30 July 2006

My Favorite Magazine

I remember as a child that my mother told me that when she met my father, she thought he was the smartest guy she had ever known. Turns out, he had simply read each and every issue of The Reader’s Digest that his mother had stored, going back many years. He therefore had a lot of trivial knowledge on many different subjects, but that was all. He was able to “baffle with BS” pretty well.

Don’t get me wrong—my father is easily one of the most intelligent men in the world, though it took me until I was well into my twenties to realize that. I don’t mean to belittle his intelligence at all. After all, he was able to convince my mother that he was worthy of her, and that was no mean feat. My purpose for writing that above was to introduce my love affair with The Reader’s Digest.

Throughout my life, it has been the one constant. No matter where I lived as a child, my parents always subscribed to it. I read many of the back issues that my father once read in his childhood. I read stories there that I would never read anywhere else. One of my favorites was the story of the rubber-band gun shootout between two rival gangs of pre-teen children. I think that one was called, "Shoot-out at the Red Horse Barn." I looked forward to reading "Life in These United States," "Humor in Uniform," "All in a Day’s Work" and "Laughter, The Best Medicine." I even liked the book features, as they were the condensed versions of stories that otherwise I would probably not read. Today, I subscribe to The Reader's Digest myself, and still look forward to all the regular features. Mary Roach’s column is easily one of the best things in print today, in my never-to-be-humble opinion. I regularly read “That’s Outrageous!” and “Heroes for Today.” The book features are still a favorite, too.

However, I have to say, that in spite of it all, I can’t stand the new artist they have doing the covers. I suppose “new” is not the right word, as he has been doing them for a couple of years at least. I also realize that in order to keep current, and appeal to the broadest segment of society possible (The Digest’s best feature), they have to change their “look” periodically. I remember when they used to have classic pictures, or at least classically influenced pictures, on the cover. For a while, they used pertinent photographs on the cover, like a picture of the young woman who overcame her poverty and racial discrimination to win national recognition for scholarship. I use that last as an example only, I don’t actually remember specific photos. But the photos always had something to do with a story inside. They used to have the entire contents of the issue on the front, too. I liked that. Now, their front cover is not much dissimilar from other mainstream magazines, with blurbs designed to get your attention, and photographs of celebrities whose interviews are inside.

But this new artist—he caricatures Americana. I have nothing against that in and of itself, but for some reason, his style just turns me off. Maybe it is because he is so mainstream that if there is anything that is slightly controversial, he makes sure to include it in his pictures. He had an ethnically diverse crowd of people donating to Hurricane relief. A white suburban male installing a fish-shaped mailbox. A young couple jogging past a health club, with the man looking wistfully at the shapely young women working out in the warm, inviting gym, while the shrewish woman leads him inexorably onward. His pictures manage to address these controversial issues while being so cliché that it is disgusting to view. I am sure he means to be at the very least though-provoking, but ends up being trite.

Or, I may be simply a jerk on a rant.