Tits Revisited

Here's how to make a man groan with dismay: tell him Pamela Anderson Lee is on the cover of the February issue of Esquire. It's not that her career is hurting. It's not that she's already turned up on the covers of three magazines in the last year, including the Farrah Fawcett pose she struck for Details. It's just that, to a connoisseur, Lee can't compete with the Teutonic perfection of Heidi Klum, whose breasts ran fresh and wild across the pages of the January GQ.

"The difference is that Pamela was manufactured by surgeons," says Vogue research editor Sean Murphy, "while Heidi has been manufactured by God. I think the true beauty of a woman's breast is in the fact that it's in its natural state, whether large or small." Murphy speculates that given the "extraordinary competition for cover girls" among the men's magazines these days, Esquire may have had to settle for second best.

Not so, says Esquire editor in chief David Granger, who denies that Esquire is joining the trend toward C and D cups on the covers of men's magazines. (See any issue of Maxim.) Indeed, Esquire might unintentionally put an end to it. Granger says that Lee was chosen to illustrate a high concept the editors call "cleavage culture."

"We noticed something in the culture, and we wrote about it," he says. "The breast is now the predominant sales tool, and everyone from men's magazines to women's magazines to ad agencies to clothing manufacturers is trying to sell their product using cleavage, by using the American woman's breast."

So is the Lee cover meant to be . . . ironic? Or, even worse for the actress, a dis? Granger says it's up to the reader to decide. "She seemed like a worthy emblem of the phenomenon we're talking about, because she's as well-known for her breasts as for anything else."

Time will tell whether American men buy the two-in-one concept that serves up cheesecake alongside cheesecake criticism. But Granger seems to think the stories in Esquire's cleavage package will offset the idiot's appeal of the cover. In addition to a man's-eye view by Tom Kelly, Granger gave big-breasty bylines to two women: Mim Udovitch, who makes fun of America's obsession with everything false, from grand jury testimony to Wonderbras, and comedienne Sarah Silverman, who surveys her own bust. They should make a nice addition to the canons of tit lit, which include Nora Ephron's small-breasted manifesto for Esquire, "A Few Words About Breasts," and Lynn Snowden's SPY classic, "Busty Like Me," in which the author donned falsies and explained how they ruined her life.

So if you're a guy hoping to talk about breasts with your dinner date, study the February issue of Esquire. If you're just ordering takeout, better pick up the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue instead.


Paradise Lost

You wouldn't expect to find them drinking together, but zine king Jim Goad and investigative reporter Gary Webb have a few things in common. Both write about red-hot topics, and both recently fell from grace, tumbling so far that no commercial publisher would touch their books. Both hit bottom, only to see their travails become the subject of epic magazine stories last year. (The December issue of Spin dubbed Goad "American Psycho"; in September, Esquire called Webb "The Pariah.")

Rotten luck. But both men have found brave new sponsors: Webb's book Dark Alliance was published in 1998 by Seven Stories Press, and his first magazine story comes out in the April issue of Esquire. Goad has just sold his memoir, Shit Magnet, to Feral House.

You may not have heard of Jim Goad, but he is definitely in a shitload of trouble. The underground legend goes to trial January 15 in Portland, on charges of attempted kidnapping and assault. Is he guilty? We'll see. His accuser is a former stripper and spurned lover who has been known to land a scratch or two herself; his prosecutor has kept Goad in jail for nine months and plans to use the defendant's writing to prove his intent.

Goad was riding high just a few years ago. He was putting out a popular zine called Answer Me!, which dished out equal doses of anger and irony. And while the fourth issue, a/k/a "the rape issue," pissed off a lot of people, it also landed him a two-book contract with Simon & Schuster. His first book, Redneck Manifesto, was published in 1997 to favorable reviews. (Publishers Weekly concluded that Goad was "writing at the top of his voice.")

By the time Goad was arrested last May, S&S had already canceled Shit Magnet, because of disagreement about its direction. The book is now a work-in-progress, scribbled in a jail cell, which he plans to end with an account of his trial. Goad's agent, Janet Taylor of Portland's Northwest Literary Agency, says she sent the incomplete manuscript "to most of the big houses. The typical response: it didn't fit in their line." One editor who passed on the manuscript calls it "part autobiography, part self-justification, part screed" and notes that "Goad is something of a local pariah."

