A handy device used more and more nowadays to determine how society is getting on is to imagine what an extra-terrestrial space traveller skipping around the universe before landing on earth, presented with a few choice contemporary exhibits, might understand about the way we live. Consider, then, taking this little green man by the hand and shutting him in a room with a bowl of fruit, a double-shot latte and a copy of Nuts magazine. “This might seem strange,” begins the exasperated space centre lackey, “but the absolute first thing we want to do with you is see what you can grasp about the world from this lightly-thumbed copy of Nuts magazine. It's a sort of... well, I'll let you decide.”
In a bid to mimic that anthropological experiment - sort of - I'm now sat in my living room with a copy of Nuts, chewing on some nuts and considering what they can tell me about my nuts. My splendid isolation with this magazine is a result of a query as to whether the Vagenda could delve into the effects of men’s mags on their male readership, just as it does regularly for the female side.
First up, some context. Nuts, launched in 2004, was the first weekly “lads’” magazine of its kind. Its publisher IPC Media says it delivers an “inhalable mix of entertainment aimed at the heart of young men's interests – girls, football, games...” and so on. With that we already have a dramatic over-simplification of young male interests and a worrying adolescent guideline for those waiting to pass the lower age bracket of Nuts' readership, which IPC rather naively says is 18. These magazines are meant to be an all-encompassing take on modern male life, a catch-all for the interests one should take up to be a man. Just over a decade ago, I remember reading FHM being a rite of passage for a teenager trying to get a grip on what awaits after puberty. Buying it was a vaguely embarrassing experience – as buying Nuts was today – but it made you feel, to use the lingo of the time, big – like you'd taken a step towards knowing what being a man was all about. This was before the supposed ‘lad culture’ boom of the late nineties and early noughties.
Now, as laddish culture wheezes and splutters its way to a timely death, just waiting for a kind boot to put it out of its misery, Nuts' circulation is in freefall (last year saw them dip under 100,000 with a 21% year-on-year decline). Judging by the current issue, the contingency plan for such disappointing figures is to refine – rather than broaden – what is at the heart of young men's interests. “50 REALITY TV STARS TOPLESS” bellows the cover, accompanied by six of the aforementioned stars topless. But no nipples. Not yet. Oh no. Though you'd think with the number of nipples on the inside, one might inadvertently poke through the front cover.
Let's get the nipples out the way. Inside this magazine, on its 83 A4 pages, there are 112 nipples (yep, I counted.) And that's not from 56 women. No, no, there are more than 60 nipple(s) belonging to the female sex out in this magazine no thicker than a rich tea biscuit (which I do have with me). Who needs to see that many nipples? Not even the men fondest of nipples need a weekly dose of over a hundred. Is this cacophony of nipples meant to realistically substitute a relationship with a real woman? Is Nuts now an anatomical textbook? No, it's not. Imagine what effect this barrage of nipples will have on the young, impressionable teenagers who pick up this magazine in search of a male identity. They will pass women on the streets and gasp in shock when their nipples aren't visible: ‘That’s not how it is in the magazines! O, cruel world!’
And who do those nipples belong to? Well, just under 100 of them belong to ‘reality TV stars’ (more the type who once spoke for five minutes on the news than have regular slots on Made In Chelsea.) Consider Take Me Out, for example, the apparent modern-day reinvention of the innocence of Blind Date – yet even from these hallowed walls, some of the girls' nipples find themselves into Nuts. Or Tool Academy, where girls trick their boyfriends into going onto a show to expose them as tools and make them better partners – only to quickly become rebranded as ‘reality TV stars’ themselves and - you guessed it - Nuts get to show off their nipples. Now, I respect any woman’s right to venture into glamour modelling if she so chooses, but add the 50 reality TV stars to the Bedroom Babes (readers can vote for who they want to do a double-page spread - pun intended - in the next issue) and the Nuts Real Girls (this weeks proudly announces “my best features are my eyes and my boobs”, that her favourite position is “from behind” and her turn-ons are “dirty talk and being naked”) and Nuts starts to look like a weekly nipple almanac. Whether it be encouraging them to send in their bedroom lingerie shots or trying to get any girl who has appeared on our small screens into the mag with her nips out, it breeds an interesting stipulation for any sort of media coverage: if you're going to let us know you're out there, darling, we’re going to have to see your areolas.
In its own way, this is a sort of wildly sexist, socialist triumph. It's a real leveller – celebrity, model, TV reality star, bedroom babes, lesbians – they're all the same once they've got their nipples on display. I struggle to believe Nuts editors think this many nipples is what young men want (I fall within their age bracket and I was nippled out by about page 20) – though it's not unthinkable. And if they do, it's a damning indictment of male magazines when all they use to fill more than half their magazine is the lowest common denominator. Perhaps one of the reason its circulation has plummeted is the vague contempt with which it treats its readers. Much of this blog might seem like a consideration of how Nuts views young women – I don't think much considering needs to be done there (more than half the pages in the mag have a lingerie-clad girl splayed across them) – but it's not. The glut of nipples and the literature which surrounds them is exemplary of the values Nuts expects from and projects on its readers.
Take the spread - lol - after the Bedroom Babe Vote page. The left-hander is a “pop-out in public” (wahey, see what they did there?) page featuring girls having a “cheeky flash...[to] earn some cash” (seriously), and the right-hander is the home of “10 Rude Questions” to a “real girl”. Are these the questions we young men ask our female friends down the pub? Or use as conversation when introduced to a women? Or is it just further fuel to the mindset that behind every single female you see, there is “a trademark bedroom move”, “a favourite position” and a “role-playing costume of choice” – and nipples that you have a right to see. In an area of life where young men can feel insecure or uneducated, these objectifications are going to do no good for a balanced sexual psychology and appreciation of adult life, let alone women.
So, to return to our little green man in the desert shed. What have we learnt from the young men Nuts is aimed at? “Well, they certainly like boobs. And nothing else. Can you buy these boobs? Is it like a catalogue?” The embarrassed space centre lackey shakes his head. “And I see boobs is now a noun, verb and adjective?” The lackey nods sheepishly. “And lesbians... they're good? But I thought they were bad?” The lackey open his mouth but stops short of saying anything. He is not going to start a polemic on the relationship “lads” have with lesbians. “I see young men aren't valued for their IQ, then?” The lackey again shakes his head, all the while wishing to refute these claims about a generation of young men. “Anyway, I've left my report on the table next to that bowl of rancid fruit you tried to ply me with. I won't keep you. I imagine you'll be off to look at some nipples?” The lackey nods again.
After all, he’s a dude. What else could he possibly be doing?