The fast cars, explosions, gross out humour and of course the topless babes were all the bread and butter of the lad culture explosion of the mid-90s. The original purveyors of magazine smut were the likes of FHM and Zoo who were more than happy to cater to this super charged machoism. In their heyday they were the ubiquitous name on every 20somethings lips and were able to garner a peak circulation of 700,000 copies in terms for FHM in the early 2000s and 260,000 copies for Zoo in 2004. Don’t forget the lads mags predilection for female nudity, was before the online pornography really took off and was usually most men’s only chance of seeing a women’s breasts without getting a girlfriend… However it was this very same smut and shameless female objectification that inevitably raised a lot of red flags in the media and feminist movement. Thus judgement day for ‘lads mags’ had long been prophesised, so with the recent announcement of closure of FHM following on from the demise of Zoo in October, It seems the barrage of bare flesh and skimpy bikini’s has finally come to an end. A win for feminism and the ending of female sexual objectification right? Ideally I would love to believe that but while feminist campaigns did have some kind of an affect, unfortunately on the list of factors it would struggle to make it in the top three. The real reason for the demise of lads mags really came down to being part of a dying medium, hard cash and major competition.
With a reach that once spanned an entire nation, fast forward to the modern day and the lad’s mags can barely reach the top shelf in the cupboard. From a combined reach of 1 million mere 10 years ago, today and FHM’s circulation has fallen to less than 67,000 and it was looking even more grime for Zoo with 24,000. To put that into perspective, both FHM and Zoo on just their circulation alone, would struggle to give an issue to every person in Jersey or the Seychelles. But it would be unfair to ridicule the lad’s mags on these stats alone, because certainly they aren’t the only ones being brought to the edge of extinction in an internet era. Even NME which was once the gatekeeper of the entire world of music and certainly our British answer to Rolling Stone magazine, had to eventually forgo price entirely and distribute its content completely for free to keep its audience reach and just hope advertising alone could keep them afloat financially. The current state of the print medium is in the midst of singing its final swansong has it tries desperately to make its death as seamless and beautiful as possible.
Something that is everything but beautiful and by everything I mean crass, boisterous and archaic is ‘lad culture’. You would have thought by the mid-90s the lad culture would have finally grown up. But on the contrary not only did it not grow up, but it spawned a whole new generation of rowdy misogynistic behaviour. Just look at the unbelievable popularity of the LADBible and its notorious obsession with content such as; ‘the top 10 balding footballers’, ‘the best fake boobs’ or ‘The 20 biggest shoot out scenes in film’. According to own claims LADBible, they have access to an online readership of 127 million alone and many more across all social media platforms. 127 million is an audacious figure, but considering the site is ranked 12th on the most visited site the UK alone, the number suddenly becomes more plausible. Lad culture already known for its rampant sexism and suddenly becomes a far scarier prospect when you move it online and free it of press restrictions public scrutiny – where it is allowed to embrace and thrive in its chauvinistic attitude and infect the minds of it’s predominately university aged readers.
But we can’t talk sexism and not mention the big pink elephant in the room – internet porn, probably the greatest invention to teenage boys and 20somethings everywhere. The main selling point of lad’s mags was the appeal of glossy pages of naked women and details of their not so discreet sexual escapades. But the internet can do naked so much more X-rated and instead of just details you can see the sexual escapades played out in glorious HD. Even the behemoth of ‘nudy mags’ Playboy, had to concede defeat to the shear might of the internet and announce in 2014 the discontinuing of its full frontal nudity in its magazines. Opting for culture, entertainment and health articles and thus leaving the barrage of trash and titillation to the internet who can do it so much better (or worse should I say!).
As great as it would be to truly believe that lads mags are a thing of the past because sexism is something no longer existent in our society. But that would be either wishful thinking or complete naivety to the struggle still experienced by women across the spectrum, from work to the streets and especially the internet. Despite society still moving at a slow pace when it comes to sexism, even that was a bit too fast for the likes of FHM and Zoo who completely lost all connection with its readership and allowed themselves to become part of the problem instead of its solution. Despite not being completely for the reasons I would have liked, it’s still a relief to say good riddance to FHM and hope that we as a society, understands the corrosive nature of sexism and continues to endeavour to irradiate it in all its various forms.