Sunday, March 15, 2009

Periodical Madness

An article from the New Republic about Socialism Re: Obama.  

From the article: "But it isn't just the right that has worked itself into a frenzy; on the question of whether we are approaching a new age of socialism, there seems to be remarkable political consensus. In recent weeks, the covers of National Review ("OUR SOCIALIST FUTURE"), The Nation("REINVENTING CAPITALISM, REIMAGINING SOCIALISM"), and Newsweek ("WE ARE ALL SOCIALISTS NOW") have--respectively--lamented, heralded, and observed the coming rise of socialism."

This is something that annoys me about glossy magazines. Because of its relative success, a glossy has to work ever harder to secure the readers it already has, as well as cater to the impulse buyer at the newsstand who came for a pack of gum but only has a 20 the cashier won't break. Therefore, the covers of the glossies are the prophets of our day. IS GOOGLE MAKING US STOOPID? I can't remember which magazine printed this headline, but whenever I see this kind of simplistic hucksterism I turn the other cheek. Everywhere you turn, some slick and shiny cover is going to tell you HOW this new thing or development is going to affect YOU. I guarantee you'll never see this on the cover of such a magazine: "A reasonable look at the pros and cons of xyz social issue," much less this: "We really don't know what any of this means, and we're not going to waste your time with 5,000 words of self-important speculation." 

There is a tendency in periodical nonfiction these days to make sense of overlying trends. The thinking goes, I suppose, that focusing on piles of statistics somehow gives one a handle on reality. I am not fully condemning the practice. It is important to take stock of mass developments in the social, political, and educational fields. But it seems to me that piles of statistical figures are used to draw arbitrary conclusions that, ultimately, cannot be honestly measured. It goes a long to way sell magazines that promise to guide you through whatever brave new world they claim we're entering. But does it offer anything more than opinion? 

The article linked above is a prime example of how this strange realm of false zeitgeist mongering can be put to bed. A far better antidote: read small magazines and quarterlies. Just let a conspicuous lack of advertisement be your guide. 


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