Another mag leaves the shelves - Heeb Magazine goes web-only

by Eric Kohn, Wall Street Journal

This morning, “Heeb” publisher and editor-in-chief Josh Neuman announced on the magazine’s website that the snarky Jewish publication has ceased production of its print edition. This should come as no surprise to anyone following the slow demise of print media around the world, but longtime Heeb readers will still take note of the shift as a bittersweet moment. Since 2001, the magazine has constantly challenged modern notions of American Jewry with a savage wit and an appetite for controversy, which it satisfied in nearly issue. As a cultural statement, Heeb managed to be both profound and profoundly lowbrow — “Mad” magazine with more circumcision jokes.

“So Much for Controlling the Media,” the headline of Neuman’s announcement reads in typical “Heeb” style. Of course, like everything with “Heeb,” the statement is more than a little tongue-in-cheek. Neuman insists the brand has a bright future steeped in the same old-school chutzpah that put it on the map in the first place. In recent months, it ran a tight ship, with only one full-time editorial staffer and a handful of interns. Having closed down their Brooklyn offices, Heeb will maintain a digital presence and online contributors, while Neuman plans to keep the community alive with public events such as the annual Christmas Eve “Heebonism” parties held in New York and Palm Springs. Neuman hopes to expand the brand in manner akin to “National Lampoon,” with an eye toward television and film projects.

The magazine’s last print issue had a respectable circulation of 25,000, which its editor views as a good finale. “Unlike certain faith-based communities, we aren’t able to proclaim with unyielding faith that the object of our devotion will one day return,” he wrote today in an e-mail message. “But is the notion that a print edition of ‘Heeb’ may one day again hit Barnes & Noble, Borders or an independent bookstore near you any more absurd than the fact that we managed to get it there in first place?”

Unlike Jewish publications with broader aims, such as Tablet magazine or The Forward, “Heeb” has resolutely stuck to its schlock-laden guns. There are plenty of classic moments in its decade-spanning history: the 2004 photo spread of an actor playing Jesus with his genitals wrapped in a prayer shawl, joined by a topless Virgin Mary, raised the ire of the Catholic League. At the same time, it provided the most radical answer to the mainstream gravitas surrounding Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” (Jon Stewart gave the magazine a shout-out on “The Daily Show” a month later.) A lonely pig graced the cover of the “Food” issue in 2006; legendary underground comic book artist Robert Crumb illustrated a cover in 2007. The following year, Brett Ratner, the prototypical Jewish Hollywood playboy, served as a guest editor and created a Jewish swimsuit calendar.

My own involvement with “Heeb” has been both a personal and professional journey. Long before my name sat on its masthead as a contributing editor, I admired the magazine’s relentless ability to not just push boundaries but ignore them completely. It was less about observing Jewish identity than expanding its possibilities, while ramming a symbolic middle finger down the gaping maw of traditionalism. When I curated the Heeb Film Festival in 2008, I put together a short program under unifying theme of “the Gentile Gaze.” I’ll never forget the night Eli Roth called me for a “Heeb” profile, the day after his torture porn breakout “Hostel” briefly toppled “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” at the box office, and proclaimed, “We beat the Jesus lion.”

“Heeb” gave me and its thousands of devout followers a guilty pleasure with a purpose. Despite all the negation of seriousness, “Heeb” developed a currency in Jewish society firmly within the tradition of Lenny Bruce and Groucho Marx. It was both highly literate and defiantly immature at once. “‘Heeb’ magazine has never been about making Jewish ‘cool,’” Newman writes in his statement. “We are big believers in making Jewish fun.”

I’ll miss leafing through its playfully bawdy pages, but hopefully the web will do the trick. Or, rather, the shtick.

article originally published at Wall Street Journal.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey