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I'm OK!, You're OK!

Citizen Media Critic: Dana Vachon on why OK! magazine is the perfect American summer read

By Dana Vachon - August 22, 2005

When on the beach in the waning days of August, there are a great many things that I don't want to think about. Some of the things that I don't like thinking about are very important: China's annexation of Taiwan, in 2012; Iraq's Civil War, in 2009; The Bush-junta's conquest of Iran, in November. The other things that I don't like thinking about are admittedly less important, but in some ways even more disturbing: Spider-veined geriatrics in bathing suits with skirts; fat kids in tidal pools standing all too still; sodomite mosquitoes that buzz up my shorts, then fall strangely silent. Yet not thinking is a notably difficult trick to pull off, as the contemplation of any non-contemplative state automatically distances a would-be non-thinker from the stultifying bliss of non-thought. And before you know it you're right back where you started, worried about suicide bombers, the vasculature of the lower extremities in post-menopausal women, and of course, the mosquito who has set up shop in your rectum.

For the longest time I felt that I could trust American celebrity magazines to aid me in my devolution towards homo non-sapiens. This August, all failed me. Star Magazine's cover story concerns Angelina Jolie's exceptionally thoughtful adoption of refugee children, and reading it might lead to inadvertent consideration of all sorts of humanitarian issues. People's Britney Spears cover falls down the same slippery slope. The girl who set so many hearts racing in a red latex bodysuit now wears a black maternity muumuu. She weighs, conservatively, six hundred pounds. All of this evokes man's bitter foe, entropy—an intellectual no-fly zone if ever there was one. In Touch comes quite close to mindlessness with its cover and its giddy title: "Baby Crisis!" Yet the cover photo is a triptych of Jessica Simpson, Sienna Miller and Appalachia Spears. Does each of these women have her own unique baby crisis? Do these various baby crises connect to create a nuanced story? Might I have to think to follow that story? The Truth: In Touch magazine is in fact an advanced-stage experiment in extreme deconstruction undertaken years ago by Jacques Derrida and the philosophy department at NYU; it was once Lingua Franca.

It was only on the brink of despair that I first noticed what may be the stupidest magazine ever published, yet also the most perfectly suited for its times. Thank you England. Thank you God. Thank you, for OK!

OK! has of course been available in the UK for years, but is only in its third issue as an American publication. Yet a small red circle on the top left of the cover, itself thankfully dominated by too many fragmented images and quotes for processing, says it all. This is not just any third issue. It is, rather, the "New Third Amazing Issue!" And it is: OK! is what I have been looking for, all summer long.

Like a familiar lover, I can’t stop saying its name: "OK!" Even the title evokes the sweet and innocent pleasure of broad and baseless consent. Think of a late-pubescent walking down the steps of a small school bus. Sucking on a lollipop, he wears a set of battered Mickey ears embroidered with someone else's name, and a faded Shamu t-shirt from some long-ago forgotten visit to SeaWorld. Socks pulled high, green neon backpack in place, the Shamu-loving popsicle-sucking man-child marches down the bus steps, plucks the lollipop from his mouth with a smack, and happily proclaims: OK!

So I sink back in my beach chair, alone save for the high afternoon sun and one sacred text: The New Third Amazing Issue of OK! Sarah Ivens' Editor's letter establishes early the unique tone of unrelenting sycophancy which runs throughout, and makes this magazine such a pleasurable read for a young man, or nation, intent on avoiding critical thought at all costs: "Not only is OK! a glam, fun read," she writes, "we are the magazine of record, where the celebrities go to set the record straight."

And do they ever: Hugh Grant loves to play cricket! Woody Allen loves to direct movies! Puff Diddy Daddy loves…big boats! Paris Hilton and Paris Latsis love…wait for it: Each other! And there are big pretty pictures on each page, not just to back up the fawning text, but also so that I can rest my eyes when I get tired. It's awesome. A seagull flies overhead, dropping its milky white guano all over my chair. "This Seagull loves to move his bowels." I can see the caption right away, and take a glamour shot of the bird in my mind, just so that I will have it.

By the time that I get to the end of OK!, I don't even care that I don't recognize half of the celebrities. Who is Brooke Burke? Why should I care about her divorce? I still don't know, but don't need to, because I can tell you this: That woman is a trooper, stronger now than ever before, and she is going to be just fine. Also, they have some wonderful shots of her in a bikini..

And all around me the things that I don't like to think about go on in ways that I further don't like to consider. Lunatic Neocons; Zombie-like Born Agains; Buggerous Mosquitoes; Puckered Flesh from Septuagenarian Thighs. Thankfully, I have lost myself in the glossy, airbrushed simulacra of a more perfect world which streams through the many pages of OK!. Soon I am in the vegetable daze that I have been after all this time. I have my Mickey ears in place, SeaWorld t-shirt stretched tight across my chest, neon-green backpack steady. I pull my socks up high, insert the delicious lollipop pacifier, and despite all of my efforts, cannot help but think of how very American it is to lie in this manner, at this time, on a beach, in the summer.

Dana Vachon is a writer living in New York. He has written for the New York Times, Black Book magazine and Salon. He previously wrote about Star magazine for mediabistro.

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