“Please rise for the national anthem.” A few students yawn, stretch and rub their eyes as if their beds ejected them into class. Eyelids gradually close, open, then close again. It’s early Friday morning at Port Perry High School in southeastern Ontario. Communications teacher Mr. Scuse introduces me as a “special treat” to the class; only a couple of heads look up. One student puts his sweatshirt hood on and lets his chin droop to his chest. Others support their faces in their palms. I ask them to describe their favourite teen magazine. Silence. There is an unspoken pact-the students will not volunteer until confronted and they refuse to be easily impressed.
Despite the attitude, in the past two decades, marketers have made it their mission to impress this lucrative demographic. After baby boomers, today’s teens make up the second-largest group in Canada. More than four million strong and with $19 billion a year to burn, teens are powerful consumers. It’s no wonder that marketers have infiltrated all areas of teen life with specially designed brands and targeted campaigns. Even schools have turned into marketplaces in which advertising, logos, and corporate-sponsored events are increasingly common. And it’s a trend that won’t soon disappear. Recent controversy has surrounded the pop machine wars, in which corporations vie for coveted spots in school cafeterias. The Youth News Network loaned Canadian schools satellite and computer equipment with the demand that students watch YNN advertising. According to the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, seven in 10 parents are opposed to advertising in schools. But due to government cutbacks to education, Canadian schools are increasingly in a position that leads them to accept funding from private sources, and corporate agendas will continue to stretch ethical boundaries.
But debate hasn’t yet hindered ad-driven teen magazines produced for distribution in Canadian secondary schools. It began with Winnipeg magazine What 16 years ago and has grown to incorporate Verve, Fuel, and most recently, Faze, with a combined circulation of more than a million copies. While these four-colour, 56-page or so books do aid in commercializing classrooms, their content being primarily advertorial in nature,Verve, Fuel, and What have managed to squeak through unnoticed by simply tossing in what the publishers call “educational content.” Faze is somewhat of an exception because it offers readers more substance, although it too is slowly sliding into the same trap as its competitors. But publishers don’t foist these books upon students-the schools invite these magazines in.
Each publisher has a liaison who communicates with a contact in the schools, be it the librarian, a teacher, or a guidance counsellor. It is entirely up to individual schools to “subscribe” to the free publications. And with a secure distribution point in more than 6,500 schools, What, Verve, Fuel, and Faze are indeed reaching teens, something the Canadian Teachers’ Federation opposes.
All four editors say their magazines are used in classrooms as teaching tools and to facilitate discussion, an idea that David Moss, director of communications for the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, finds appalling. “There are plenty of places for companies to advertise without trying to do it under the guise of ‘curriculum,'” he says. Indeed, in an OSSTF article entitled “Commercialization Trends,” the federation maintains that as long as “corporate-produced” magazines are used in classrooms, “the teacher, a trusted authority figure, acts as an effective corporate spokesperson.” As to why teachers continue to subscribe, the OSSTF says that while teachers do have the role of gatekeepers, “teachers desperate for resources may feel they have no choice and teachers not trained in media literacy may not be as discriminating as proponents argue they are.” Erika Shaker, director of the Education Project for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, says, “Most school boards have guidelines for ‘dealing’ with the private sector but guidelines are easy to ignore, so they’re not particularly effective.” Moss and the OSSTF realize that such negligence is harmful, stating that “corporations are quite willing to step in to provide ‘educational material’ at a price. And that price is, of course, that their particular advertising is directed to students who are a captive audience.” This is the reason marketing-driven teen publications use schools as distribution points for their messages.
Take Verve and Fuel , for instance. Owned by marketing company Youth Culture Group, these gender-specific magazines attempt to construct a teen image that is built on spending. Youth Culture originally produced a younger, unisex magazine called Watch, which eventually became Bang. But the company’s research showed that boys are alienated by girl-specific advertisements and older teens require different targeting because they have more money to spend. And so came Verve for 14- to 19-year-old girls, with the mission to be the older, wiser sister to its readers, and Fuel for boys in the same age group, with the aim to be gritty locker room conversation in magazine form. With their parent marketing company overseeing the magazines, it’s no wonder that Verve and Fuel come across as sales rather than journalism vehicles. After a rocky parting with Youth Culture, former Fuel and Verve associate editor Christian Pearce shares his opinion: “If these magazines could be 100 percent advertising, they would. They’re not there to entertain kids or to be interesting or provocative or informative. They’re there to sell them things.” But former Youth Culture accounts manager Natalie Riznek disagrees. Far from being mere advertising tools, she says the magazines have done much social good by rewarding athletes-of-the- month, engaging in a campaign to dispel myths about body image, and participating in World Vision’s 24-hour famine. Riznek says while the magazines may not be educational, the advertising isn’t harmful because teens have already been targeted in every imaginable way and place.
