Pre-Purge Dissection of Print

December 2, 2009

I've been saying goodbye to the issues of a previous life. I'm not sure how many magazines I acquired during the mid 00's, but it was a period of mass consumption in which I tolerated the idea of buying a $28 copy of Eye four times per year. Those magazines, a perennial source of inspiration, will of course be traveling with me. Most of the rest will have to be disposed of, likely recycled.

What I've been debating with myself has been the urge to purge against a desire to hoard it all. Too many of the magazines I want to keep for their posterity rather than their immediate or potential use, or even nostalgia. I don't really have nostalgia for any of these. I've amassed so many bad magazines in these stacks - magazines which either had terrible design, or terrible writing, or terrible concepts. I want to keep those wonderfully awful magazines around.  

So many bad magazine ideas came from Pittsburgh, most born from upper-middle class social/lifestyle ambitions. After the top regional magazine, Whirl, came out, meaningless advertorial and photos of somewhat attractive people soon found their way next to ads for liposuction and boob jobs, diamonds and Hummer® across the other start-up publications. I'm sure it's nothing new in the history of American print, but it was clearly a phase we saw and suffered in Pittsburgh. For a while we had a small format magazine battle, with Maniac, LUX and the cleverly named Mini concurrently out there. Maniac has since increased in size and developed better production, but it's still as vapid as ever (and their website loads as HTTPS instead of HTTP, slowing down surfing efforts and showing off that their IT doesn't know what the hell is going on). LUX folded, or maybe it didn't. Nobody seems to be sure. I do applaud them for their basic concepts though. All of them aspired to the same that all of the youth in Pittsburgh does: something better.

But Instead of suggesting that people make or do things or even embrace the simple offerings of Pittsburgh, these magazines pushed luxury products and nights out at abysmal, expensive clubs. For better or worse, many of those clubs are not around anymore. Nightwire, another awful magazine, never really advocated anything, aside from cheering on local sports teams. They survived with just putting tits on the cover and running with jokes stolen from the Internet inside.

On the other hand you have zines printed on the worst newspaper possible, telling everybody that everything is terrible except for a few bands. This is not too dissimilar from where Deek started. And this is where I think the magazine collection becomes significant. It, like most of Pittsburgh, is not moderate. There are no moderate magazines in Pittsburgh. There is no middle of the road lifestyle here. We have a DIY crowd, and we have a super-consumer crowd. Do we need something confusing like Adbusters, an $8 magazine that says we shouldn't buy anything? They sell this at Whole Foods and other fine retailers. I thought it was cool for a while, and the design and overall aesthetic has always been great, but after I got the magazine's message I stopped buying it.

I think there is a group of people who are moderate and sensible but they're unfortunately quiet. I like to think I'm one of those people.Maybe after a few more years of revitalization efforts and the continued good press from places elsewhere, new arrivals may shift the overall economics, businesses will diversify and demographics will balance out.

I also have that stack of Pittsburgh City Paper issues that I'll be selectively keeping. The negativity, self-deprecation and perpetual tone of misery in every issue is significant for documentation. Think about that massive readership they have in Pittsburgh. Think about how many people are hit daily with negativity, told that their city is a miserable place to be through snark and what may very well be an editorial tone suffering from clinical depression. The cover story last week was a fucking film review for The Road. A movie review got the cover, and there wasn't even any substantial coverage about where the movie was shot around town, an easy, soft-toss story if ever there were one.

My main problem with City Paper is that every issue addresses the city of Pittsburgh instead of focusing on the things happening here in the context of Pittsburgh. Instead of being a newsweekly, it wallows in self-awareness, tinting every story with tones of what could be, what was, or what's missing, not what is. But I can't change that, and I know they're suffering advertiser attrition that's only making it harder to keep good writers and good content in development.

Aside from the Pittsburgh collection, there's the Elk's magazine, full of ads for elastic pants and breathing aides. It's fascinating to see all these different magazines made for all these different markets. I must have dozens of different publications. Do people know what other people are reading? Do they know what other sorts of things are advertised to them and what they crave to buy? If only the people in the trucking industry could read what the home healthcare industry people do, they'd have quite a laugh!

Living in myopia is a major fear of mine, as much as being smothered by too much of too much is a potential threat to my sanity.

I think I should focus more on keeping the good things rather than keeping all things. MNost of my favorite magazines have origins outside of the US.  I learned the basics of graphic design through Computer Arts from the UK. I'll always remember Manny Theiner holding up that copy of The Wire (UK) and telling me that Deek was a terrible magazine, and he got all of his music information from the Wire. I asked him to help the cause but he declined and continued to berate me. IdN is great, and it's from Hong Kong. Not Only Black + White is from Australia. Ah, I could go on and on, but spending so much time on so many things is the cause of the current predicament.

I'll take what I can, toss the rest in storage, and sort out the meaning of everything after I've found the meaning of life in NYC.

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