Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Harper's Magazine, February 2008, Which tie should I wear to the Revolution?

I like Harper's Magazine. Not necessarily for the overall slant of the magazine, which usually assumes a drooling Socialist stance on the part of its readers, but for the "Readings", the "Annotations", and the "Findings" sections. And there's usually at least one essay every month that's worth the cost of the thing.
About a month ago, I noticed that the majority of large ads in Harper's magazine were promoting "Green" products. Many of these products were either environmentally harmful SUV's with A Bigger Carbon Footprint Than Al Gore's House,TM, or wholesome alternative energy mutual funds.

What I wrote turned out to be a popular post. I'm going to try to keep it up every month till I'm sick of it.

Let's look at Harper's Marketing Vs. Content for this month, shall we? I have the February 2008 issue in hand. The cover sets the stage for our tour. It shows a top-hatted, spats-wearing gent astride a bubble. He's trying to hang onto a house.
(The top-hat wearing little dude from the Monopoly game is over-used as the shorthand symbol of Capitalism. What should we start using as the symbol of Socialism? How about the starving kid in my sidebar to your right?)

Inside the front cover there's a two-page spread from The Native American, American Indian College Fund. (Sorry, old habit. It really does say American Indian, but I try to be PC.) An attractive woman wearing lots of silver and turquoise is standing in front of a godawful barren landscape. There's a rock outcropping in the background. Everything about the picture suggests that this is The Ass End of Nowhere. The text of the ad claims, and I swear to God I'm not making this up, it says "If I stay on The Rez, I'm eight times less likely to drop out of college." A helpful bar at the bottom adds "By starting their academic careers at a tribal college, nine in ten indian students will complete their course of study."

The mind recoils.

Let's not bring up separate but equal. Let's not discuss raising generation after generation who can't exist outside a Government Greenhouse. Let's not discuss who has to fund Tribal Colleges, and what all bureaucracies will do to keep their numbers up. Let's discuss the obscene lengths that we'll go in order to preserve voting blocs. Naw, let's don't. Too depressing.

Next is a Honda ad. They're touting "Higher fuel efficiency, lower greenhouse gas emissions". "Our vehicles have emitted less CO2 - the primary cause of global warming - on average, than any other car company." AND THE AD SHOWS A FREAKIN' HONDA SUV IN THE BACKGROUND. Yes, they have the nerve to show an SUV in the ad. If you don't see the irony in that, go away. Don't come back.
Then Honda says "All of which enhances our ultimate goal: a cleaner environment." In addition to being a lie (their ultimate goal is to provide a good return on investment to their shareholders), there's one other problem.....
How do you enhance a goal? Shouldn't they try to achieve their goal? Meet their goal?
"Enhances our ultimate goal" sounds like Toyota sits around brainstorming about their goal, in order to enhance it. Really define that sucker....

Then we have the familiar full page ad for Bose headphones. How much do they cost? The ad doesn't say, which means that if you have to ask, you can't afford them. (Take advantage of 12 easy payments....)

I've been leaving out the Publisher ads, simply because they typically don't pay the magazine as much. But we have one worth mentioning this month....there's a full-page promotion for Edward Tufte's book, "Beautiful Evidence" on page 14.
The pictures in the book and on Tufte's site are worth a gander, and you can have 5 copies for only $210.00, just $210.00. This is an unpaid commercial announcement, so Ed, please send me a freebie. Unlike many of Harper's readers, I can't pay $40 for a coffee table book. Especially when most of my friends would just ask why Tufte can't get his camera to focus. (My friends and I work in shipping, not publishing.)

Then on page 20, we find what we came for. We have a piece of Criticism by Slavoj Zizek, originally published in The London Review of Books. Brace yourselves for some Post-Marxist whining:

"One of the clearest lessons of the last few decades is that capitalism is indestructable. Marx compared it to a vampire, and one of the salient points of comparison now appears to be that vampires always rise up again after being stabbed to death. Even Mao's attempt, in the Cultural Revolution, to wipe out the traces of capitalism ended up in its triumphant return."
Mao's attempt to wipe out the traces of capitalism is seldom compared to Hitler's attempt to wipe out all traces of European Jewry. Perhaps that is an unfair to Hitler, since Mao's body count was so much higher. Zizek continues:

"Today's left reacts in a wide variety of ways to the hegemony of global capitalism, and its political supplement, liberal democracy."
He then lists a few ways that today's left should react to the twin horrors of (gasp) capitalism and liberal democracy. Here's my favorite:

"....true resistance is not possible, so all we can do till the revolutionary spirit of the global working class is renewed is defend what remains of the welfare state, confronting those in power with demands we know they cannot fulfill, and otherwise withdraw into cultural studies, where one can quietly pursue the work of criticism."
Ah, yes. Until the ungrateful Proles rise up from their lathes, looms, and laptops, we of the left shall continue making idiotic demands of the government (for changes in the weather, for eternal life at a low cost, for perpetual motion/alternative energy machines, etc.) while floating through the mahogany panelled walls of the faculty lounge, discussing our latest submission to The Columbia Journal of Unrelieved Tedium.

That's enough of Slavoj. The remainder of his essay suggests that The Left should act like 8-year olds who want a pony when they and their parents know they can't have a pony. But if the kids whine long enough and loud enough about not having a pony, the parents just might give up and shoot themselves.

