Aaand here I go again with another capsule review of a magazine issue, a habit I cannot break. (Again, I’ve been an inveterate magazine-reader since I was a boy. Then I started writing for them.)

Monocle Nº 6 (September 2007) was eventually located at a newsagent. The cover model looks like Ahmedinejad – a reasonable conclusion to reach given Monocle’s incessant coverage of breakaway Soviet republics and its previous article on the direct flight from Tehran to Caracas. He’s actually a fictitious athlete (obviously in track and field) from the equally fictitious nation of Costazzurra.

For this issue is all about “nation-branding” (or “-building,” assuredly not the same thing). Either of them is a broken concept that all the king’s stubble and all the king’s sweaters cannot put back together again.

I must say, the whole idea of place-branding has loomed larger in my zeitgeist, after the presentation by Alex Bitterman at the TTC DX charrette, this issue, and the vastly superior illustrated spread in Radar, to be discussed shortly.

  • Conflict of interest? Our editor’s foreword asks:

    Do you ever peer out the aircraft window and do a mental ranking of the various airlines….? How about the jolly-looking commuter plane in three shades of blue with the angular logo? Does it say “fast, efficient, I’ll get you there on time” or “bankrupt and grounded by the end of the month?” [punctuation sic]

    Or does it say “My other company designed that airline”? Because surely he’s referring to blue-on-blue Porter Airlines. (You may have some trouble Googling the metrosexualist editor’s name with the airline’s, given that Brûlé continually name-drops Porter luggage.)

  • He continues: “Stockholm has been fashioned as the capital of Scandinavia, and, as any CNN viewer, can sing, [‘]Malaysia’s truly Asia.[’] ”

    First, I assume he refers to some kind of television commercial airing on CNN International. Only chumps watch CNN.

    Second, on no account would Tyler Brûlé willingly visit, let alone work for, an off-brand Asian country like Malaysia. He prefers A-list clientele and the high cheekbones of J models (Cf. this issue’s photo spread, another of Brûlé’s fantasies masquerading as a fashion layout). Maybe he’d concede South Korea is a good place for business, but that’s it.

    As any Brûléist can sing, “boyfriend’s truly Swedish.” (Maybe I’m being too harsh. As I said last time, nobody likes both.)

  • This issue’s fashion deconstruction of a world leader shows a superb pencil illustration (by Martin Mörck) of Nick Sarkozy, standing all of five feet tall in tasselled loafers.

  • There is just no way that Tyler Brûlé, or anyone in his league, rides a bike to work. But there continue to be incidental mentions of bicycle-related civic infrastructure, and they’re still shilling for the bespoke Monocle bike by Skeppshult, a design more suited to René Magritte than riding to Marylebone in the cold November rain.

  • We have the usual copy-errors that should not exist in a quality magazine. Then there’s this gem (p. 105), officially a verbatim quotation: “We are the largest taxpayer in all 15 countries we operate in in Africa.” “In” is truly in.

    While correct, the following sentence is a bit baffling to non-Indics: “The school will be based 75 miles southeast of Mumbai in Pune, a key centre of car production from [which] Tata Motors’ widely-anticipated Rs1 lakh car (€1,752) will roll off the assembly line.” (Or, to be pluperfect, ₨1 lakh.)

  • Ordinarily I love the magazine’s spreads on behind-the-scenes infrastructure, but this edition’s instalment, on a flower warehouse in the Netherlands, is simply unreadable with Dutch words all over the place. It is world’s ugliest configuration of Latin letters. It sounds ridiculous, too. And you know you agree with me.

Where’s Canada?

It’s finally in Monocle, in the form of a lengthy piece by Edward Helmore on the warming of the Far North. This is hardly urban, coverage of which is the magazine’s bread and butter (and the true present nature of Canada). And again it views Canada as a venue for other nations (via the Northwest Passage).

Nonetheless, two years after describing his homeland as a place where customs guards are “porkchop[s] squeezed into body-armour and blue latex gloves” who “look like a slightly lumpy brigade of commandos,” the still-young æshete managed to hold his nose long enough to cover a segment of the world’s second-largest country he will never, ever visit.

Homage to Costazzurra

Though only a two-pager, the highlight of the issue is Ivan Carvalho’s identity-branding of a fictional Luxembourgish state with the readily misspelled name of Costazzurra. The formation of Costazzurra would annex parts of Italy, Monaco, and France – hardly a place where secession would come in handy, unlike the Pacific Northwest or Toronto. Perhaps the most shocking invention is an asymmetrical cover design for the official passport. (Really, why must every passport show a centred coat of arms?)

  • Cutline 4: “The Gotham font is used on all our road signs – with our logo.” Isn’t Gotham New York? Let’s use its font!

  • Item under “Six ways to brand a nation”: “TYPEFACE: A modern country needs to work as a sophisticated brand. And perhaps one of the best ways of creating an identity is by picking a single official typeface.” (Gotham?) “If order is needed, Helvetica, invented for a Swiss type house by the German Max Miedinger in 1957” and the font in which this section is typeset, “epitomi[z]es it. Helvetica belongs, in spirit rather than officially, to Switzerland. And as we all know, Switzerland is the ultimate nation brand.” Let’s use its font!

Memo to Monocle: If an American broadcaster/armaments-and-appliances manufacturer can have its own custom font, so can a country.

Now, the funny thing about nation-branding is that the gay Iranian Jew who runs Radar did a better job covering it (October 2007). “Extreme Makeover: Global Edition” by Dale Hrabi uses cute naïve illustrations to supplement capsule evaluations of Uganda, Dubai, Turkey, Oz, India, South Korea, Israel, and – wait for it! – Canada. (“WANTS TO BE: ‘Anywhere except Canada,’ says [a branding critic – ostensibly such people exist].” We get a C grade.)

Radar and Monocle end up both quoting Simon Anholt to the effect that rock-star charity has branded the entire continent a basket case (to paraphrase the Radar coverage). But the squibs here are snappy and information-dense. Dubai is seen as the Disneyland of Capitalism but wants to be the Disney World of Capitalism. (“Successfully concealed is the ruthless immigrant abuse and hellish traffic.” Grade: A–.) If Israel were a product? “An exploding Ford Pinto circa 1975.” If Korea were? “A supposedly refreshing photocopier.” Nobody tell Tyler!

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2007.10.08 14:42. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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