Speartalks: Mary H. K. Choi @ Missbehave

Posted on July 11, 2008 Under Life

When I was 12, I really liked reading women’s magazines. A voice of wisdom in a world of tight-lipped adults, they offered up tantalizing life-lessons. Lessons like The #1 Best Sex Position to Try When on African Vacation, and How to Make a Low-Cal Salad Dressing Out of buttermilk and Gatorade Powder. However, by the time I reached 12 and a half, I realized there was mischief afoot. Weren’t the Backwards Cowgirl and the Foot-Facing Tigress the same thing? Hadn’t I taken the “Does Your Hair Color Match Your Boyfriend?” quiz six times? Who was writing these things, and who was editing these things, and what the f!@# was going on?

I turned to men’s magazines. GQ didn’t assume I was dumb, Esquire pleasantly figured I could handle 2000 word articles, and even fratty staples like Maxim managed to wrangle up fresh content for each new issue. But even though these publications were endlessly better than the ‘zines I’d cut my teeth on, the fact remained that they were for dudes and I was a girl, and if that was the only way that I could find happiness in a mag then something was deeply wrong with the world.

It’s been 11 years since I decided that girl mags sucked a huge one, and just over two years since Missbehave came to my rescue. Urban, multicultural, and more often than not, completely inappropriate, the now widely-distributed magazine offers everything that everything else couldn’t. We chatted with Missbehave‘s well-worded editor in chief, Mary H.K. Choi, about all the reasons why this young quarterly is making magazines worth reading again.

Joshspear.com: So tell us about Missbehave — what is it, why is it different, why is it better?

Mary H. K. Choi: Missbehave is a magazine for girls 18-34. We are indeed better, and it’s largely due to our being extraordinarily and enviably clever — and also clairvoyant. The magazine acts as an oracle for things and people who, upon our declaration, will reach astronomical heights of awesome three to four months before everybody else can call it. Trend forecasters, and those Pantone people who dictate what color schemes will be cool, call and email us all the time asking our opinions. Actually, the term “opinion” is somewhat misleading, since our normative conjectures end up being infallible fact in hindsight. We’re just really rad. We’re also funny. And even though other people who call themselves funny are often incorrect douchebags, we get to say it because, again, any claims we make are fucking golden.

JS: I read Missbehave for gems like this: “This is our end game and should we die in this crusade. There will be 72 well-read, well-hung skater boys waiting for us in heaven. With potato chips.” Seriously, where did you develop such an eloquent writing style?

MC: Aw. Thanks. Really, it’s awfully nice of you to say that. Though not everyone would call the style eloquent — hate mail abounds on my writing alone — I think the aspect of the Missbehave voice that truly resonates with our readers is our honesty. We are unafraid to be polysyllabic, dorky, tawdry, and occasionally ignorant. We’re often criticized for our candor and routinely lambasted for our use of the first person narrative and slang because self-important pinheads think it all terribly lowbrow and unorthodox. But those guys can go fuck themselves because I’m the editor, and they’re not.

I love the intimacy of the first person, I love voyeurism and proximity and I love the malleable nature of language — the sheer velocity of word permutations and the convergence of all sorts of sub-cultures — that can now be clocked by new media. This is a really interesting and fascinating time and the rift in culture and language between people born a scant two years apart is just really captivating and worth exploring.

JS: You are a small magazine, but from my perspective, it appears that you’re growing. What has it been like getting Missbehave on its feet and off the ground?

MC: It’s been damn near impossible. I’m immediately reluctant to say things like “off the ground” because I don’t want to jinx anything. It’s like how you know you’re in love with someone when all you can do is fantasize about them dying. I love this magazine and anyone emotionally invested in Missbehave knows the work can absolutely cannibalize you. We’ve been around for two years and it’s been difficult but all tolled, it’s monumentally rewarding. Just when you’re in the black, something completely unexpected happens, everyone freaks out, people get screamed on, and then we get the magazine back from the printers and it’s like — boom, amnesia time. You just forget about how things went pear-shaped and how you almost had walk to Los Angeles to maim some publicist or how a photographer screwed you on a deadline. At the end there’s this shiny product with all of our fingerprints on it and we get to release it out into the world just in time for people to either love it or tear it apart. It’s good stuff. We’re apparently huge in Mexico and Sweden. Actually all of Scandinavia loves us — we’re big in the lowlands.

JS: Missbehave is absolutely urban and intelligent, but it also has a very progressive thing going for it. It’s multicultural, addresses life in a very non-traditional way (from a woman’s magazines perspective, which traditionally sucks), and is incredibly witty — minus that feeling of trying too hard. What else are you shooting for?