Enter Adam Parfrey, founder of the Santa Monica­based Feral House, whose backlist is posted at www.feralhouse.com. Parfrey, who is a friend of Goad, calls him a "terrific" writer. Talking to Goad last fall, Parfrey realized that "a contract would help him get a new lawyer, and it would be a good book for me to do as well." The publisher says that Shit Magnet is "heavily confessional, not of committing a crime but of committing extremely bad judgment in his life. I found it remarkable, because I never read that sort of thing from Jim Goad before."

Parfrey plans to attend the trial in Portland. "It's one of these pieces of malicious prosecution," he says. "You've got an ex-girlfriend who's crazy and a prosecutor who doesn't like his writing and doesn't see the satirical element." There's a lot of evidence that hasn't come out yet, and Parfrey says that when it does, Goad will almost certainly go free. He has scheduled the book for next fall.

Unlike Goad, Gary Webb didn't make his bones in the zine world. He doesn't write about violence. And he's not in jail. But he caught a tremendous amount of flak for "Dark Alliance," his 1996 series in the San Jose Mercury News, linking the CIA with contras who sold coke in L.A. Was it accurate? We'll see. The series was debunked in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times, and the editor of the Mercury News apologized for it. Webb was reassigned to a sleepy beat, only to have Dark Alliance rejected by 25 book publishers.

But what goes around comes around. After Webb quit the Mercury News, he got a job investigating California state agencies for the state legislature. Last year, Seven Stories Press published Dark Alliance and the CIA investigated itself, with mixed results. In the course of researching a story about Webb, Esquirecontributing editor Chuck Bowden found "a mountain of evidence about the CIA and drugs" and decided Webb should be writing for the magazine.

And that's how Webb got an assignment from Esquire to write about one of his state agency investigations. "I gave it a shot and they liked the piece," says Webb, who works out of his home in Sacramento. He adds that these days, as newspapers are abandoning the unpopular business of investigations, "it's natural that the big magazines might want to pick it up."

Esquire's David Granger praises Webb's story as "original investigative reporting" and says that "[executive editor] Mark Warren and I are going to talk to him about a couple of other ideas." So much for Webb. But will any magazine pick up the first serial rights to Shit Magnet?


Rat Pack

In this age of scaredy-cat media, let's hear it for WGBH's Frontline series, which continues to sponsor top-quality investigative reporting. The latest in the long line is "Snitch," a documentary that airs on PBS January 12. In this amazing show, veteran producer Ofra Bikel examines the role of snitches in the drug war and captures the injustice at the heart of the U.S. criminal justice system. Everyone in Congress who swears by their constitutional duties should be forced to watch "Snitch" and then do something about this spectacle of cruel and unusual punishment.

The aberration began in the late 1980s, when Congress gave federal prosecutors the power to assign harsh sentences for any drug offense, and to offer cooperation deals as the only way out. Then Congress passed a law allowing prosecutors to hit the lowest person in a drug ring with a sentence fit for a kingpin— with no more evidence required than the word of a single informant. Within a few years, drug defendants were testifying against each other right and left.

There's one hitch: with so much incentive, snitches are terribly prone to lie. But drug prosecutors don't have to prove the reliability of their informants, and they don't have to fit the punishment to the crime. If they did, many of the heartbreaking stories Bikel discovered might never have come to be.

For example, Clarence Aaron, a college athlete with no prior record, might not have ended up serving three life sentences for his minor role in a single crack deal. Lulu Smith, whose son was a suspected dealer, might not have been convicted by a prosecutor who knew she was innocent.

Bikel was new to the subject. "I never used drugs. I don't know anybody who takes drugs," she says. "I assumed that those people are in jail because they got caught with drugs." In fact, under the current laws, people can land in jail who had no drugs on them at all. Along the way, Bikel met prosecutors who told her snitches are indispensable in the drug war and defense attorneys who told her the system invites "unbelievable abuse."

"It is really shameful," Bikel says. She has concluded that prosecutors go on sending these minor players to jail because they're too lazy to buck the system. "Informants are easy and making deals is easy," she says. "But it is outrageous." Anyone who watches this show with an open mind will have to agree.

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