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Fran Magazine

Fran Magazine
May/June 2004

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Although their website shows that recent issues have improved, there's precious little to praise about Fran. Example: a Post-It note stuck to the cover of my May/June review copy states that beginning in October, the formerly free zine will run readers three bucks. This turns out to be one of this issue's more unintentionally amusing bits; who'd cough up their cash for a sloppy, ugly, unfunny production like this when you can get VICE for free? Quality clearly isn't Job One with this crowd, but what Fran lacks in polish or professionalism it makes up for in volume; they throw a whole lot of shit at the wall over these 60 pages, and every so often, something sticks.

Just like the sarcastic, home-produced zines that litter the doorways of your favorite neighborhood record shops, bars and second-hand stores, Fran ridicules its pop culture targets via a mix of callow humor, foul language and post-politically-correct frat-guy crudity. This is nothing new: it's long been de rigeur for the anti-press to offer a cruel and unusual take on current events. But when you're habitually unfunny, as most of this magazine's contributors seem to be, you can only manufacture jokes by being rude and obnoxious so many times before the thrill wears thin. There are few things as uncomfortable as watching someone twist on the knife, and there's a whole lot of twistin' goin' on here. View the career of Andrew "Dice" Clay as a cautionary tale.

Sometimes, though, the Fran folks hit their mark -- mostly on those rare occasions where wit and good writing collide. The final installment of Josh Tyson's "Three Pillars of the Modern Gentleman" series is the first legitimately hilarious piece here, detailing the how internet porn (and later, Spanish-language TV) almost ruined the author's life. He makes some rather intelligent points for an article about stroke material: back in the heyday of Hustler and Swank, he would pick his favorite spread out of the offerings and develop a fantasy from it, but web porn, he reveals, has made him finicky and lazy. If he doesn't like how a certain series is shaping up after the first few thumbnails, there are literally billions more to choose from a few back-button clicks away. "This seemingly endless pool of porn... had taken what used to be a ten-minute process into the hour-long arena," he writes. "And unless you're getting paid to do it, that's far too much time to spend fondling yourself." Although he quits cold turkey, the carnal urges are simply too strong, thus the eventual immersion in the strange and wondrous world of Spanish television and its non-stop erotic cavalcade of foxy newscasters and hosts. "Even their lame variety shows are onanist pay dirt," he says. It's true. I've often caught myself straying a few seconds longer on Telelatino while flipping the channels because, yeah, it always does seem like everyone's just a few seconds away from getting naked, even on the game shows. It's rarely a good sign when a magazine's first good article is about chokin' it, but it's sickly amusing stuff just the same.

From there, though, the material gets pretty thin on the ground. The local scene reviews -- chronicling community-access cable shows, a greasy diner, a staff bar crawl and the like -- are probably far more amusing if you actually live in Hollywood, but for us outsiders the writing is rarely good enough to keep us interested (although Stewart Huff's travel piece on Culver City's Museum of Jurassic Technology, home of arcane science exhibits and weird objets d'art from the 19th and early 20th centuries, is strangely compelling). An interview with 2mex serves as the cover story, although it's a scant three pages long and offers negligible insight into the rapper's career short of his influences and some of the odder locales where his music has won him fame (Word up, Copenhagen). Elsewhere, editors Sam Kuihlmann and Andrew Hume show up completely unprepared to interview LA punk squad The Orphans but do it anyway and turn in a complete and unexcised transcription of the whole bloody mess. (I'm not sure we can really criticize people for that -- Ed.)

One of Fran's better ideas is the "Questionaire" (sic) section, which mashes a short band profile with a handful of questions ripped directly out of those cheesy Cosmopolitan quizzes. This issue's subjects -- crass, crude and costumed nine-member hip-hop freakshow Explogasm -- reveal themselves to be equally droll and profane, summing up their raison d'etre thusly: "to break down the paradigm of corporate-sponsored filth and the heterodoxy of a misogynistic patriarchy imbedded into commodified youth culture. Oh yeah, and bend over some bitches." The music reviews stuffed in the back of the mag are rarely informative and often poorly written, but if you want unvarnished critical lashings and brutal, cutting indictments of overinflated indie-rock heroes and struggling nobodies alike, this here's the place.

There are some enlightened moments in this admittedly cheesy zine, but they're not helped much by a piss-poor layout, sloppy editing and proofing (the fine print on the contents page apparently hasn't been checked over since the second issue) and a preponderance of shitty, sub-moronic attempts at comedy. The fact that people enjoy having their intelligence insulted isn't the surprise -- the fact that they'll fork over $3.00 for the privilege is. The latest issue features a fawning profile on the Moldy Peaches' Kimya Dawson, which probably tells you more than the preceding 900 words ever could. Grab a copy of VICE or some old back issues of Might instead, and put your cash towards a dime bag.

-- Steve English

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