Thursday, February 10, 2022

In Laman's Terms: A eulogy for Entertainment Weekly

The 1000th issue of Entertainment Weekly and one of the first issues I ever devoured of the publication

In Laman's Terms is an editorial editorial column where Douglas Laman rambles on about certain topics or ideas. Sometimes, it's all about serious subjects, other times it's just some silly stuff to shoot the breeze about. Either way, you know Doug's gonna talk about something In Laman's Terms!

For a 12-year-old growing up in the suburban landscape of Allen, Texas, far from the glitzy lights of Hollywood or New York City, it was hard to feel connected to the world of pop culture. Movies provided me so much escape, but what about the world that produced or commented on those films? That all felt so far away. But then I’d go to my uncle’s house and see a stack of Entertainment Weekly magazines, usually featuring a recognizable movie star or TV show on the front cover. Flipping through the pages of these issues, suddenly, everything that once seemed out of my gasp was between my fingers.

My obsession with this publication grew so fervent that it wasn’t long before my uncle bestowed me with an annual subscription to Entertainment Weekly. So begin a love affair that stretched on for more than a decade. My love for pop culture an especially cinema was bolstered by this outlet, with so many fond memories getting attached to individual issues that I refused to throw them out! Clearly, Dotdash Meredith, the company that owns Entertainment Weekly doesn’t quite have the same connection to this publication. This past Wednesday, Dotdash Meredith announced that the magazine iteration of Entertainment Weekly would cease publication. The brand name will live on for the foreseeable future as a website.

While a magazine dedicated to pop culture news people can access on Twitter may seem anachronistic in the modern era, those of us with a fondness for Entertainment Weekly will know why it’s hard to say goodbye to this magazine.

For starters, Entertainment Weekly was shockingly eclectic in the topics they covered. Sure, they loved putting Twilight characters or superheroes on their covers. But look within the issues themselves and one will find a pleasantly surprising assortment of different types of pop culture. Everything from books to music to video games to even stage productions were covered by the dutiful writers of this outlet. Even within the individual media sections of a single issue, a wide variety of projects would get covered. The movie review section, for example, is where I first got exposed to the existence of movies like Synecdoche, New York or filmmakers like Guy Maddin.

This comprehensive approach to different mediums of artistic expression made for enjoyable reading and served as a weekly reminder of just how much art is out there to experience and appreciate. Sure, the internet allows you to access movie reviews at the click of a button, but it doesn’t feel the same. The modern age of Twitter can let you access more information than a single Entertainment Weekly, but algorithms for major social media sites box you in and only regurgitate what you already like or things similar to what you’ve previously enjoyed. By contrast, issues of Entertainment Weekly wasn’t cultivated on a user-by-user basis. They gave readers a comprehensive look at all forms of popular media, in the process exposing them to new things they may have never even known about otherwise.

Just as influential was how Entertainment Weekly made the behind-the-scenes process of Hollywood moviemaking digestible. The language used in pieces from this magazine was designed to appeal to a broad range of readers and not just people who were already knowledgeable about every part of the filmmaking experience. For teenage me, these magazines were a reliable way to understand how the films I liked or disliked came to be. It wasn’t even like I was the only person to be impacted by Entertainment Weekly in this manner. In an interview for the magazine for his 2008 movie Tropic Thunder, Ben Stiller commented that Entertainment Weekly made enough people conscious of the behind-the-scenes world of Hollywood that a movie like Tropic Thunder could resonate with mainstream audiences.

Something else Entertainment Weekly exposed me to? Writers. Lots of great writers. I’m not even just talking about the immensely talented collection of regular reviewers for the outlet, like Lisa Schwarzbaum. When I was growing up, Entertainment Weekly had an editorial in each issue penned by a famous face, with these writers ranging from Stephen King to Diablo Cody. This was my first exposure to King’s writing, not through a horror novel but his declaration that Junior Mints eaten with toothpicks were the quintessential movie theater snack. Getting to digest so many types of writing styles from such distinctive writers opened my eyes to a whole new style of writing.

The benefits of Entertainment Weekly magazines aren’t just limited to what was within the pages of individual issues. One of the greatest parts of this publication was the human being I associated with them. My Uncle Doug turned me onto Entertainment Weekly, a publication that ended up playing a pivotal part in me pursuing a career as a film critic. Even more importantly, receiving these magazines has been a great way to be reminded of his presence even after he passed away in July 2017. Hard to believe he’s been gone for almost five years. Even harder to believe that yet another way of me connecting with him is gone.

But the memories I have of bonding with him over articles, covers, reviews, and everything else in Entertainment Weekly, those aren’t going anywhere.

In talking about the demise of Entertainment Weekly, Mark Harris, a former writer for the publication, wisely said he’d learned long ago “not to be sentimental about businesses, brands, titles.” It’s a good lesson and one that’s guided me in processing my sadness over the Entertainment Weekly magazine being no more. What I’ll really miss here isn’t so much the brand name or even physical magazine of Entertainment Weekly, but the voices of talented writers, the artists these issues exposed me to, the career field this magazine pushed me towards pursuing, and especially the people this magazine brought me even closer to. Like the fond memories I have with my uncle, those positive aftereffects of the Entertainment Weekly magazine won't be vanishing anytime soon.  

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