Youth Culture is not alone in recognizing that teens are valuable consumers with high spending potential. Since 1987, the bimonthly What has positioned itself in Canadian secondary schools with dense advertising and very little educational content. What essentially paved the way for future in-school magazines to do the same. Its publisher, What Promotions, tells advertisers not to “underestimate the buying power of today’s most influential consumer group. They’re intelligent, brand loyal, open-minded and have money to burn.” But Barbara Chabai, What‘s editor and an advertising graduate, carefully pulls back from the aggressive tone of the sales mandate: “We are very aware of the overwhelming amount of manipulative messages our readers face every day. That’s why we are critical of what kind of advertising we accept. Of course, we are a commercial publication, and in order to stay free to our readers, we must sell advertising space.” Editors with advertising backgrounds aren’t uncommon in the in-school teen magazine business, which may be one reason why these publications often let editorial slide into advertorial.
This is why Faze publisher Lorraine Zander’s vision was unique: she wanted to create a Canadian teen magazine that encouraged its readers to think critically about world issues and less about which products would help them fit in. With the mission “to be Canada’s number one youth magazine while maintaining a positive and empowering editorial focus,” Faze is distributed not only in schools, but in Chapters/Indigo, inside drugstore product variety packs, and at video dance parties four times a year. However, while critics hailed the magazine at the outset as fresh and full of real content, Faze has gradually been sliding into the celebrity-based, product-promoting trap of its competitors. While Faze still offers educational articles and space for reader criticism, the magazine is increasingly leaning toward an advertiser’s view of teens as consumers. Maybe it’s just the reality of the teen magazine landscape in Canada: with such a mass effort to reach this demographic and establish brand preferences, teen magazines cannot merely stay in the loop, they must create it. They must construct cool and present it to teens as reality.
But the students in Mr. Scuse’s class show little interest in converting to an adult’s version of cool when I ask them to analyze the content in Verve. Flipping through magazines is at least more exciting than listening to a lecture, so most of the students comply. One girl stops on a page in the What‘s Up Doc? section ofVerve‘s September 2001 issue. “I’m 15 years old and my boobs aren’t big. Is there a problem with me?” she reads. She looks down at her chest, bursts into laughter, and responds, “Well, I’m 17 and my boobs aren’t big either!” Next to her, a boy with jet black hair and matching chipped nail polish finds the magazine less amusing. “‘Denim Diversity’! Give me a break. They’re saying diversity is determined by what jeans you wear. It’s ridiculous,” he says, tossing the magazine aside. Since Youth Culture says that Verve and Fuelcan be, and often are, used for classroom discussion, I ask if the students feel there is any educational content in the magazine. A few answer no, others just shake their heads. “These magazines tell you that you have to be perfect,” one girl blurts out. “And they only make you feel worse about yourself.” By now, most of the class is awake, except for the kid in the hooded sweatshirt (you can’t win them all). One girl says, “The quizzes are fun, but they expect you to fit into A, B, C, or D, and not everyone does.” Another student returns from a bathroom trip. “It’s snowing hardcore,” he announces. Suddenly, I lose their attention once more.
Seventy kilometres southwest of this small farm town, deep in the heart of Toronto’s fashion district, it’sVerve editor Charmaine Noronha’s job to capture and retain teens’ attention. She is the only one at Youth Culture with a journalism degree and she makes it her responsibility to give teens substance: “I am the only person here in support of editorial. So it makes it harder, because the publisher comes from a sales background. But I’ve never been pushed to put something in that I haven’t wanted to.” Ironically, just moments after she finalizes ideas for an article on fashion trends, Noronha says she’d like to cut the beauty and fashion sections of Verve as much as possible and concentrate on providing teens with the tools to make a difference. “Their spending power is great, but their human power is greater.”
