Guys are changing and magazines are struggling to keep up. A new title in Germany wants to trade in machismo for meditation - but is still finding its manliness.
The men's magazine is dead. Long live the men's magazine!
In December 2015, For Him Magazine, better known as FHM, published its farewell issue. After 30 years of gawking at the "sexiest women in the world" and rating work-out regimes, FHM shut down shop. The men's magazines Zoo and Details also printed their last editions the same month.
The father of them all, Playboy, has barely managed to survive, selling only 20 percent as much as in its 1970s glory days: less than a million compared to 5 million copies monthly. This summer Playboy underwent a rebranding on the scale of a brain transplant, no longer featuring fully-nude women in its pages.
Amid this market shakeup, a new publication has jumped into the ring with unlikely enthusiasm. WOLF appeared on German newsstands at the end of November, marketing itself as a magazine for a new kind of man. The limited edition, published in German, was meant to test the market, but the publishers hope to turn it into a quarterly.
Not your dad's Playboy
Instead of tips on how to pick up your bartender or dress like your boss, WOLF offers advice on how to meditate. The articles idolize cabins, vinyl records and the Bauhaus art movement - all presented with a minimalist design blending nostalgia with do-it-yourself progressivism.
Not a single erotic photo of a female graces the unglossed pages. There's only one photo of a tough guy's bare chest, and it hardly seems the modern ideal - it's hairy old Rocky Marciano circa 1955. There are, however, two pictures of men reading, three photos of guys staring into forests, and one photo of a guy ogling home-made furniture.
The new man and his troubles
"There has been a dramatic change" in men's identity since the height of Playboy's success, says Dr. Michael Kimmel, director of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities at Stony Brook University in New York. Publishers, he says, have had to react to the fact that men are no longer so interested in becoming "stoic, robotic sex-fiends."
Playboy pinned its success to an ideal man who came of age in the post-war period and whose unofficial motto was "Work hard, play hard." Testosterone, that elixir of men in Westerns, means that whatever men do, they should kill themselves doing it.
And men are literally killing themselves. Suicide is globally the second leading cause of death for young males, and in wealthier countries, men are three times more likely than women to take their own lives.
Rocky Marciano (right), a boxing champion who became a symbol of 1950s masculinity, earned his fame through sheer brutality
The problem is rooted in a culture of competition into which men are socialized, says Dr. Harry Brod, professor of sociology at the University of Northern Iowa and one of the founding figures of the academic study of masculinities. "It's a combination of two things," Brod tells DW. "It's performance pressure - on the job and in the bedroom - combined with the inability to release the pressure in an emotionally healing way. This pressure-cooker time-bomb often explodes."
Help from women
WOLF presents an escape from destructive masculinity. The magazine is for men who "have taken their foot off the gas and want to live more in the moment," according to Sinja Schütte, the magazine's editor-in-chief.
Yes, WOLF's top man is a woman. The magazine is an offshoot of the woman-oriented lifestyle magazine FLOW ("wolf" spelled backwards), of which Schütte is also the top editor. She explained to DW that the idea for WOLF came out of conversations she had with men who loved the feel of FLOW but found it too feminine. Contributing her knowledge of mindful living, she recruited men who could translate that into man-language: a sort of emotion-minimal attitude with hard edges.
One wonders why, if gender roles really are changing, an appeal to slow down has to be sealed in a for-males-only package. Schütte believes FLOW's antidote to modern chaos would not reach men otherwise. "Men still seem to be afraid of things they find too feminine," she says. "WOLF is something they won't be embarrassed to put on their coffee table."
Too much FLOW in WOLF?
Translating feminine stereotypes into masculine ones isn't easy. WOLF's meditation advice, for example, is flanked by a list of manly men who regularly do it, too: Jogi Löw, Hugh Jackman, Jeff Bridges, Michael Jordan. It's the same way your mother would try to persuade you to eat your spinach.
"Even though we know it's good for us, 'real men' don't do yoga," regrets Kimmel. Mindfulness as a lifestyle - engaging in activities without competing, refocusing priorities, seeking peace - is gaining ground among men, but Kimmel says it's still a "quiet trend".
For better or worse, WOLF seems to want to teach men how to escape their crisis. That's a problem Playboy - always the candy, never the medicine - didn't have to deal with.
Rich men's vs. poor men's problems
What about the men who don't have the option of slowing down? The 10 million men living in poverty in the US or the 38 million impoverished men in the EU certainly don't need to be reminded that relaxation is good for you. They may simply need a week of paid vacation.
Schütte argues, however, that deceleration is important for all social classes. She points out that the mindfulness movement developed in the 1960s as a rebellion against the economic and social demands. "With all this information from our digital devices, ads on buses… It's a matter of survival."
Finding the right man
The tagline of the best-selling magazine Maxim, before its recent re-launch, was "Sex Sports Beer Gadgets Clothes Fitness". WOLF's tagline is "the men's magazine for the important things in life."
That's a much more difficult sell to readers, and the truth is, WOLF doesn't have the answer to what a "real man" needs in 2016. Neither does anyone else; masculinity is an attribute without a rock-solid foundation. But perhaps WOLF's goal is to prove that man is not in crisis, he's under construction.