Alexa into the marble countertop and pulled her hair with one hand while with the other she grabbed a California roll from a nearby platter and mashed it into Alexa’s forehead. Alexa fought hard to keep her cool. She felt like she was going to explode. “You bitch!” she said. Then Alicia and Ariana got up from the couch and came over and dragged Alexa out of the room.
Alexa is really upset about all this. She doesn’t understand why Alana is always so mean to her. Alexa thought that by now Alana would be over the fact that Alexa is engaged to Alana’s ex-husband and also that Alexa sued Alana for sole ownership of the company they started together. Alana didn’t even like her husband when they were married. She was always spending his money on fancy lingerie but then not even wearing it for him, instead going out to the club and drinking and coming home in the early hours of the morning. She is a raging alcoholic. Her life is so sad and pathetic. No one likes her. Also Alexa feels like Alicia and Ariana always take Alana’s side. She thinks they are always protecting her. Alexa is hurt by this. She wants them to show support for her once in a while too because she really likes them and wants them all to be as close as they once were. But Alexa won’t stand for Alana’s drama. She’s not a
The woman finds the quote she is looking for. Sometimes it is painfully obvious when the subject of a story is also the source. The giveaway: the details are too extensive, the interior monologue too rich. The words of one of the career copy editors, who tends to speak at decibels appropriate for an auditorium, carry over from across the pit: “Are they talking about his NARB?” The woman must google what this means.
The managing editor has made changes to the schedule to get more done in less time. The number of freelancers on each shift has decreased. Dinner, formerly provided two to three times a week, is now provided once. For the woman, this means fewer hours of work, more meals to pay for, and more time to spend in her shitty apartment.
One day, twelve staffers are laid off. The mood in the office is solemn. A younger editor cries softly as she packs her belongings into a box. A younger writer consoles her. The managing editor is one of the staffers who is let go. The woman has never heard of a magazine that does not have a managing editor.
She turns to B. “What’s a ‘Glam Squad’”? B., who is watching stand-up on YouTube, takes off her headphones. “Is it, like, an official thing? Should I capitalize it?” B. is relentlessly kind and patient. “No,” she says. The woman is glad to know her.
Dinner arrives: rigatoni in cream sauce with shelled green peas (taste frozen), penne with red sauce, eggplant Parmesan, lentil salad with parsley and lemon, tossed green salad, i.e., iceberg lettuce topped with sliced carrots, cucumber chunks, and canned chickpeas. No dessert.
The woman makes a mistake. She gets an email:
Hey, do you know why Evan Styles’s age went to print as 43 when he is only 36? I really hope you did not confuse him with Evan Styles the drummer. Did you? Styles is pissed. I need you to explain how this happened.
The woman gleans from the tone of the email and the thread that precedes it — Styles’s publicist expressing how furious her client is to have been aged seven years — that she may lose her job.
The woman has only a vague recollection of the item. Who is Evan Styles? She’s always been bad with names. There is Michelle Williams (Dawson’s Creek) and Michelle Williams (Destiny’s Child). There is Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty) and Vanessa Williams (Melrose Place). There is Jason Alexander (Seinfeld) and Jason Alexander (Britney Spears’s fifty-five-hour marriage). There is Dylan McDermott, Dermot Mulroney, and Dean McDermott. There is Minka Kelly and Moira Kelly, Mira Sorvino and Mena Suvari. There is Benoît David and David Benoit, Brie Larson and Alison Brie, Olivia Munn and Olivia Wilde, Channing Tatum and Tatum O’Neal, Seth McFarland and Todd McFarlane, Emma Watson and Emily Watson, Bill Paxton and Bill Pullman, Simon Callow and Simon Cowell, Colin Firth and Colin Farrell. There is Taylor Lautner and there is Tyler Posey.
Apparently there is also Evan Styles, drummer number three in a ’90s emo band, and Evan Styles, a four-time contestant on various competitive reality TV shows. The woman is able to show that the internet is also confused about Evan Styles: a reliable and oft-relied-on source — reliable because it is maintained by publicists — lists the known birth date of Styles the drummer in the entry for Styles the reality contestant. The Magazine blames the error on the reality TV contestant’s publicist. The woman keeps her job.