Noronha articulates her mission in her editorial columns, where she encourages kids to be active in social issues. But beyond her intelligent columns, most pages are saturated with advertisements and editorial that mirror Verve‘s numerous advertorials. Looking back, former Fuel associate editor Rodrigo Bascu??n believes this incongruity is a result of Youth Culture publishers not respecting journalism: “Charmaine did want to do something that was important to kids, but I think there are a lot of ways you can impede someone. She had her heart in the right place, it’s just that Youth Culture’s not the right place to do something like that when those in control don’t care at all.” The advertising concentration so apparent in Verve is something Noronha wrestled with when she first began at Youth Culture: “I didn’t want to be part of something that’s a product peddler for kids, especially when it’s so intrusive in that it’s right in high schools.” Her concern made it into the August 2002 issue of Verve: “Sometimes I grapple with what we put in Verve since I’m always conscious of not wanting to sabotage a young reader’s self-esteem or seduce you into thinking you need to buy this or that to feel or look good.” But the reality of Verve being an advertising vehicle becomes apparent in that same column, when, only four paragraphs later, Noronha wrote, “I can’t forget to thank all of the folks at Wal-Mart.”
Indeed, with Wal-Mart as Verve‘s biggest client, despite any journalistic aspirations, the magazine often appears to be little more than a magalogue for the store, with editorial offering Wal-Mart solutions, Wal-Mart advertising filling most of the ad space, and Wal-Mart advertorials masquerading as service pieces. In the August 2002 issue (which was distributed in Wal-Mart stores), Wal-Mart had five advertorials that covered hair tips, back to school makeup tips, and essential school wear in a similar way to regular editorial articles like “School Tools,” “Looks 101,” and “Bathroom Break.” In “Denim Diversity,” the article Mr. Scuse’s Grade 12 student pointed out, Verve showed readers how they could get cool fashion looks for less at Wal-Mart. In fact, editorial space is sooner given to Wal-Mart and Verve‘s other major advertisers than to critical feedback from its readers. And Wal-Mart isn’t the only client that treads in editorial waters.
A former Youth Culture employee, who asked not to be named, remembers another example. “Study guides were multi-page plugs for candy,” he says, referring to Verve‘s December 2001 issue, in which a six-page Twizzlers advertising feature impersonated an exam study guide. The October/November 2000 issue had five editorial articles covering music in a similar fashion to some deceiving music-based advertorials. Pringles potato chips interviewed the duo M2M in its advertisement in much the same way that a Vervewriter interviewed Alice Deejay in that same issue. Examples of the blurred ad/editorial line could go on, and according to Christian Pearce, they certainly do.
MuchMusic has been another big advertiser in both Verve and Fuel. In the September 2001 issues, both magazines ran a MuchMusic ad that appeared to be actual editorial, byline (Patricia Scott) and all. “If you’re looking through the magazine, it’s hard to tell the difference between this MuchMusic ad and editorial,” says Pearce. “It looks the same. And it is an ad. It had nothing to do with editorial and you can’t tell.” This particular advertisement didn’t specifically say “advertorial,” although on the whole, Youth Culture publications are careful to label advertorials in the top right hand corner. Yet, like the MuchMusic ad, sometimes advertorials slip through, with such a likeness to editorial that even Youth Culture’s own editors can’t tell them apart. So can teen readers discern the difference?
Debbie Gordon is in the business of making sure they can. After years of working in advertising, she’s switched sides and now runs a company called Mediacs. In a series of media awareness workshops, Gordon speaks to young students, parent groups, and educators, helping to decode youth-geared marketing messages, something she considers a survival skill. “We have an entire industry that has blossomed around our children over the last 10 to 15 years,” she says. With marketers manufacturing cool, children and teens need to become aware that they are being targeted in a significant way, Gordon says. Marketers are tapping into this demographic because they see teens as emulative and indulgent. However, fleeting fads also mean teens are an unpredictable demographic, so manufacturing cool requires extensive research, something that isn’t lost on Youth Culture. Verve and Fuel are run on detailed research into brand preferences, and in charge of it all is Michele Erskine.
