I seem to have arrived slightly too late to the literary and cultural critique blow out that is the writing of Steve Beard.
A late-'80s Cambridge University dropout and early '90s contributor to magazines such as i-D, the Face, Arena, Raygun, and Wired, Beard has also authored a number of books. They include the mid-2006 novel Meat Puppet Cavalcade, as well as Perfumed Head, Digital Leatherette, and the nonfiction collections Aftershocks: The End of Style Culture and Logic Bomb: Transmissions from the Edge of Style Culture.
Right now, the latter text is all I have to go on, and his nonfiction is promising. I'm hungry for more. Published in 1998 by Serpent's Tail, the anthology collects pieces of journalism Beard concocted for Big Issue, Arena, i-D, the Face, and Modern Review. Also included is the introductory chapter to Beard's aborted 1990 PhD dissertation. Is ABD the new ADD?
Outside of Amazon, I can find little else beyond a writing game collaboration with Jeff Noon entitled Mappalujo (shades of Noon's seemingly solitary writing game project Cobralingus) -- and a wholly other Steve Beard who maintains the religion-kissed pop culture Web site Thunderstruck and contributed to the 2003 Relevant book Spiritual Journeys: How Faith Has Influenced Twelve Music Icons. It wouldn't surprise me much if the one Beard had somehow morphed into the other, and I'm sure that a conversation between the two would at least raise some bit-twisting and tit-biting truths. Now there's a freelance writing idea.
For truth is what Beard speaks -- if not to power, to the post-Thatcher pandering classes that consumed much of what was deemed Style Culture in early-'90s England (and to the semiotics-schooled class that might now study it around the world). If I cannot delve more deeply online to learn more about what Beard is thinking and writing about in the 21st century, at least I have Logic Bomb as a document of what he was thinking at the beginning of the end of the 20th.
They're thought-provoking topics, and it's interesting that the guise under which he was consdering them -- Style Culture -- is now passe. Because the subject matter has yet to be fully expounded and expanded upon. Logic Bomb includes missives touching on the slightly self-parodic work of Mark Leyner (as seen through a lens timely enough to beg mention of Bret Easton Ellis's Lunar Park) and the '90s output -- if not re-imaginings -- of J.G. Ballard, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, William Burroughs, Philip K. Dick, Mark Pesce, Douglas Coupland, and Dick Hebdige.
To see if the periodicals for which Beard was writing for then are still useful as arbiters and harbingers of what's next now, I picked up the current issues of i-D and Arena. At $10 a pop -- they're imports -- that's no little investment. (It's been ages since I bought copies of the Face and Skin Two for cultural bellwether watching.) Let's consider them alphabetically, albeit arbitrarily.
The November 2006 issue of Arena disappoints from Look One.
At 268 pages, Arena's 20th anniversary issue -- complete with a retrospective insert printed on heavier stock paper -- appears to be akin to a lad mag in the vein of Maxim, Loaded, or FHM. (Please forgive if my comparisons are dated by a few years.) Little surprise. As the "original British style magazine for men," I'm sure Arena's felt a circulation hit because of its new-school competitors, and like the States-side Esquire and GQ, it's responded "accordingly."
What the reader ends up getting is a fashion magazine with of-the-moment and largely already-passe cultural commentary fueled by the newest releases in film, literature, and technology. With a cover sporting a bevy of half-a-mo beauties that parallel those hyped on the cover sleeve -- Jennifer Lopez, Kate Moss, Victoria Beckham, and Pamela Anderson -- you know how deep Arena will delve: skin deep.
Between the sheets, we're treated to several snippets that warrant some attention. These include a byline-free consideration of the forbidden fruits that are the Japanese school girl (in the abstract) and the Simpsons's Edna Krabappel (in the "concrete"), an anonymous squib on Uruguay's "premier multimedia master" Martin Sastre, George Monbiot's column on global warming, and two reminiscence pieces -- Alex Rayner's take on 20 years of dance music and Will Storr's look at two decades of television.
Not one piece warrants the salt of a writer of Beard's caliber. But it's clear that the future will be presaged in the front sections of mainstream magazines (in which the majority of the notable items occurred), not the feature wells or end pages.
Now let's turn to the 196-page November 2006 "youth" issue of i-D.
Ironically, this issue of i-D, despite its slimmer waistline and less historic pretense, is the better read. More in line with the Face or the States-side Interview than the American pre-lad mag pubs Esquire or GQ, i-D seems to recognize that its shelf life is half a mo vs. 20 years. And its charm is in its passing.
This issue has one of two covers, featuring either Coco Rocha or Flash Louis, because of a gatefold cover ad bought by HP. I chose the Flash cover because of the gender-neutral imagery he brings. That, in itself, is passing. As Louis ages, his asexuality will wane, just like the rest of the magazine's content.
But what's inside? Of note are items featuring the teen band Blondelle (which is of a tween sort with legs longer than its currency), Nirvana (an interview originally published in a 1992 fanzine!), passing skate fashion vis a vis Supreme, Iceland's Jakobinarina (Scandinavia as type), Little Marc (Jacobs's) kiddie couture, the "Dancing on Air" 1987-2006 fashionista fantasy, the squib on community television phenom Yo Gabba Gabba!, and the Ben Reardon-penned "I'm Not Gay" profile of YouTube stars Syncsta.
Everything disposable, only the last item -- length- and theme-wise -- might be worth possible collection and introspection 10 years from now as we revisit the post-YouTube impact of the Web.
Is it worth Steve Beard's salt? Perhaps.
I've watched three of the videos. And despite the fun 20 Ducks banner ads from Moto Razr and the enervating grassroots video editing, there's little else worth commenting on. I lie. There's a lot to comment on: the democratization of online video production, the growing appeal of bedroom superstars, and the eroticization of the young creator.
Beard would have a lot to say about all of those topics. And I'm I'm sure he does. But where? In Arena? i-D? These days, his work might be better suited for another magazine, and if it hasn't yet commissioned any journalism from him, it should.
That magazine is I.D., the domestic rag dedicated to international design. Within the 108 pages of its November 2006 edition is a one-page "rant" by one Mark Dery. In it, Dery considers the conscientious toll taken by designers who incorporate camouflage in their designs during wartime. He does so smartly and succinctly.
I said all that to say that I'm loath to admit that I've yet to read Dery's 1996 text Escape Velocity. Like Beard's Logic Bomb, I'm sure it has too many too late truths to tell.
And that's entirely my fault.