Triumph of the new lad: Stylish? Clever? Sophisticated? Don't be silly: the men's magazine of the moment is about football, booze and babes. And it's laughing all the way to the bank. Helen Birch reports

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Indy Lifestyle Online
He is immature, interested only in football, booze, bonking and babes. His heroes are the hard man Barry Grant from Brookside, the Reservoir Dog Michael Madsen, the working-class bad boy Gary Oldman, the celluloid psychopath Dennis Hopper and the all-time top scorer George Best, who could sink a couple of bottles of vodka, bed a bevy of blondes, then pick himself up and bang the ball into the net. Wey hey]

You might have hoped that this hedonistic, hard-drinking he-man had become a marginal figure, swept aside by feminism. Judging from the success of loaded, however, the latest glossy to muscle in on the burgeoning market for men's magazines, he's alive and well and propping up the bar in a pub near you.

Just five months old, loaded has already busted its modest target of 45,000 with a circulation of 69,000 and rising. It has, says its editor, James Brown, 28, tapped a hitherto neglected market. While the other men's magazines - GQ (circulation 109,235), Esquire (97,000), Arena (92,187) and FHM (60,000) - compete for the attention of the urbane, style-conscious aspirational 25-35 male, loaded has its sights fixed on overgrown lads who wear their blinkers with pride.

'Most of our readers are in the early twenties,' says Brown, 'though I don't care how old they are. loaded isn't a magazine for a market, it's for me and my mates; it's about a devil-may-care attitude, not demographics.

'Our readers like the relaxed atmosphere - it's like a good night out in the pub with your mates, with a lot of shared social reference points. If we've pulled in readers, it's because we accept them for what they are.

'We know that you can't pigeon-hole people, that a 65-year-old driving a BMW might laugh at the same joke as a 15-year-old who's still at school. We're not trying to push value systems like the style magazines.'

He's right: loaded is different. It feels more like a fanzine than the brainchild of a marketing department. It has a clubby-pubby, all-lads-together hedonism and a healthy disrespect for pretension and all things Soho.

Striving to close the gap between writer and reader, its features, which mostly feel as if they are written on the hoof and barely edited, are frequently illustrated by snapshots of the loaded lads getting loaded on freebie trips to Newcastle or Berlin or Las Vegas - this could be you, lads.

It has a beer-swilling, bantering humour, too. The September 'Goals, girls and go on my son' issue boasts a feature on the 'Crisps World Cup'. A regular feature is Platinum Rogues: the premier league of bad behaviour, a gallery of the exploits of boys (and a few girls) who have made headlines for fighting and boozing and pulling the birds. With its catchline 'for men who should know better', and its regular rooting through the Seventies cultural archives - features on Sid James, Bernard Manning, Dave, the barman from Minder - loaded casts its net at the sort of man who used to read the NME in his lunch hour, took speed and played in a band, while his female contemporaries were debating feminism.

He has laughed at Viz and Vic Reeves, has had to listen to his girlfriends bemoan his inability to talk about his emotions and has watched the much-touted new man with scepticism and amusement - maybe even tried his clothes on for size - while secretly thinking that he is a bit of a wimp. Now, in the Nineties, sexual politics has become a bit of a joke, a bystander mowed down by the hysterical PC bandwagon, and he feels his time has come.

In the US, Warren Farrell and Michael Crichton are fighting his corner for him, and thanks to Nick Hornby, Pete Davies and a new breed of sports journalist, it is become de rigueur for him to talk about his favourite subject, football, in mixed company. Thank goodness he doesn't have to pay lip-service to those whingeing women any more. Now he is free to welcome the Wonderbra with open hands, and, while he would never buy girlie mags - his girlfriend would kill him if he brought those home - he feels safe with loaded because, after all, it's ironic, isn't it?

Or is it? Alongside laddish, get-a-load-of-that-style interviews with blond, always blond, babes - Pamela Anderson, Elle Macpherson - loaded has its very own Page 3, called Most Wanted, on which would-be starlets pose in various states of undress. Crotch shots of Elizabeth Hurley in black lace panties; bare-breasted bit-part actress Kari Wunrer on a bed covered in pink satin.

A few pages on, it's off to foreign parts for a spot of sexual tourism. South America: 'I didn't want to commit myself to having to hang around San Carlos only to find out she was having her period . . . I didn't want to waste time being sensitive.' Spain: 'Spanish girls have just one ambition, to present a TV gameshow.' Or reminiscences about teenage sex: 'To say that Brenda was ugly would be a massive understatement . . . Weighing in at 17 stone, her face looked as if it had done lengthy service as a welder's bench.'

Puerile nonsense for the post-Viz generation? Perhaps, except that unlike Viz, whose success was founded on a comic-book ethos of self-parody, loaded gives it to you straight. If you want to join the gang, you have to share the joke, however distasteful. As Brown puts it: loaded is for men who 'have accepted what we are and have given up trying to improve ourselves'.

Turn to the rogues' gallery, and you find Paul Gascoigne, who recently confessed to the News of the World that he regularly beat up his girlfriend, Sheryl; Mickey Rourke, guilty of the same crime, except that his punchbag was his wife, Carre Otis; Alan Clark, who admitted lusting after his daughter; Phil Collins, who dumped his wife of 10 years for a 22-year-old Swiss interpreter. Fun, fun, fun.

'Sexual politics?' jokes Brown. 'I don't care for that kind of talk. Seriously, though, we're post-sex, post-politics. If we're sexist, then all magazines are. We're not using images that haven't been used elsewhere - we're just more honest about the fact that men like looking at women, and we like winding people up. Forget Generation X - we're Generation XXXX.'

In one issue there is a stab at 'post-politics' cultural analysis with Barry Grant, the character who, fans of the soap will remember, murdered his friend's wife and child: 'Amidst Barry's anger there's a deep and tough-minded compassion . . . he's a young man making his way in the world, minus his family and only his reputation and bravado for company.' Just like you and me, boys, just like you and me.

In presenting its readers with this kind of male-bonding fantasy, however, loaded really sets out to have its pints and pull them. Its disclaimer is immaturity: don't take me seriously, it says, we're only having a bit of fun. Try telling that to the woman stuck in the corner of the pub with the booze-sodden bore ogling her cleavage.

Welcome to loaded, the magazine not for men in crisis, but for men who are reverting to type and getting drunk on the profits.

(Photographs omitted)

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