Monday, July 25, 2011

Joe Appears To Have Run Out Of Organs

Oddly, Natalie gets "Readers Digest" in her mail on a regular basis.

This has nothing to do with any money changing hands. They just send her the magazine. Our best guess is that Readers Digest probably do this to a lot of doctors (it's pretty easy to get a mailing list of registered doctors courtesy of the AMA, among others. After all, somebody's got to tell all those fraggin' drug companies where to send their advertising.) in the hopes that said doctors will then use RD to fill out their quota of ancient, decaying magazines in the surgery waiting room... and perhaps some desperate souls will stumble upon RD and decide that a subscription to said publication is precisely the prescription they require.

Or something.

Normally, Natalie does just that: throws the RD into the waiting room, and forgets it. Good thing too. But she brought the latest home by accident, and it's been a source of fascination to young Jake. He's read us all kinds of (excruciatingly dull) snippets of (utterly pointless) information. He's done the vocabulary quiz. He's checked out "Laughter, The Best Medicine", or whatever they're calling their humour column these days. And altogether, he seems to have enjoyed himself.

At first, I was appalled. But then I remembered that at age eleven, I didn't mind Readers Digest either. Some friends of my mothers had a colossal frockin' collection of the things - a vast double-shelf probably four metres long, spanning most of their lounge room, which had pretty much every issue from the late sixties up to the late seventies (which was the time I was reading 'em there.) I certainly wasn't riveted by the things, but there was stuff in them that I found interesting. Sometimes.

Anyway, in light of Jake's recent infatuation, I thought I'd glance over this modern-day RD, and see what kind of crap they were purveying. I do recall that by the time I was fifteen or sixteen, I was reading RD in an almost Deconstructionist mode... sort of deriving a mental image of their target demographic from the nature of the stories and writing, and from the advertising. Even back then, it was painfully obvious that RD was attempting to address an astoundingly bourgeois, fundamentally conservative and naive population - and so I was quite curious to see who they thought they were reaching these days.

The first conclusion was that the Readers are now a fuckload older. So many adverts for adult diapers, mobility aids, wills, funerals... it's spooky. Makes me think that a lot of the people who were reading the RD seriously back in the seventies are still doing so. Only now, they're not reading about Joe's spleen any more. (That's the tie-in with the title of this post, by the way. There was a whole series of articles back in the seventies entitled "I Am Joe's {Insert Body Organ Here} ". These articles explained, in nice, simple terms and with discreet but colourful diagrams, the mysterious workings of Joe's kidneys, lungs, thyroid glands, pancreas, etc. Poor Joe. Must have been a hell of a series of interviews.)

The second thing I noticed: attention spans have shortened. The old RD used to carry a few long articles among the short stuff and the fillers, and often, the latter third or quarter of the thing would be a single piece of writing - sometimes an adapted piece of fiction, sometimes a biography, sometimes a lengthy exposition on some kind of real-life incident. ("Drama In Real Life", I believe they were called. And the fact I can remember that makes me want to go and drink slivovitz until those particular neurones are dead.) The modern RD has nothing similar. The "articles" and essays are all quite short, and there are many more little columns and quizzes and games.

The last thing I noticed: despite the reduction in size, and particularly in the depth of the writing, there's as much advertising as ever there was. Maybe even more. And it's all still wrapped around that fumblesome, bourgeois core of conservative naivete.

Ah well. It's probably harmless enough. And in another year or two, Jake will be ready to start deconstructing the magazine, and thinking about the reasons it is published, and why it is laid out as it is, and so forth. In the meantime, I suppose the damned things might as well languish here as in the surgery. In any case, I think they've got two or three other copies turning up down there every month...


  1. Ye gods, I haven't thought about Reader's Digest in ages. My grandmother was a subscriber, so I got to read it at her house. Luckily she also subscribed to Sky and Telescope. Not sure what that says about her demography.

  2. Grandmothers. Yep. That seems about the right profile for the magazine as it stands these days. Except... grandmothers with short attention spans. Online grandmothers; iTunes grandmothers; YouTube grandmothers.

    Sky and Telescope speaks well of your grandmother. Much more so than RD.

  3. Yeah, she was pretty cool when she gave herself the chance. I miss her. And I'm guessing she'd not be subscribing to RD any more if she was still around. It sounds horrid.