Coasting on Lifestyle

Coastal Living is a new (begun June 1997) travel and lifestyle magazine with the utterly misleading subtitle, "For People Who Love the Coast." The "people" who buy Coastal Living are those who love the coast to death. Like a Trojan Horse, the magazine looks okay from the outside, but between its covers reside all the nemeses that make the coast unlivable. They leap out like Greeks bearing gifts you can't afford.The latest issue (March/April) is a case in point. The "coastal living" described within includes "gender-specific" golf lessons on Hilton Head, "color schemes for the shore," building and buying "dream homes" on environmentally sensitive land, investing in condo-plexes called "plantations," cruising the Caribbean with Disney, and so on. The Coastal Living set, judging from the photos, are white, have perfect hair and teeth and reams of expendable income, and worship at the altar of St. Martha Stewart. Their "tithing" consists of scarfing up every available piece of coastland, erecting second, third or fourth homes on property that will inevitably be overtaken by rising sea levels. They obtain building permits from pliable zoning boards whose asses are covered by taxpayers in the form of federal disaster relief insurance, a widespread source of welfare for the rich that goes woefully underreported.The laws regarding coastal access in this country are quite generous, and rightfully so. The philosophy is that the beach itself, up to the high tide line, is owned jointly by all Americans. Though the beach belongs to the people, it can't be feasibly accessed wherever the Coastal Living brigade build their manses. They, in effect, privatize the beach, which is by law not private. There are hundred-mile stretches of Florida and California coasts -- the beat I've covered in two travel books -- where it is unfeasible for you to even try dipping your toes in the ocean or the gulf because it is barricaded by private property. Closer to home, there's the case of Brendan Leydon, who in 1995 was prevented from jogging on Greenwich's "private" beach. Instead of accepting this rebuff, he began what has become a three-year effort to wrest from the Coastal Living brigade, Greenwich chapter, the right of all American citizens to beach access. As he put it, "You can't build a wall around a federal shoreline and keep people out. That's about as unconstitutional and un-American as it gets. It is an issue of elitism, classicism and racism all rolled into one."Leydon's case finally had its day in court last month in Stamford. He defended himself against the town of Greenwich's five separate lawyers. One of the activists who testified described the scene as "David taking on Goliath. Those other guys looked like undertakers." Fitting, because the case seems to be dying. The judge threw out Leydon's video of outsiders swimming to Greenwich's "private" beach. The judge must be a subscriber to Coastal Living.If you're wondering why articles in Vanity Fair, GQ, New Yorker, Esquire, Buzz and Outside read like movie plots, it's because that's often what they are. Magazine waters are now chummed by Hollywood studios, some bidding six figures for articles that can be adapted for the screen. Writers, notorious for strip-mining fools' gold, are spinning stories to increase their chances. One scout, quoted in The New York Times, spoke like a parody of a Hollywood sharpie: "I think there's a major idea there. The story itself is not the movie, but the concept and the construct is." (Hey, pass the coke spoon!). As one GQ writer put it, "I'd be a hypocrite to say I didn't love the dumb money, but there are people bringing ideas through their agents to studios before they even begin reporting, and having a rights deal iced before they ever put pen to paper."As mainstream magazines, including news outlets like Time and Newsweek, jettison their responsibilities to journalism, something has to pick up the slack. We're already well on our way to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, living on the soma of mindless consumerist treacle that oozes out of TV, computer, bestsellers, magazines and films. If Hollywood is a cancer then Disney et. al. are the Joe Camels, paying writers anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000 a month to do research and write a treatment, er, article that will never be published but might become a movie.

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