As the managing partner of Youth Culture and head of its research arm, Erskine conducts an annual study called Trendscan, a phone survey of 1,800 12- to 24-year-olds that maps spending habits. Youth Culture then sells this information to clients like Pepsi, Levi’s, and Bluenotes so they can better target teen consumers. As for the accuracy of the research, Rodrigo Bascu??n says, “The people who did it told me it wasn’t that great.” Pearce concurs, opining that Youth Culture’s research was conducted to get the results they wanted: “I think statistically you can come up with virtually any result you want as long as you direct things semantically in a certain way. And they come up with results that I think they want to come up with because it helps them to sell advertising.”
On the contrary, Erskine says that the results of her research actually give kids more credit than mass media have attributed to them. “I find them to be less indulgent and I find them to be better equipped to deal with commercial messaging than some adults I know.” For instance, she often asks teens what they do if a product or service doesn’t meet their expectations. “Teens will tell all of their friends it sucks,” says Erskine. “And if you then take that one step further and recognize that because of the Internet, if they tell their friends something sucks, it can be huge. It’s a very effective consumer tool.” Research into what makes teens tick, or spend, is becoming increasingly prevalent, but it assumes that the answer is attainable. And if Mr. Scuse’s Grade 12 students are at all indicative of the teen population, one thing is clear: teens cannot be simply mapped out.
Back in the classroom, the students leisurely flip through issues of Fuel, Youth Culture’s teen boy magazine. A couple of boys who had no previous interest in Verve suddenly find something they like in Fuel-pictures showing how to build a skateboard ramp. One student grabs a metre stick to see how high the dimensions are. “Cool,” he says. He garners a crowd of interested classmates. “Do you like the magazine itself?” I ask. “Nah,” he answers, “just the skateboard ramp.” Overall, the class isn’t entirely dismissive of the magazine, and it seems to attract just as many girls as it does guys. Still, when I ask them if they would consider buying the magazine if it were on newsstands, one girl answers, “No, they just pass the time when class is boring.” Smiling, Mr. Scuse interjects, “But my class is never boring, right?”
On a rainy October morning, I meet Sara Graham, who’s in charge of making sure Fuel readers are never bored. Fuel‘s image is the opposite of Verve‘s very feminine one. According to Bascu??n, the unofficial mandate for the book around Youth Culture’s office while he was there was to be “like Maxim, minus the women and minus the racy humour. I don’t know what that is then, I mean Maxim minus women-there’s not much left.” Yet Fuel isn’t exactly strict about this rule. Girl-talk columns and articles like the August 2001 issue’s “Model Behaviour,” which teaches guys how to pick up “the world’s most glamorous women,” have managed to slip in. But Graham insists that the content isn’t racy or Maxim-inspired. “We know that if we push those buttons, we’ll get kicked out of school,” she explains.
Before Graham took over the editorship of Fuel, Noronha headed up both Fuel and Verve. Due in part to the enormous amount of work and a personal uneasiness with the “guy’s guy” tone that Fuel was beginning to incorporate, Noronha decided to give up Fuel: “It was moving in a different direction, in terms of its guy-ness.” After a difficult period of finding the perfect fit for the position, Youth Culture replaced Noronha with Graham. With a marketing background, the new editor would be able to make this spending demographic pop.
Graham came to Youth Culture to work in sales, putting together advertorials for the two magazines. In fact, she continues to flout the church/state division by working in sales while editing Fuel. Flipping through the book, it’s immediately obvious that there is no disguising the marketing force behind it. In the September 2001 issue, an article entitled “Moore Better” discussed the advancements in gaming equipment like Nintendo’s newest Gameboy. The article was sandwiched between two Gameboy Advance advertisements. In the August 2002 issue, an advertisement for Wal-Mart’s video games preceded an article describing the hottest games and gaming systems. Pearce comments on what he sees as a lack of real content in Fueland Verve: “These magazines aren’t being set up with any sort of noble intent. They don’t care about putting good information out there, stuff that’s going to help kids understand the world they live in. They care about making them stupider.”