MC: This is how typical girl mags work: Someone (who may or may not even read the magazine), takes a coverline, polls it to death, quarantines some focus groups (with the appropriate smattering of culottes-wearing crocs shod republican mom types) gets their opinion on everything from topic to word choice, then they figure out how comfortable all the higher ups feel about it and how it’ll do in the marketplace and with their advertisers and finally when everyone’s 138% simpatico they lasso some writer to write an article based on the coverline. By the time I’m standing at the newsstands wondering if Katherine Heigel was on the cover of the same magazine two months ago I’m thumbing through a men’s magazine. I just want girls to read women’s magazines again without being told that having good posture will make you appear however many pounds thinner and that wearing cowl necks is a good idea.

JS: It is an interesting time to be getting into the magazine business, but you are coming at it from both angles with a really solid online presence as well. What value do you see the Internet in having as far as your ability to keep the conversation going between issues?

MC: We’re published quarterly. It’s absolutely vital that we can chat with our subscribers in the interim. We’re pretty certain they’d perish without us. I’m totally kidding; actually the Internet is really interesting in that it gives the Missbehave girl a conduit to tell us what they’re up to. Our readers are incredibly clued-in and frighteningly resourceful and we’re constantly inspired by their rants and comments. We also are able to really flesh out the personalities of some of our contributing editors like the ubiquitous, self-dubbed “Queen of the Internet” Sarah Morrison who deals with the day-to-day of the site and the talented author of Dear Diary, Lesley Arfin who blogs for us as well. Our Associate Editor Olivia Allin has also become an Internet mainstay and all three are hysterical and this way. Our lucky readers get to bask in their radness every single day.

JS: There are, in many ways, distinct differences between city women (by city, I do specifically mean Brooklyn) and women from say, Georgia. What are some character traits of city women that you think every woman should have?

MC: Weird. I was just in Georgia, it was delicious. I hesitate to delineate between the traits of city women and what "¦ field women? Rural women? Township women? Or whatever because I don’t think there’s some character trait hierarchy based on geography or how many hipsters you live near. The one thing I think that all women should possess (and mind you, I’m not at all proclaiming to know how life should be lived) is to know when to be fearless. If you suspect you’d be good at something you’ve never attempted before — try it. If you want to live somewhere else — move. Be decisive and leap with faith and fervor. And tithe. 10 — 15% of your yearly income should go towards philanthropic efforts. Like. This. Magazine. Not really, I don’t care what you do with your money. Just remember to build your war chest so that when you go berserk and quit your sales job to embark on an ice sculpting career you won’t be homeless.

JS: Hate mail — you get some good stuff. Care to share any of your favorite lines? Or, you could use this space to write a letter back to them? Your call.

MC: Hate mail comes from miscommunication. My capacity for empathy and understanding is so expansive that I would never think to single out any one such misunderstanding. Honestly, I transcend nonsense and when I peer down on all the bile and rampant bitchosity I don’t feel anything negative. In fact, I feel great warmth in my bosom. I feel like dancing.

JS: Hey, we both like wine gums. Aren’t those some of the most exceptional flavors to ever hit your lips?

MC: Dude. Did you know you could get Maynard wine gums in Canada?! I had no idea. This was incredibly exciting to me since my only prior resource was dispatching mules to England. I love the black ones. The hyper currant flavor. The uninitiated immediately think black ew licorice and I do nothing to correct them. That way I can eat them all. They also make ones with sour sprinkles on them that are delicious. Holy smokes, I want wine gums now.

JS: Three more issues to go until #10. What can we expect to expect from Missbehave as she hits double digits?

MC: I know! Actually, we’re working on 9 so 10 is just around the corner. Expect something glorious. We’re in the planning stages of the issue and I can’t let the cat out of the bag just yet since we’re cooking up something marvelous but 10 will be a banger. Trust.

JS: Dream interviewees / covers / contributors…

MC: I would stab seven people in the face if it meant we could sit down and talk to Karl Lagerfeld. Seriously, what is up with that dude? He’s FASCINATING. We want Cintra Wilson to write for us more. We’d also love to chat with Maggie Gyllenhaal, Kristen Wiig, Laura Kightlinger, Natasha Khan, Amy Winehouse (again, this time without her falling off her stool and storming out), Gwen Stefani, Hitomi Kanehara, Kristen Bell, and we’d pay to hang out with Michael Cera. Play Uno, eat kettle corn, Rock Band, whatevs.