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Monday, 21 August, 2000, 23:25 GMT 00:25 UK
Lads' reading matter

Britain's academics are asking why girls now outperform boys at A-Level. Their conclusion? The UK's anti-intellectual "lad culture" and our, now notorious, lads' mags. BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley peeks between the covers.

Parents, teachers and the government continue to scratch their heads over what caused male A-level entrants to score fewer A grades than their female counterparts, albeit by a tiny margin.

Two British academics have blamed a culture of "laddism" where successful male students are "geeks"; and a cultivated indifference to intellectual pursuits is as de rigueur as having a mobile phone.

Tony Sewell, a lecturer in education at Leeds University says a "black youth culture" which prizes trainers and CDs over exam grades has now captured the imaginations of boys across the board.

Dr Mary James of Cambridge University says such a climate is being stoked by so-called "lad mags", which in the absence of other male role models help define the teenage understanding of "masculinity".

What are "lad" mags?

"Lad" mags have been a phenomenon
Although the middle shelves of UK newsagents now groan under the weight of numerous men's magazines, three of the most likely "lads" on the block are:

  • FHM - "For Him Magazine." Circulation 700,000 approx. 338 pages

  • Loaded - "For men who should know better." Circulation 370,000 approx. 210 pages.

  • Front - "The mag with more sauce, of course!" Circulation 140,000 approx. 162 pages.

Who are this month's role models?

Peter Stringfellow
Peter Stringfellow: Front's poetic hero

  • FHM - Mr Sewell says "lads" don't aspire to be chess champions. FHM has a Q&A feature with grandmaster Garry Kasparov. It asks if he's ever had a hangover or punched an opponent during a game. He hasn't.

  • Loaded - In a poll which won't please Downing Street, 16-year-old Euan Blair is crowned "King Rogue" for his recent public drunkenness.

  • Front - September's "Front Hero" is night club (and table-dancing club) owner Peter Stringfellow. The 60-year-old does admit his intellectual yearnings: "People say I sound like a poet - I wish I was."

Much time for intellectuals?

Teacher and pupils
"I want to be like you when I grow up, sir."

  • FHM - Lads are encouraged to become teachers. The profession is included in the feature "16 ways to skive through your live", thanks to the long school holidays and "innumerable coffee breaks" teachers are said to enjoy.

  • Loaded - In a film review, the celebrated Argentine poet, essayist, and short-story writer Jorge Luis Borges is curtly described as an "Argie intellectual".

  • Front - An Australian computer scientist and university lecturer is derided in the magazine's "Geek of the Month" slot. Readers are encouraged to visit, and presumably mock, his trainspotting website.

Literary criticism?

Boys reading
"I prefer Joan Collins' narrative flow to that of Jackie."

  • FHM - Book reviews include the memoirs of an ex-SAS soldier turned bodyguard ("purely average") and a historical account of Viking voyages - exploding the "myth" of horned helmets.

  • Loaded - The publication's most ringing endorsement is saved for the already familiar Hollywood Wives by Jackie Collins.

    That said, even the Independent newspaper agrees the often mocked novel has its merits. "Some bad books are genuinely brilliant."

  • Front - The top selection this month is Rumour Fuelled Society :"Sex, drugs, fast cars and violence in a tidy little rectangular package."

Much time for culture?

Queue outside a cinema
"It's called Dancer in the Dark. How's the art class?"

  • FHM - The critically-acclaimed film Time Code is said to be "enthralling".

  • Loaded - Though preferring car theft flick Gone in 60 Seconds, Time Code is given eight out of 10.

  • Front - The Palme d'Or-winning Dancer in the Dark is recommended as a film ideal for a date with "the fit bird from art class who you've no idea how to impress".

Sprinkled with long words?

Vinnie Jones
Keeping up with Jones: Vinnie is a lad icon

  • FHM - Uses "avuncular" and "prosthetic".

  • Loaded - "Hedonist" crops up on most pages. The longest word used is undoubtedly "Schwarzenegger".

  • Front - The magazine's title is one of the longest words you'll come across. "Uzi" is a favourite. Most words hover around the four-letter mark.

Pictures of Vinnie Jones, hard-man-footballer-turned-hard-man-actor.

  • FHM - Seven

  • Loaded - Six

  • Front - Two

Lessons to learn?

Idi Amin
Looking back: Idi Amin in FHM

  • FHM - Articles on the Ugandan despot Idi Amin, overfishing and the Birdseye freezing process.

  • Loaded - The staff throw history to the wind and dress up as pirates on a 19th Century schooner. Also the puzzling revelation that British comic actor Bernard Cribbins is still alive.

  • Front - History? Raquel Welch is the subject of this month's look at the past. Plus a near pornographic article about sperm banks.

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See also:

21 Aug 00 | Education
School gap blamed on black culture
23 Apr 99 | Education
Books for boys
20 Aug 00 | Education
Blunkett tackles gender divide
09 Feb 00 | Education
Making school cool for boys
23 Feb 99 | Entertainment
Editor leaves GQ after Nazi row
28 May 99 | Entertainment
Buffy slays the competition
13 May 99 | Entertainment
Naked ambition
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