Magazine Review

I’m not normally a magazine reader. All those slick articles that demand no effort or thinking and prey on small attention spans, serving up digestible morsels that are slightly bigger than a tweet, sandwiched between the cloying smells of perfume/cologne ads and toothy models. But a slew of airline-miles-exchanged-for-magazine offers arrived in my PO Box a few months ago, so I signed up for a schizophrenic variety: The Economist, Wall Street Journal, Seventeen, Sunset, The Atlantic, New York, InStyle, Vogue, etc. What was promised as the daily delivery of the WSJ newspaper to my PO Box was in actuality a weekly dropoff of the previous 5 issues all at once, crammed in among my other mail. I quickly extricated myself from that debacle but have been fielding calls from their subscription department ever since (“You know you were on a free plan. Why not continue?”). Seventeen was exactly the disaster I anticipated/desired. Keen to know what is being marketed to YA girls, I was left with the sourest possible taste in my mouth, canceling the subscription after three valiant months of gleaning cutouts that I mailed to friends with incredulous, “Can you believe this?!” scrawled across the articles/ads. My final straw with Seventeen was the wretched Girl Power! issue which interspersed tips on asserting yourself with tips on makeup and achieving the perfect butt for spring break. I’ve heard rumors that Sunset was once a worthwhile publication, but its current glossy pages promising me a taste of the good life in the West, upselling me on the rapidly gentrifying Divisadero Corridor in SF left me feeling like I’d been gnawing a piece of cardboard with a drawing of BBQ seitan on it. Vogue is another of the hordes choking my mailbox, and I admit to a guilty pleasure “reading” it after I tear out the stinky perfume ads at the post office, jamming them into the recycling. (Perfume is recyclable, no?) The latest issue gave me approximately 50 pages of written word nestled within 200 pages of magazine, pandering to its audience with an excerpt about her mom from Hillary’s memoir, an interview with Charlise Thereon (sp? who cares) proclaiming how wonderfully spontaneous she is and oh yes she is in a Relationship with Sean Penn. Praise be, someone whose name I actually recognize. The pages and pages of other “celebrity” grate on my nerves, I have no idea who these worthless hacks are and why I should care who they are coupling with at the moment. There was also a ~3 page story about a woman who lived in Kenya, and a few other forgettable stories, but I was actually stunned by the commitment to the written word in Vogue. InStyle and Cosmopolitan drained me of a few IQ points, and I quickly cancelled those subscriptions.
That leaves me with the three magazines that I’m sticking with (besides my true love, The Baffler, with its robust 3 issues a year):
* The Economist. When traveling, I’d grab a copy at the airport if I knew the book I was reading was on its last legs/pages. Strangely, when you’re a subscriber, you get a really poor quality cover to this magazine, er, newspaper as the editors call it. At the airport, it comes in a hefty, weighty glossy cover that gives it OOMPH. When it’s jammed in your PO Box, it’s of the flimsiest quality paper. Besides the aesthetics puzzle, I’ve discovered the best, the only way to read this “newspaper”: backwards. A few weeks ago, I lucked onto this scheme and it makes a world of difference to begin with the obituary and book reviews, work your way back through the meagre “culture” pages, before girding your loins to deal with the laughing-in-sleeve pompous commentary by the British hacks that run the joint. The only positive I can say about this rag is that it gives steady work to illustrators for the accompanying artwork to articles. But I’ll probably stick with this one until it runs out now that my backwards first approach makes it somewhat palatable.
* The Atlantic. I have a soft-spot in my heart for this pub, after it published Kate Bolick’s fantastic All the Single Ladies a few years ago. I was rewarded in my second issue of the magazine with the important contribution by Ta-Nehisi Coates: The Case for Reparations. (Off-topic, my highlighted bits of the article are below.)
* New York. Not the feeble “cultural” New Yorker, but the straight up New York magazine. The writing is savage and funny, with cultural articles ranging from the Alex Baldwin “I’m retiring from the media” piece to the article featuring nudists trying to board the Google buses in SF. The latest issue has Chirlane McCray (de Blasio’s wife) on the cover and I’m itching to read it.
From The Case for Reparations, particular parts that struck me:

With segregation, with the isolation of the injured and the robbed, comes the concentration of disadvantage. An unsegregated America might see poverty, and all its effects, spread across the country with no particular bias toward skin color. Instead, the concentration of poverty has been paired with a concentration of melanin. The resulting conflagration has been devastating.

The kind of trenchant racism to which black people have persistently been subjected can never be defeated by making its victims more respectable. The essence of American racism is disrespect. And in the wake of the grim numbers, we see the grim inheritance.

In 1783, the freedwoman Belinda Royall petitioned the commonwealth of Massachusetts for reparations….At the time, black people in America had endured more than 150 years of enslavement, and the idea that they might be owed something in return was, if not the national consensus, at least not outrageous.

But still we are haunted. It is as though we have run up a credit-card bill and, having pledged to charge no more, remain befuddled that the balance does not disappear. The effects of that balance, interest accruing daily, are all around us.

For the past 25 years, Congressman John Conyers Jr., who represents the Detroit area, has marked every session of Congress by introducing a bill calling for a congressional study of slavery and its lingering effects as well as recommendations for “appropriate remedies.”

By 1840, cotton produced by slave labor constituted 59 percent of the country’s exports. The web of this slave society extended north to the looms of New England, and across the Atlantic to Great Britain, where it powered a great economic transformation and altered the trajectory of world history. “Whoever says Industrial Revolution,” wrote the historian Eric J. Hobsbawm, “says cotton.”

Assessing antebellum democracy in Virginia, a visitor from England observed that the state’s natives “can profess an unbounded love of liberty and of democracy in consequence of the mass of the people, who in other countries might become mobs, being there nearly altogether composed of their own Negro slaves.”