Once I get past Lewis Lapham's whinings in the "Notebook" section, I generally enjoy Harper's magazine. (A previous Harper's editor, Willie Morris, was a family friend in Yazoo City, Mississippi. I wasn't born yet, but I'm still loyal. The full story of Lewis Lapham's back-stabbings can be found in Morris's book "New York Days". Good stuff.)
I took the January 2008 Harper's on my vacation last week. A writer named Meredith Broussard does a great Fisking of a food allergies pamplet. You'll never take THE PEANUT ALLERGIES CRISIS ! ! ! seriously again if you read it. Equally good stuff on Mummies, Monotheism, and Brasilia.
But I noticed something missing. Harper's doesn't have much advertising, which is pleasant.
Looking at the fine print on the masthead thingy, or whatever you call it, I saw that Harper's is owned and published by the Harper's Magazine foundation.
That explains it, I thought. So they've got foundation money. Good for them.
(I also saw Walter "Let's abandon the South Vietnamese" Cronkite and George "I couldn't carry my home state in '72" McGovern on their Board of Directors. Bummer.)
I only counted eleven full-page ads in a 96-page magazine.
Five of these were for academic publishing companies, books on tape, or language learning systems. Those industries can't pay much. They almost don't count in the great scheme of keeping Harper's afloat.
One other advertisement was for Bose headphones. No price is listed on the ad, which means that if you're curious about the price, you can't afford them.
Another ad was for Renaissance Hotels & Resorts. Eclectically dressed rich people of appropriately diverse ethnic backgrounds are doing Rich Folks At The Hotel things. The layout is supposed to remind you of Raphael's painting "The School of Athens". The idea being Raphael painted the ancient world's philosophicaly sound elites. You are the new world version of the same if you stay at The Renaissance with your Bose headphones and your copy of Harper's.
Now we get to the real money. The four remaining advertisements are for 1) Toyota, 2) The Chevy Tahoe, 3) BMW, and 4) The Calvert Global Alternative Energy Fund.
What do those four ads have in common? And how can arch-capitalist outfits like automakers and mutual funds fit into the Harper's magazine of Lewis Lapham?
They're all green. They're saving the planet.
At Toyota, they're "driving toward zero waste" in all their factories. The ad shows it. They have a picture of a gloved hand reaching into a recycling bin to hold up a piece of scrap aluminum. Lordy, I'm glad Toyota finally stopped throwing away their scrap aluminum and started recycling it. It takes those Japanese a while to catch on, but they've done it! ! !
And get this: Future Toyotas will have fewer waste emissions than Nicole Richie! ! ! "Over one million Toyota and Lexus hybrids around the world have kept billions of pounds of CO2 out of the atmosphere."
Unfortunately, if that's true, they've also put billions into the atmosphere. If Harper's readers want to support the environment and Toyota at the same time, there's only one way they can do so. Buy a Toyota, park it someplace, and throw away the keys.
Let's move on to the Chevy Tahoe. The background of this ad is green. There's a green heart-shaped leaf in the center, to show how much Chevy loves green. The Chevy Tahoe, which has A Bigger Carbon Footprint Than Al Gore's HouseTM, is parked in the middle of a green forest where it looks like it might just decompose into Whole Earth Mulch any minute. This is a hybrid Tahoe, which can operate in three ways: electric power, engine power, or any combination of electric and engine power. You probably have enough leftover power to run your laptop or a DVD player in the Chevy Tahoe. That way you can watch the documentary "Who Killed The Electric Car". (Spoiler Warning: Detroit might have done it. In Congress. With a lead pipe. Thus ends the game of Clue....)
The new BMW allows you to "wash your hands of CO2 emissions." There's a huge drop of water descending in front of the BMW Hydrogen 7. Yeah, you Pontius Pilate, earth destroying, Beemer driving Yuppie scum, you can wash your hands of emissions. Nothing can be your fault. "It's a great idea that makes more than an environmental statement," says the ad copy. And making a statement instead of a difference is what this is all about.
Now let's look at the back cover. The Calvert Alternative Energy Mutual Fund gives us a big picture of a wind farm. "One day, 'alternative' energy will just be energy", they say. Calvert is going to give us Alternative Energy Solutions AND they are "positioned to help you potentially capitalize on this investment opportunity." Let's deconstruct that last phrase: "We at Calvert know Al Gore. He and Kleiner Perkins are going to get Congress to subsidize this stuff. Give us your money. You can make tons more and not feel guilty. It's for a good cause."
I assume that Willie Morris is turning over in his grave, a grave where I hope he is composting nicely with minimal methane and CO2 emissions, and leaving the earth the way he found it.