It is late when the woman returns home. She was at the office working on a story about the Sister Wives clan (“Kody, 47, secretly divorced Meri, 44, last fall and legally wed fourth wife Robyn, 36, months later”). She opens the door to her apartment and the lights are on. “Oh. Hi. I thought you were out,” says her upstairs neighbor, the one with the alarm clock. The neighbor is leaning against the kitchen counter, reading an issue of The Magazine from the woman’s bathroom. The washing machine rumbles. There is a lump of dirty clothes on her kitchen table. “I’ve got eight minutes left on this load. Do you mind if I wait for it to run through so I can throw it in the dryer?”
“OK,” the woman says.
The neighbor turns the page. “Ugh. I can’t believe Rob is dating Kylie’s boyfriend’s baby mama. That’s a little distasteful, don’t you think?”
“I guess,” the woman says. “But, you know — it must be hard to be Rob. I think, like, if he’s found someone who makes him happy, he should pursue it.”
“Nothing is objectively hard about that guy’s life,” the neighbor says. The spin cycle picks up speed.
Tonight she is assigned a timeline. It tells the story of the Hiddleswift Romance. Taylor and Calvin break up. Reveals a source: “Calvin never appreciated her.” Two weeks later, Taylor and Tom appear on the cover of the Sun, lips locked on a beach in Cape Cod. They drink espresso late at night and share a cream puff shaped like a swan. They clasp hands. Tom is “so, so smart and talented.” Taylor is “over the moon.” Taylor’s friend Ruby defends their romance in a lengthy post on Instagram. Tom meets Taylor’s parents, Taylor meets Tom’s. Tom and Taylor holiday in Rome and head to the Vatican in a helicopter (#blessed). They stay in the 861-square-foot Picasso Suite at the five-star Hotel de Russie. Tom makes sure there are fresh flowers every morning. They eat breakfast on the terrace. “It was insanely romantic!” says a friend. Back in LA they have the “fight that nearly split them.” Then they split for real. Two and a half months, start to finish, and it’s over.
The story is well documented, each scene verifiable with photographic evidence and various articles online. A flurry of emails arrives in her inbox, a trail of reports from “pals,” “onlookers,” “insiders,” and random people who tweeted about seeing the Hiddleswift descend on their local café. They furnish the story with conjecture. They offer their opinions.
When dinner appears, she pauses briefly. Pizza again. No one waits in line. As she walks over to the conference room, she passes the copy ladies, who are whispering. The chief says, “I think it could happen any day now.” The woman grabs a slice with mushrooms, adds red-pepper flakes and garlic salt, and brings it back to her desk.
Were Tom and Taylor truly in love or just performing love? It is not the woman’s job to know, to confirm or deny one or the other. Whether their affair was organic or a story line dreamed up by their respective PR teams is of little consequence, as far as fact-checking is concerned.
What matters, for her purposes, is that even if Taylor and Tom were not truly in love, they had still performed love for the cameras. Love or no love, there remains the fact of the performance. And in the fact of the performance, there is something one can call “truth,” i.e., the performance happened.
If there is a fiction in the story, it does not originate in The Magazine.
Today no one is working. They are too busy talking. An email is circulating with a link to a local tabloid. The woman finds the story online: “Apollo Is Poised to Sell The Magazine, Layoffs Imminent.” Reliable industry sources say the parent company is in trouble. Attached to The Magazine is a hefty debt now more than a decade old. There is no way to pay off this debt, given recent financial troubles within the company — the result of a plagiarism scandal at Apollo’s Sports Today for which the company is being sued — so Apollo has decided to unload its largest liability, the debt-laden Magazine. There are several prospective buyers, insiders say. The woman googles to see if there are any other reports. She finds a longer article in a national newspaper: “Celeb Rag The Magazine Is Said to Have Suitor, in Late Stage Conversations.” She skims through the opening paragraphs, then begins to read more closely.
The Magazine was born as a monthly to Apollo Media, whose publisher and editorial director, Augustus Apollo, had seen previous success with Sports Today, the sports-focused weekly he still oversees along with TechRadar, Epoch, Wine Now, Look, and Luxury. Apollo began The Magazine to compete with the thriving Women&Men, whose editorial mandate was to provide profiles of “exceptional individuals.”