Not so, says Graham, who points out that a “social feature,” covering important issues such as child poverty and environmental damage, appears in both Verve and Fuel. Yet she also adds, “Guys might not seriously look at it, but having it within gaming features and stuff about cars, it’s there and it’s up to kids to read. You can’t force anybody to think critically.” Indeed, the social feature seems to be Youth Culture’s pride and joy, as the staff unanimously espouse its use in classrooms as a teaching tool. Christian Pearce comments: “The social features that Youth Culture is required to put in on a per-issue basis by the schools themselves, those are their conscience salvation. Youth Culture is doing something that’s really not good for kids overall but they think they can save themselves some of the guilt by writing a little editorial in conflict with the values presented on every other page in these magazines.” While this opinion clearly contradicts Noronha’s genuine effort to help kids, it may be a better illustration of Fuel‘s weak editorial commitment. For instance, beyond the social feature, Graham cites a career-focused piece in each issue that, ostensibly, also offersFuel readers substance. “We focused on a teen who took a year off to snowboard. How do you do it? How do you get housing? That kind of stuff is practical,” she says.
The anonymous former Youth Culture employee explains that respect for high-quality editorial must emanate from the publishers, and he says that just didn’t happen at the company: “What Youth Culture did was offer advertisers a stealth means of infiltrating the teen environment. They’re not concerned with journalism, that’s not the point. If they were, they would invest more in an editorial team and qualified writers. As it stands, it doesn’t dawn on anyone in Youth Culture management that they’re not producing a good product.” Bascu??n agrees, commenting on what he believes was Youth Culture’s real mandate while he was there. “I think the reality was that it was just about money,” he says.
As a means to accomplish this, Pearce says Youth Culture publishers did not offer editorial autonomy. He remembers writing a piece for Fuel following the events of September 11, 2001, that addressed Osama bin Laden’s and Saddam Hussein’s perspectives. But in Pearce’s words, he ran into a political wall. Youth Culture publishers made so many changes to his copy that he decided to pull it. “When something like September 11 happens, people want to know why,” he says. “And it’s by keeping information away from them that the status quo is perpetuated. I believe in letting people make sense of the information themselves. But Youth Culture publishers weren’t interested in that.” Noronha remembers the incident differently, though: “It was a sensitive time. The problem was that right after September 11, no one had verifiable information. Writing a background on bin Laden is a difficult thing to do when so many sources conflict. What source do you go to?” With three years of editing under her belt, Noronha disagrees with Pearce on the lack of editorial autonomy, saying she’s been able to write “anything and everything” she has wanted to.
With only 10 minutes remaining in Mr. Scuse’s class, I switch gears from the more Toronto-centred Youth Culture publications and focus on the Winnipeg-produced What magazine. It might appeal to this small farm-town class more than Verve and Fuel. “Oh yeah, we get that one,” one student says when I hold up the magazine. “Do you read it?” I ask. “Well, I cut out a picture of a monkey in one of them to put in my locker. But mostly they end up in recycling,” she says. As they flip through What in their desk clusters of four, students spark up a conversation. “This is supposed to be a unisex magazine?” one asks as he flips to a tampon ad. “I don’t want to look at those ads either,” the girl next to him says. “Why not? You use them,” he retorts. A few students laugh. “What do you think of this one?” I ask the boy in the hood who has just woken up. “Too many ads,” he says, refusing to form a complete sentence. His neighbour speaks up instead, “I know they’re trying to make you buy something, but I still wonder what this J.Lo perfume smells like.”
This is precisely the kind of thing What solicits from its readers: honest criticism. The 16-year-old book gives readers pages of editorial space to rant. A letters-to-the-editor section does what is unprecedented among its in-school competitors: it publishes the negative feedback. For instance, in the June 2002 issue, reader Charlotte B. wrote, “You say it’s a Canadian magazine. Well if it’s so Canadian, did you ever notice how most of the stuff is American?” Beyond feedback, teens can publish their own literature in the section Verbatim, and a quirky advice column, Smart Alex, provides humourous answers to teens’ questions.
But while What values teen opinion, it lacks educational content, which contradicts its being distributed in schools. With such a strong celebrity focus, What doesn’t really delve beyond star publicity. The lead to an article on actor Brendan Fehr in the June 2001 issue was a plug for his next television role. A department entitled Scoop du Jour consists of celebrity gossip sponsored by the corporation Gillette. (Other editorial articles are also sponsored by corporations, further blurring the editorial/advertorial line.)
