Maybe I should start by delving into the Magazine culture of America and taking a closer look at some of the messages delivered (both subliminal and obvious) and their meanings, motives and goals of magazine companies, and the effects these aspects (along with others) have on our shape-shifting society…
The year 1731 marked the introduction of magazines into society where The Gentlemen’s Magazine, has stolen the title of “The first general interest magazine”. Founded in London by Edward Cave in January of 1731, the original complete title was The Gentleman’s Magazine: or, Trader’s Monthly Intelligencer. Wikipedia sources state that Cave’s innovative and original idea was to construct a monthly digest of news and commentary on any topic that the educated public would be interested in. It was equipped and packed with original content from a source of regular contributors, along with a variety of extensive quotes and extracts from books and other periodicals. Edward Cave edited The Gentleman’s Magazine under the pen name ‘Sylvanus Urban’, and was the first to ever use the term ‘magazine’; which meant ‘storehouse’, for a periodical. As time progressed, journalists, editors, organizations and industries have run with Caves idea and in many ways changed what a magazine is and the purpose it most commonly serves today.
Today’s magazines are flooded and filled with inconsistencies and/or contradictions that exist in dominant cultural messages associated to addressing gender, gender identity and expectations, men’s or women’s social and sexual roles, and beauty or body norms. Above all, a great amount of pressure is placed upon men and women by society to live up to an almost impossible double-bind.
Eat All You Want and Still Stay Lean and Fit, 10 Ways to Meet You Perfect Mate, Fashion Does and Don’t; these are just some of the ideal headlines used in magazines today with the purpose of luring in readers and bestowing upon readers the definition of what it means to be that perfect person and how they should go about reaching this goal. This then also implies that the reader may in fact not meet the certain standard of today’s society and their self-esteem is stimulated as they flip from one page to the next. There are even certain instances where words do not even have to be used; as striking images hit viewers with strong messages both obvious and subliminal; from women (and recently also men) being viewed as sex objects to the portrayals of the ideal ‘standard’ figure of one’s body. This then links to the plausible claim that “the body is a surface upon which culture is written.”
Magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Maxim show unrealistically slim and trim women with long hair, and radiant skin as the epitome of women which leaves female viewers who don’t meet any of those standards feeling unworthy and men seeking to attain one of these women as a prominent goal in life. Readers are enticed to become comfortable with themselves by submitting to the changing of their character and appearance whilst being urged to transform the self, by emulating others, or getting what they don’t already have. With everyone being pressured into achieving this standard, what is to be said about those who are unable to do so? Are they cast out of the norm or not looked at as highly or worthy as those who do suit the standard, and are they not worthy of attaining happiness in life?
Countless mixed messages are presented consistently leaving individuals at a fleeting fork in the road. Magazines provide information on thrift and saving whilst contradicting them selves later on by insisting that one indulge. Men and women are equally targeted where as women are told to be empowered, yet are still disempowered by magazine ads, and men are pushed to earn the title of being a ‘real man’. Magazines encourage conformity to external regulations and create an embattled relationship with the self rather than providing adequate support for one’s self-esteem based on the fact that everyone is in there own way different, unique and beautiful whether it be inside or out.
Messages regarding ones individual, economical, and idealistic freedom or self-expression are weakened or contradicted by other messages about conformity to a mass ideal of beauty standards, economic essentials, and traditional non-political or power wielding roles for women where gender is portrayed in the ‘natural beauty’ trend (especially in instances where so much is ‘unnatural’ or ‘fake’). Polished females are depicted to represent the ideal female, yet on the other hand women are coached into making themselves prettier or more presentable by not wearing as much make up or polishing them selves up, when in fact the very women that they are looking at in the magazines are themselves polished. These messages most certainly carve out for women the difficult work of “looking like you didn’t work at it.” The Magazine’s definition of natural beauty most certainly strays from the sole meaning of the word ‘natural’ in that something that is natural is not artificial or imitated.
Susan Bordo’s, The Male Body uncovers the many forms of male depiction within magazines, media and advertisements. According to Bordo, until recently have men ever been portrayed as sexual objects like women have over the years. Men were never before allowed to be viewed or looked at, but instead be the viewer(s). Magazines now display men in little clothing posing with either masculine or feminine under tones in order to attract both men and women. Advertisers formulated a genius plan that has gone undetected by depicting men with more feminine characteristics such as being slimmer and more boyish looking.
“At the same time however, my gaze is invited by something “feminine” about the young men. His underwear may be ripped, but ever so slightly, subtly; unlike the original ripped-wear poster boy Kowalski, he’s hardly a thug. He doesn’t stare at the viewer challengingly, belligerently, as do so many models in other ads for male underwear, facing off like a street tough passing a member of the rival gang on the street” (Bordo).
This allows for both homosexuals and heterosexuals to continue buying products from that particular store or manufacturer with out them losing customers.
Magazines have been transformed so much to the extent that they are now no longer centered on the original idea formulated by Edward Cave. No longer are magazines solely monthly digests of news and commentary on any topic that the educated public would be interested in; but are instead advertising powerhouses with an extremely manipulating force that plays on an individual’s self-esteem and rearranges wants and needs. People are rarely presented with real solutions and ideas, but rather with fantasy driven ideals which in reality almost never play out to be true. Playboy Magazine’s regular subscribers have a total annual salary that is roughly below 40,000 dollars, yet they have numerous advertisements of high end electronics, cars, and cloths that these readers would never be able to afford. Do readers, advertisers, and magazine publishers really see nothing wrong with this contradiction?
Overall, one could argue that the main problem that causes these paradoxes is the fact that people have a difficult time contemplating and relating to the solid differences between fantasy and reality. Instead of providing a sense of reality to the public that can secure meaning and values that are relevant to one’s natural life, people are encouraged to fantasize and seek unattainable goals. All people have been created to be individual standards and unique beings rather than a population that must fit into a certain standard that weeds out those who do not conform or fit in. Fantasy is what people ‘want’, but reality is what they ‘need’.
“It took Pleasure to make me and Pain to give birth to me…” – Kev