Each week Lachlan Mitchell, gloriﬁed tabloid writer, tries to cover up that he is blatantly copying Vanity Fair.
The existence of Lucky Break and That’s Life are supernatural and universal constants. You’ve seen them at any coffee shop, at any dentist’s office. Bold lettering detailing the worst possible individual trauma to befall a person – ‘My son fucked a crocodile and now won’t talk to me!’ Mystical tomes of forbidden knowledge, origins unknown but omnipresent at any place where customer service is only tangential to what they’re offering. You’re not quite sure where this hallowed scripture came from – you’ve never seen anyone actually buy one. Perhaps no one will ever know why Pazazu birthed these two magazines into our world, but at this point in time, their origins are much less interesting than why they are still around.
A friend of mine posed this very question to me – how is it that these magazines, seemingly devoid of any life-affirming content, manage to stay afloat? While such a question could be posed with any tabloid the world over, these two magazines – the Alpha and Omega – occupy a unique space in New Zealand’s great journalism industry. They’re the only tabloids we have that aren’t to do with celebrity culture or an overarching political bent to it, they solely exist to write about and cater to their definition of ‘middle New Zealand’. With this in mind, I am very excited to answer the aforementioned question.
It’s actually quite simple, and it can be broken down into three main concepts: minimal overhead, white women and trauma porn.
These two magazines operate on a shoestring budget – not because they are forced to, but because they can. It’s quite grand in its simplicity, really. If you have no focus on celebrity interest, that’s tens of thousands of dollars saved over time through not negotiating with their publicists or the celebrities themselves – your own publicist, singular, can spend their time going through emails and simply forwarding the most emotionally exploitative content to the editor. If they agree, wonderful! It’s a matter of calling them and then forwarding a message to accounting, asking them to prepare a $500 payment for Karen of Tauranga, who was proudly marrying her dog that September. If you have no interest in changing your layout once in the decades before, or the decades to come, it is incredibly easy to copy + paste the content you need without worrying about dedicating expenses towards graphic design, or talent, or a child with crayons. If you have no interest in charging more than $3 or $4 an issue, that’s guaranteed impulse buying right there. If you don’t have to pay writers, and just have to fork out tiny lump sums for the rights to print one’s horrific life story, you don’t have to worry about that pesky thing known as ‘quality of content.’ The point is that these two magazines operate in a way that other tabloids aren’t as free to do, because the bar is so low that the bar pays them advertising space.
The content and how it is presented are intertwined with one another – it’s rather ingenious, really. The trauma porn speaks for itself. I make no judgments because I understand the power to behold here. I’m just as drawn to it as anyone who actually buys these magazines. There’s just something hideously carnal, something that draws me and defies all my carefully considered taste. Consider this real title: ‘I caught my GRAN having sex with my MAN’. You’ve hooked me. I want to know. What was Babs doing? How did they meet? What tragicomedy can we gleam from this tantric tryst of hidden lovers? That’s Life! has the scoop and they know that I want to know why Steve is all up in that baby boomer cunt. That sure is life, alright. The other important thing to note about how their content is presented is that, no matter the soul-crushing Lars von Trier nature of the trauma, it will be plastered on the cover with a late-20s to late-30s smiling white woman to invite you in. This is invariable – from heart-breaking rape story to harrowing tale of murder, often all in one, the smiling white women will be there. This unwavering constant reflects the nature of the magazines, where you will only find the tales of white… I don’t think ‘society’ is the word to use here. Considering the number of proudly incestuous front-page stories Lucky Break thinks will make you go ‘Wow! Carol would love this!’, ‘society’ just doesn’t seem appropriate to use. It makes one wonder whether the smiling white women are even aware their image has been used to promote this shit. But even further down the rabbit hole of festering shit, it makes one wonder why the magazines’ explicit focus on ‘middle New Zealand’ considers incest to be of primary interest to them. I guess it’s just a nice aside from the horoscopes and crossword puzzles.
The origins of Lucky Break and That’s Life! are questions that neither science nor religion claim to have an answer to, and it is a futile waste of your mortality to believe they will ever go away. It’s useless to fight against these twin demons, these apocalyptic harbingers of humanity’s end. However, I suppose it’s just nice to know that if I were to ever be subjected to a violent murder, my grieving partner would be able to make a sweet $500 from it.