Like Fuel and Verve, What usually aims for its quota of one or two social features per issue on topics such as self-injury and alcoholism. But these types of articles seem to come out of nowhere and contradict the messages given by advertisers and the editorial that, whether intentional or not, encourage readers to alter their appearance with products. For instance, the social feature in the June 2002 issue dealt with unrealistic body images. Yet, makeup and hair colour advertisements were included with multiple editorials on celebrities, many of whose bodies are sculpted, showing an unattainable beauty ideal. As Pearce says, it’s not enough to simply say, “Don’t concentrate on self-image,” when nearly every other page in the magazine encourages the reader to do just that. Beyond the social features, advertisements mimic editorial and the difference is actually harder to distinguish in What than in the Youth Culture publications, which, most of the time, label advertorials. In What, a Clean & Clear acne medication advertisement reads like editorial copy, but nowhere does it explicitly say that it’s an advertisement or advertorial. As for the service pieces, in the Back to School 2002 issue, a five-page spread of product reviews reads more like a series of press releases. For Revlon nail polish, for instance, the copy reads, “Super Top Speed Chrome polish has a unique, fast-drying, two-coat formula that hardens to a beautiful finish in a single minute but provides chip-resistant colour that lasts for days.” As for its unisex status, most advertisements are female-geared, and contests like the one put on by What and feminine hygiene product maker Stayfree Prima just alienate male readers, much the way the tampon ad affected Mr. Scuse’s Grade 12 student when he came across it.
Back in the classroom, the students’ attention spans have nearly reached their limits. Some begin fidgeting with pencils. Others tap their feet. But I still have one magazine for them to peruse. With an air of desperation to beat the clock, I toss issues of Faze at them. “Lorraine Zander wanted to buy her younger brother a magazine subscription,” I begin. A few students look up. “But she didn’t think there were any good Canadian teen magazines out there. So she made her own.” Five minutes until second period, and I realize I have to speed up my delivery. “So she covered everything from human cloning to stock exchanges to Canadian immigration in her first few issues. Has she held true to her mission?” Silence. Of course. But a few students are actually looking through the magazines. Finally a hand goes up. The student with black hair and nail polish holds up the Faze column Ask Ed the Sock. “I think she’s selling out,” he says. Some sit with lips pursed, other shake their heads, and one student rolls her eyes in agreement.
Mr. Scuse’s students may not be too far off the mark. While Zander’s intent to provide teens with more substance actually broke the teen magazine mould, it seems a difficult mission stick to. Her first few issues were the exact opposite of Youth Culture’s magazines and What. Rather than covering just one important political or social issue, Faze delivered a magazine full of them, with only one or two entertainment articles. But, as the time passed, the content began to lag. It all happened around the time that Faze started using Ed the Sock as an advice columnist and began putting celebrities such as the Moffatts, Shakira, Pink, Our Lady Peace, and Avril Lavigne on the cover. While Faze still has editorial that’s meaningful and important, more of it is becoming discretely product-promoting. For instance, in the Back to School 2002 issue, an article on the girl band Untamed is largely a plug for the trio’s endorsement deal with Rock Hard Nails. At the end of the article are website addresses to “get more info on this hot line of cosmetics.” And just like What,Faze now has editorial that is brought to its readers by an advertising client, plugging advertisers within editorial copy without an advertorial slug.
According to Zander, advertisements don’t deter her from her mission of empowering teens: “There’s so much media concern surrounding the influence of advertising on our young people. But underlying that statement is a suggestion that our young people cannot think for themselves.” Faze still offers teens substance, but with a little product and celebrity promotion here and there. The teen magazine publication business in Canada is a harsh one, and it was only a matter of time before Zander realized that promoting products is a survival skill.
As the bell rings, Mr. Scuse’s Grade 12 students shuffle out of class. They have survived enough magazine chat for one day. “Those magazines suck,” one girl says to her friend. “Yeah, I’d never buy them if they weren’t free,” her friend says. Tough crowd. I hear bits of conversations about the snow, about plans for the weekend, about forgotten shoes for gym class. These students have taught me that they are much more complex than a marketer’s image of them could convey. Teens are critical of being told to like something and skeptical about marketer’s messages. While teen magazines may aim to manufacture cool, most teens can usually see right through it. As I begin cleaning the whiteboard, I feel someone tap my shoulder and turn to see a small, shy student who hadn’t spoken during class. Now she simply says, “I wish they had more horoscopes.” I smile. She reminds me that being a teen is pretty difficult and sometimes there’s nothing wrong with escaping into a few glossy pages-if only the marketing machines at the helm provided something she could safely escape into, no strings attached.