TIME has always been a ripe target for parody, from Wolcott Gibb's 1936 comment about the magazine's writing style—"Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind"—to an earlier Lampoon parody in 1969.
This updated sendup, putatively pegged to TIME'S 17-billionth anniversary, gets at the magazine's new layout and color photographs—a picture of a naked couple in mid-copulation (discreetly rendered) is used to illustrate a number of different stories, relevance be damned. But the most telling blows are scored against the magazine's multiadjectival, image-laden and occasionally pedantic language. A vague sort of "Essay" attributed to "Ico Pyer" wanders along about, well, something or other: "The golden rule of journalism. It is like a lighthouse when the waters of fact are overlayed with the thick fog of the undecidable. How can we truly navigate all the inlets and byways of the ocean of humanity if we follow only some and exclude the others?" An "American Scene" piece on a town in Arizona that makes heroes of two Kuwaiti terrorist-hijackers ends, "Yes, reason and compassion have made headway in some quarters, yet still it seems a difficult and ultimately unrewarding task to try to function without the aid of vicious stereotyping and hatred." Not even TIME'S readers escape. One letter objects to a cover featuring a very maternal-looking woman labeled "Mother!" The reader, "Professor Jonathan Culler, Distinguished Maven of the Latest French Notions, Ithaca, N.Y.," writes, "When will you stop using women as objects of fantasy on your covers? At least have the decency to appeal to my genital sexuality with some picture of Kim Basssinger in a leather miniskirt."
There's even a preemptive strike by the real TIME, a legitimate ad showing a cover story headlined TASTELESS LAMPOON ISSUE OFFENDS NATION-IRATE CITIZENS SHUT DOWN HARVARD. In fact the tastelessness is at a minimum, though a piece headlined "Wheezing Away the Summer at Asthma Camp" doesn't lampoon anything except the parodist's desperation. Mostly this is a breezy, on-target project that should give TIME'S readers some healthy laughs and its editors some healthily uneasy moments. (Putnam, paper, $4.95)