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CYBERTAINMENT

With an Infusion of Corporate Cash, Witty Magazine Returns to the Web

September 24, 1998|ERIKA MILVY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When the edgy, innovative e-zine Word.com was silenced in March, columnists eulogized the demise of content for content's sake, bidding adieu to the Internet's smartest literary venture.

Now the sardonic, Gen-X mag (written by and for arty bohemians and underachieving subgeniuses) has been rescued from the Recycle Bin. It's scheduled to go back online on Oct. 5. Internet economics makes for strange bedfellows, and oddly enough, Word is receiving its new lease on life from a holding company that holds, among other things, a fish oil manufacturer.

Will an infusion of corporate cash ruin Word's witty, maverick prose? No way, says Word's 39-year-old editor, Marisa Bowe. "We've always had a defiantly unconventional way of doing things and we're not going to budge."

We talked to Bowe about the meaning of Word (http://www.word.com) and where she sees its place in the literary galaxy.

Q: For those who are hopelessly bereft of cool, what exactly is Word?

A: Word is a general interest magazine for men and women in their 20s and 30s. We're a cultural magazine reflecting American life in the late 20th century--but not a typical one, as far as the way that genre is currently interpreted. We totally ignore Hollywood, media and lifestyle culture, as well as traditional "highbrow" culture and news and current affairs, in favor of a more documentary approach to how people live now, especially inside their heads. We virtually never talk about or analyze culture or issues; we try to embody them instead.

Like, we'd never run an article analyzing trends in postmodern art--we'd just put up art and pictures that embody those trends we found interesting. One way to think of it is that we're sort of the "un-magazine," the way 7-Up was marketed as "the Un-Cola" in the '70s. Word is sort of like a mishmash of cultural trends and tastes that semi-sophisticated Gen-Xers like: lots of humor and satire; raw, personal stuff like they're used to getting in 'zines, comics and animation; the elimination of "highbrow" and "lowbrow" as a category in favor of something that's a seamless blend of both.

Q: What is Word's editorial objective?

A: To firmly avoid the blaring, trend-chasing product-pushing of most mainstream magazines, while being fun and engrossing, and never preachy. . . . We are militant in our avoidance of normal "magazine voices" in the writing we publish. We want the pieces to sound more like someone is talking to you, or like you're at an AA meeting listening to people talk intimately and revealingly about their experiences--except they're not alcoholics, they're just talking about the kind of stuff that goes on everyday in everyone's life. Without being horribly earnest, we're trying for authenticity.

We also don't want to be smart in the usual, clever, "I got all A's all through school" way of most highbrow mags. We're more for the smart people who were on drugs or otherwise dysfunctional (or just alienated) when they were in school. Scruffy smart--deliberately messy.

Q: Why did the original Word fold?

A: It just wasn't a part of the original parent company's plans to be in the publishing business. I think they started it as more or less a PR/marketing vehicle, and were taken by surprise when it got as much attention and acclaim as it did. We fooled 'em; I don't think they realized that slouching slobs like us could actually command that much respect in the media. . . . Luckily , Zapata came in and snapped us up before we all got other jobs.

Erika Milvy writes about the arts and things cyberesque from her home in San Francisco. She can be reached at erika@well.com.

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