If our geopolitical clout is fading, the U.S. still leads the world in the production of ''specialty'' magazines, such as Cat Fancy, Tattoo, and Minitruckin'. We sometimes encounter these journals in the Slurpee-ambient confines of 7-Eleven, and they reassure us that the homogenization of American culture is not yet complete. The best sourcebook for buffs is the Guide to New Magazines, an expensive ($50) catalog published annually by Samir Husni, a University of Mississippi journalism professor who scours newsstands in search of new titles. His 1990 Guide lists 584 launches, including: Basket Bits, Nanny Times, Scale Jets, Musky Hunter, and Sheet Metal (for heavy-metal fans, not contractors). Some were one-shots, some croaked right away for example, Lottery! The Magazine for the Winning Lifestyle and some are simply reworkings of existing magazines. The latter group includes my favorite genre publication, Nude & Natural (formerly Clothed With the Sun), the official organ of the Naturist Society. N&N rails against anything that defames or deforms nudism. In the most recent issue, Walt Disney Pictures gets a dart for clapping ''a double-scallop-shell bra'' on the ''bosomy'' Little Mermaid: ''Historically, mermaids have usually had much smaller breasts and no bra or other top.''
Among the start-ups I'm rooting for are two intriguing women's magazines that probably won't be swapping subscriber lists: Barbie Bazaar (for adult Barbie-doll collectors) and Foxyriders (for adult women who ride Harley- Davidsons). Those of you who find dolls spooky should avoid Barbie Bazaar's pink-drenched pages; the magazine is rife with eerie personification. On the cover of the March/April issue, a 1967-model ''Twist 'N Turn'' Barbie is picking flowers. The copy inside narrates: ''Barbie bends down to pick daisies from her flower garden. . . .She glances up at Ken, coyly, through long, perfectly curled eyelashes and gives him a little smile.'' Ironically, despite the level of reverence for the slim plastic lass, a how-to piece on hair-styling recommends ripping Barbie's head off and dropping it in boiling water.
Foxyriders is aimed at women who buck biker tradition and drive their own Harleys. It has all the necessary service-publication components tips on bike maintenance, a news gazette, and a ''hunk'' centerspread but the interesting aspect is the ongoing tension between these women and certain guys who, as one writer phrases it, ''think that a woman's place is sitting behind him.'' Foxyriders responds with engaging sassiness. The editors propose starting a chain letter that would require a woman to ''send in'' her man. ''When your name comes to the top of the list, you will receive 16,877 men. One of them is bound to be a hell of a lot better than the one you already have. Do not break this chain. One woman (did) and got her own son-of-a-bitch back.''
Changing mores notwithstanding, men's specialty magazines are still stuck in their sex and hardware grooves, and 1989 was no exception: Seventy-two skin magazines debuted not one appears to have any redeemiig editorial content. Nine magazines devoted to knives and guns sprouted. These mayhem magazines aren't as scary as Larry Flynt's fabled S.W.A.T., which runs mail-order ads for .57-caliber CO2 bazookas and the U.S. Marine Corps Scout/Sniper Training Manual. But keep a vigilant eye on New Dimensions, a slick, weird, pro-gun political magazine based in Grants Pass, Ore. The feel here is Guns & Ammo as redesigned by Lyndon LaRouche. For example, the cover of the first issue declares that big media are using ''Pavlovian brainwashing'' to create ''public hysteria'' about automatic weapons.
Two new magazines devoted to paintball-gun combat (a version of Capture the Flag in which people shoot each other with airguns that fire paint pellets) appeared last year. Paintball Sports and Paint Check join the granddaddy of the genre, Action Pursuit Games, published since 1987. Judged alongside it they are. . .very similar. All three show signs of editorial gasping there's simply not much to say about this game. The letters and commentary are fun, though, for they allow one to monitor the odd controversies that swirl through this hobby subculture. In Paintball Sports, ''Doc D.'' deals with the taboo against using the word hit during battle (as in ''You're hit!''). In a recent contest, he writes, a player was ejected for saying this word. And that just ain't right. ''What's next, a list of restricted words posted at the field? How about. . .NAIL, BLOW AWAY, STIFF, BUST, POP, BLAST, CLIP, CLOUT, SPLAT? Where the hell does it end?'' Um, maybe I can guess: When they wrench your paintball gun from your cold, dead fist?