Claire Fox talked to Adam Porter of Loaded magazine about tits, dicks, New Labour and that 'fucking lemon' Nick Hornby
The 'Loaded generation', according to Tony Blair, is shorthand for delinquent single men aged 16-24 whose bad behaviour is encouraged by this laddish men's magazine. Harsh but fair? Loaded magazine is commonly seen as today's metaphor for men behaving badly. Teenagers may not buy it - the core readership is aged 21-25 - yet for a government obsessed with making young men more 'responsible' the stereotypical Loaded reader fits the frame. Loaded man supposedly wallows in irresponsibility, tits, bums and lager. By contrast, Jack Straw's 'positive role model' campaign includes recruiting more male teachers, the use of mentors based on the aptly titled American 'Big Brother' project, and a scheme to send health workers out to talk to young men about safe sex and parenting in 'their own environments'. Loaded and Labour? Surely different worlds.
But Adam Porter, who is about to leave Loaded after working as the managing editor throughout the magazine's four-year life, has taken offence at Blair's comments. 'They've got no right to talk to people like us in that fashion. We are their moral and intellectual superiors.' If this sounds strange coming from a magazine that features its fair share of amoral pleasure pursuits, Porter has his own ideas about the government's superior values. 'For them to even start moralising about lads who might have had a fight in the street - which is not what Loaded is about - but for them to dare lecture us, look us in the eye and talk about violence when they would have happily dropped bombs on Iraqi civilians a few months ago - it's unbelievable.' Observing that New Labour is always on the look out for a soundbite with media appeal, Porter believes that Blair's team hope to launch a moral crusade, using Loaded as 'a moniker for the troubles of society'.
When Porter argues that members of the Loaded editorial team are 'loads better role models than Tony Blair - I'd much rather any kids I ever had would turn out [more] like me than him', I might agree with him. But wouldn't a more appropriate 1990s role model be somebody like the self-consciously anti-masculine Nick Hornby?
'Nick Hornby is not a man. I mean he's got a cock. But he's soft, a conformist, a fucking lemon. Nick Hornby's books are about Nick Hornby becoming an accepted middle class writing aspirational fuck-wit.' Porter says Loaded was originally set up as a reaction to what passed for male culture at the time ('alloy wheels and stupid gadgets') and is meant to reflect what ordinary guys do. 'There's nothing inherently bad in what young men get up to in this country, especially the nice stuff reflected in the magazine. There's no stories about us beating up on people or doing anything nasty - except to our own bodies and lungs.'
Unlike Blair and Straw, Porter does not accept that male behaviour is any worse today than in the past. On the one hand he believes 'politicians want you to get in trouble - they love it - why do you think they have drug laws?', but he also argues that attitudes towards male behaviour have changed more than the behaviour itself. The kind of activities now deemed problematic might once have been seen positively as showing spirit. 'Douglas Baden-Powell - who was the guy with no legs? - the pilot who did the scouts, he loved hooligans, Victorian hooligans, he thought they were the best type of boy. The naughty ones were the ones who had got some sort of adventure, some sort of spirit, who won't conform to other people's ways of thinking. Today, more than ever before, everybody must conform.'
Porter sees New Labour's attacks on young men simply as the latest exercise in enforcing conformity. By 'ridiculing them, making them out to be lots of things that they aren't', the Blair government is using a cynical method to get people to accept less - low pay, demeaning jobs or the dole: 'Batter people over and over and tell them they're car thieves, violent, murderers, junkies, shit at school, and you tell them over and over again and eventually they believe it, eventually they'll take delivering post for people like me.' What Adam Porter doesn't seem to get is that it is people like him, not just his post-boy, who most offend liberal sensibility today.
Porter is aware that criticism about Loaded comes from an unusual direction: 'We get pilloried a lot by the people who should support us. The right-wing people don't really give a fuck about us, but so-called liberals these days are really illiberal and right-wing, but not quite as open about it as other people.' Despite the fact that these illiberal liberals now hold up Loaded-style masculinity as an example of the trouble with boys, Porter refuses to believe that 'feminine' values are now the only acceptable values to have. He insists that the topics covered in Loaded appeal to both sexes: 'Taking drugs, going travelling, getting pissed, chatting people up and having sex - that's all pretty feminised isn't it? I mean women do all that.' True enough, but surely he can see that Blair is keener that men become more like women than vice versa? At this point, Mr Loaded started to sound more like Nick Hornby's mate than I had expected. 'I think the world would be a much better place if it were run by women. Men have had 2000 years of practice. Alexander the Great wasn't a woman. Men still kill, rape and sexually abuse; women don't do it, or are only five per cent of the problem.'
Porter seemed surprisingly defensive about Loaded's reputation. I was not phased when we were interrupted by somebody saying 'we can't get that bird till Wednesday' (something about soccer kits and photo shoots), and I enjoyed the story about one Loaded feature, a 'thing called pornalikes where people send in pornography, playing cards and things like that, featuring people who look like celebrities in the porn' (he was furious that a Times journalist had accused them of airbrushing on actual celebrity heads). Still Porter tried to reassure me that Loaded staff are 'not Neanderthal, misogynist twats', explaining apologetically that 'we still want to look at pictures of women, we still find them exciting and attractive physically, but we don't hate women and want to subdue them and want to suppress them'.
At times Porter goes overboard in trying to break down the myths about his magazine. He stresses its serious side and objects to the way Loaded is caricatured: 'We're always getting "you're always pissed/out taking drugs"; but read the mag, it's not really like that. Read it properly.' Not that I could get anybody actually to admit that they read Loaded properly. Comments ranged from 'you don't read Loaded, you just look at the pictures' and 'I've flicked through it occasionally at the barber's' to 'my brother buys it, but I only glance at it'. It seems that for some in these conformist times, admitting to reading Loaded really is like admitting you buy porn mags.
Like Loaded, Porter is full of contradictions. He says he knows that thirtysomething men like himself should settle down - 'you should already have got your mortgage and be ready to work the rest of your life for an insurance company or Toshiba' - but this is not in his plans. He is contemptuous of the established norms, proclaiming that 'their standards are irrelevant bullshit and there's a whole generation of people who are under 50 now who just say screw that'. Yet he took the unusually 'responsible' step of standing in the local council elections as an Ealing Green Party candidate, assuring me that the greens are 'reasonable commonsense-type people - not like Socialist Worker dicky hippies and crusty twats. They might not be quite like me - but they're all right and they let me stand'. He is obviously rather proud of his vote: 'I only went to one meeting, got 10 signatures, did no campaigning whatsoever but still 110 people bothered to vote for me. That's really good; I was only 40 votes behind one of the two Liberal Democrats.' And he does think, after all, that LM goes too far in its libertarian stance.
But I don't mind. Managing editors who refuse to conform are about as rare as in-your-face magazines. Post-Loaded, Adam Porter might be saying goodbye to all those tits and bums, but I hope he keeps his balls.
Reproduced from LM issue 112, July/August 1998