While The Magazine began by publishing lengthy profiles accompanied by studio photographs, its house style transformed in 2002 when Apollo sold half of The Magazine’s shares to media conglomerate Triumph for $40 million. Under its newly appointed editor in chief, Emily Stern, The Magazine inverted the ratio of words to images and upped the number of unsanctioned paparazzi photographs chronicling celebrity life “off camera.” Stern introduced the wildly popular “Stars So Ordinary” and zealously covered the reality shows that aired on networks owned by Triumph.
The Magazine’s circulation and single-copy sales vastly increased, and its success inspired copycat magazines Wow, OMG!, Whispers, and, finally, the former standard-bearer, Women&Men, which co-opted many of its features.
In 2003, Apollo spent $280 million to buy back Triumph’s share in The Magazine — seven times the original investment. Nearly fifteen years later, the company still makes significant debt payments on the loan it took out to finance the purchase.
According to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deal talks are private, Apollo Media is negotiating a price of more than $100 million. The source also said that as part of the deal, more than one hundred of the 150 staffers could be laid off. The talks are in progress, and a deal could still fail. The spokeswoman for Apollo declined to comment.
Two years after being diagnosed with lupus, Selena enters a treatment facility for “anxiety, panic attacks, and depression.” Three months into her liaison with NBA pro Tristan, Khloé tests the depths of their romance. Three years after they both graduated from college, one of the fact-checking dancers performs in Paris while the other begins a history PhD at Harvard. Ten months into her jail sentence, Teresa remains zen thanks to yoga. Two and a half years after his first book was published, the book-writing copy editor is finishing a second. One year after landing a spot in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, Gigi wins Spike TV’s Our New Girlfriend award. Five years after their first visit as a married couple, the royals return to Canada for an eight-day stay. Seven months after running for state assembly, the Democrat is still a fact-checker. A year and a half after #nannygate2015, Ben is “fantastic,” having just come out of rehab. Eleven years into their love, Liev and Naomi announce they will live separate lives. Twelve months after the poet completes her essay on there, she publishes her third chapbook. Hours after Blac Chyna delivers daughter Dream, Rob posts, “Today was amazing :) I am so lucky!!” Fifty years into being a vegetarian, Christie shares a recipe for a kale salad. Eight months after taking an improv class at Upright Citizens Brigade, B. starts her own podcast; it is available on iTunes. Seventy-two hours after getting “sucker punched in the gut” by wife Angelina, Brad is still “extremely upset.” Nineteen months into her job at The Magazine, the woman still works at the other magazine (and her third job, as a proofreader) and calculates she may have just enough money, finally, to move.
The woman passes the conference room on her way back from the water dispenser. B. is inside. “Dinner is here,” she says. On the table are two boxes of SpiruMEGA Protein++ All-in-One Meal Bars in assorted flavors. The woman recognizes the boxes. Earlier in the day they were out on the giveaway table at the tech magazine, alongside galleys of discarded books. Next to the boxes is a stack of paper plates. On top of the plates are a few misshapen napkins. Some plastic forks and knives are strewn across the table.
A handful of writers enter the room. “I’m famished!” one says. The anticipation on their faces quickly turns. “Seriously?” The writers stare at the table. The woman takes a bar.
Arriving early from a dentist appointment, the woman enters the office and walks toward the pit. The cubicle area is empty. So is the pit. She sees a few staffers from TechRadar as well as Sports Today and Look, but no one from The Magazine. Strange, she thinks. I must be the first one here. She turns on a computer and waits for it to load.
She opens her email. There is one new message, dated the day before yesterday. It is from the publisher, sent brand-wide. The subject line is “Farewell.”
By now you may have heard that today I sold The Magazine to a major competitor. As part of the deal, the competitor will not be taking any of the current staff. If you are reading this email, you no longer have a job.
The Magazine was once (and still is) a highly lucrative brand for me, and I am sorry to have to say goodbye to such a profitable venture.
I wish all of you the best of luck. I do understand how dire it is out there; that’s why I had to sell.
On the desk to her left is a SpiruMEGA bar in Peanut ChocoCream. She reaches over and picks it up. Then she grabs a copy of The Magazine from the stack next to her computer and flops it open: “The Girls Turn on Caitlyn.” She tears open the meal-bar wrapper and takes a bite. She leans back in her chair, puts one foot on the desk, and turns the page.