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Friday, November 25, 2011

The Silver age of magazines


 In a Playboy interview, Stephen King once admitted that he had often daydreamed of the day when he'ed be interviewed by Playboy. I must admit, that I, too, often daydream of being interviewed. It's an exercise in self-examination that allows me to take ideas, floating around in my mind, out and turn them around & see what they look like.
 Perhaps it's fortunate that I grew up in the time that I did.. If we examine the magazine publishing industry during the last fifty years, we'ed have to note the proliferation of magazines covering a multitude of subjects for a vast and diverse audience.
Let's look at the "Golden Age" of magazines, which is probably the period approximately from 1920 to 1960. The 'pulp' era, where you have the introduction of titles like The New Yorker, Time, Life, Newsweek, Amazing Stories, Argosy, Astounding Science Fiction, Black Hood Mystery, Esquire, Ellery Queen Mystery... And the introduction of many specialized magazines covering specific fields of interest. Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, National Geographic (which had been around for years, but became popular due to the introduction of photography..). A boom time for publications competing with each other, studying each other's successes and failures. Street & Smith, Conde Nast, Rodale press, Fawcett publications all became big names during this time.
The names we began to become aware of: John W.Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Norman Rockwell, Virgil Findlay, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Robert E. Howard, John D. MacDonald, Margaret Bourke-White....
Many of these people, these publications, became institutions unto themselves. A plateau of success had been reached, then entrenchment and withdrawal to set boundaries. The "wild west" of the early days were over. I'd say the last introductions of note from this period were Famous Monsters of Filmland, by Forrest J. Ackerman, & Playboy, by Hugh Hefner. This was interesting, as the former was a movie fan magazine dedicated not to popular celebrities, but to a genre of films that had been marginalized by critical opinion and the general public. The latter was a public transition from underground pornography to the slick 'lad's mags' that Esquire had established.
During this Golden age, and during the brief lull before the next proliferation period, there was an 'underground' of a self-published press that was not distributed by news stands, but by mail subscription. Fan press that distributed information among themselves. In house trade magazines covering corporations, unions, specific sports and events.
So, what then was the 'Silver Age'? From the 1960s to the 1980s, another explosion of magazines that exploited burgeoning new markets, mined new ground in old ones, began to be marketed....
Low Rider, Mother Jones, Rolling Stone, People (a slick, less offensive version of the supermarket tabloid), Penthouse, Entertainment Weekly, The Monster Times, Starlog, Omni, National Review, US News & World Report, Hustler, Tiger Beat, Seventeen, National Lampoon, Spy.... Old titles began to breathe new life with new talent. The Atlantic Monthly, Newsweek and Time.
Magazines weren't just printing news, but also becoming sources for other reporters. And often becoming the news themselves by reporting controversial stories. Time magazine asked:"Is God dead?"
Then there were the talents; Hunter S. Thompson, Helen Gurley Brown, Tina Brown, P.J. O'Rourke, Ben Bova, Larry Niven, Harlan Ellison....
There were changes in popular culture. Movie directors and producers became pop stars, and magazines covered it. Movies began to become part of the conversation of politics and culture, and magazines opined. 'The Exorcist' or 'Rosemary's Baby' were no longer just the subject of Famous Monsters, but the magazines in your dentist or doctor's office. Cosmopolitan began to push forward an editorial agenda that a woman's sexual satisfaction was just as important as a man's, and Playboy heartily agreed... Health magazines, following popular trends about exercise and nutrition, espoused a new ethic of fitness. Running, dieting, became not just topics of articles, but subjects for magazines of their own.
So, what does this have to do with today? Think of the fertile ground this fount of information provided the first internet generation. Armed with the ability to research and disseminate this information among itself, this equalized the knowledge of each member of the group.
Take a look at what we bloggers often do: we share links to articles. The magazine business is morphing into the wire news service of old, and we bloggers are personalizing the news feeds to our target audiences.

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