Sci-fi/Fantasy author Ursula K. Le Guin is next. The cover of Harper's identifies this essay as "Capitalism Vs. The Book". But the essay is entitled "Staying Awake - Notes on The Alleged Decline of Reading". What follows is a typically well-written Le Guin rant about the decline of publishing, writing, and bookstores, mostly because of corporate evil.

(A helpful footnote on the first page explains that the basis for Le Guin's essay is an NEA survey that didn't count non-fiction as "reading". In other words, you could read history, sociology, newspapers, and the non-fiction contents of Harper's all year long and still be included as a statistical non-reader. Is Harper's actually coming out and saying that Le Guin is arguing from False Premises? This is how a literacy crisis is created. No one gets their NEA funding increased by saying that everything is great, and people are reading Magazines, Non-Fiction, Websites, and Blogs in unbelieveable numbers. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Border's also draw larger crowds than the previous bookselling incarnations ever did. More people are reading more stuff than ever before. It's just different. Rejoice. Get over it.)

One intersting sentence from Le Guin:

"Perhaps blogging is an effort to bring creativity to networking, and perhaps blogs will develop aesthetic form, but they certainly haven't done it yet."
Dang, those are some strong words. And this is coming from the author of the science fiction novel "The Disposessed". One of my favorite Bloggers "The Bookslut", after taking a hammer and tongs to the plot, describes the cover of "The Dispossesed" as "Chuck Norris being pursued by a giant space piggy".

All right, people ! All you Philistine Bloggers who didn't grown up at Berkeley with Ursula ! You heard the lady ! Quit wearing stripes with plaids ! Stop singing parallel 4ths and 5ths ! Shovel some aesthetic form in there ! The bar has been set high, but you can do it !

This is followed by a report from Eric Janszen, in which Mr. Janszen predicts that "The Next Bubble" will be alternative energy. (This piece is so well done, and makes so much sense that I devoted a separate posting to it here.) This article is so out of place in Harper's that I have to wonder if some of the Evil Capitalists in the Harper's advertising department insisted on its inclusion. This thing could actually have a negative impact on Al Gore's plans for saving the world.

I predict that heads will roll.

"Wasteland" is an article by Frederick Kaufman that describes what happens to your poop after you flush it. Seriously, I shit you not. Kaufman gives us all the details of wastewater treatment plants, septic tanks, fertilizer manufacturing, and all the other processes that convert human waste into anti-Free Market diatribes by Slavoj Zizek and Ursula K. Le Guin.

Toyota offers us a full page ad that doesn't explain the superiority of Toyota pickups, but explains what they're doing at their factory to bring jobs to San Antonio, Texas. (Harper's automobile ads generally haven't been about the vehicles. They're been about the political opinions you can attach to the vehicles.) In this case, they're bringing jobs to the hard-hatted indigenous peoples of San Antonio. Well, from a distance the factory workers at least look like Mexicans. Good for Toyota.

The next ad is for a device that looks like a guitar tuner. They call it The Stress Eraser. The ad claims it'll give you "the pleasures of stress-free living" and "make you feel younger in just 15 minutes a day." It's a medical breakthrough that actually reverses "ergotropic tuning". (As I write this, I'm on hold with their toll-free number. I want to know more about having my ergotropic tuning reversed.)

Like the ads for many of these contraptions, they don't give you the cost of the machine. But all it takes is "a relaxing 15 minutes right before bed each night to adjust your breathing; then set it aside. Your system will continue to reverse the effects of the stress you've built up all day - while you sleep !"

I don't have the patience to wait on hold any longer at 1-888-848-9695 to learn what a Stress Eraser costs. If anyone else knows, please use the comment field below. However, Forbes Magazine - Capitalist Tool - gives the machine a glowing endorsement. Heh heh heh....

Chevy paid big bucks for the back cover, because they want you to know they've gone from "Gas-friendly to gas-free".

"Imagine: A daily commute without using a drop of gas. The extended range electric vehicle is no longer just a rumor," says Chevy.
Actually, it never has been a rumor. We were making progress developing them. Perhaps Chevy should rent the DVD "Who killed the Electric Car?" (Hint: It was the government and Chevy.)
Let's wind it down with a look inside the back cover. There's a full-page ad from the good folks at Vanguard Investments.
They show us a beautiful rack of silk neckties, a staggering array of choices for neckware, and say that "With Vanguard, choosing the right investments can be easier than getting dressed." The implication is that Harper's readers have money. Lots of it. We own that many ties, and it's difficult to pick which one to wear. Just like it's difficult to know where to put all the money.
That's what creating a portfolio should not be like. One of those difficult "which necktie?"decisions we Socialists have to face every morning.
So it's time to ask the question.
Marketing departments don't waste money. They advertise in periodicals that have readers most likely to respond to their ads.
Editors don't waste space. They fill their periodicals with content that their target readers are most likely to enjoy.
Who are you people that get off on these anti-corporate, anti-capitalist diatribes, but love to purchase SUV's, $210 worth of coffee table books, hand-held stress reducers, and Vanguard Mutual Funds in our glorious Free Market Economy? Heh heh heh heh heh.....

1 comment:

sandersonmom said...

This post made me laugh sitting at my desk trying to get your shipping report taken care of. Sorry if it's wrong...
Well, being as thought I am a Native American, not publicly correct but is living on the rez publicly correct or are they just being enticed to stay where the white man put them so many years ago?
Also, Boze headphones are $399 a piece. I bought two for my hearing impaired children.
hee hee.