October CommQuote

Our selection for October  (in just under the wire) comes from George W.S. Trow’s screed on American culture, WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF NO CONTEXT Originally appearing in 1980 as a long, even by New Yorker standards, essay in a special issue of the magazine, it was subsequently published as a book, and in 1997 reprinted with an additional introduction by the author.  

The essay is an indictment of American culture in general, specifically television and, to a lesser extent, magazines. I think the essay holds up pretty well applied to today’s culture.  Where it falls short, in the sense of feeling a little dated, is in the vitriol’s television-centeredness, given how television has become so varied and, as argued by many recent critics, out-performs the movies in storytelling innovation and nuance. But I find his idea of demographics as the “new history” chilling and even more spot-on in the internet age which finds us awash in puerile preferences that are not judged, but merely counted.  More on demographics in two excepts below that position the reader to think about the role of the hit (tv show). 

For 21st century context, you might want to check out Emily Nussbaum’s piece in the October 12 The New Yorker, The Price Is Right: What Advertising Does to TV, which touches on the Trow essay (and got me reading it). 

The New History

The New History was the record of the record of the expression of demographically significant preferences: the lunge of demography here as opposed to there...  (p.63)

False History

For a while, certain voice continued.  Booming.  As though history were still a thing done by certain men in a certain place.  It was embarrassing.  To a person growing up in the power of demography, this voice was foolish.

 The Aesthetic of the Hit

To a person growing up in the power of demography, it was clear that history had to do not with the powerful actions of certain men but with the processes of choice and preference.

 The Aesthetic of the Hit

The power shifted.  In the phrase “I Like Ike,” the power shifted.  It shifted from General Eisenhower to someone called Ike, who embodied certain aspects of General Eisenhower and certain aspects of affection for General Eisenhower.  Then it shifted again.  From “Ike,” you could see certain aspects of General Eisenhower.  From “Like,” all you could see was other Americans engaged in the process of intimacy.  This was a comfort.

 The Aesthetic of the Hit

The comfort was in agreement, the easy exercise of the modes of choice and preference.  It was attractive and, as it was presented, not difficult.  But, once interfered with, the processes of choice and preferences began to take on an uncomfortable aspect.  Choice in respect to important matters became more and more difficult; people had found it troublesome to settle on a mode of work, for instance, or a partner.  Choice in respect to trivial matters, on the other hand, assumed an importance that no one could have thought to predict.  So what happened then was that important forces that had not been used, because they fell outside the new scale of national life (which was the life of television), began to find a home in the exercise of preference concerning trivial matters, so that attention, aspiration, even affection came to adhere to shimmers thrown up by the demography in trivial matters.  The attraction of inappropriate attention, aspiration, and affection to a shimmer spins out, in its operation, a little mist of energy which is rather like a sense of love, but trivial, rather like a sense of home, but apt to disappear.  In this mist exists the Aesthetic of the Hit.  (p.64)

–From: Within the Context of No-Context by George WS Trow, The New Yorker, November 17, 1980


Women’s Magazine Archive I

Penn Libraries welcomes a new e-resource to its collection, Women’s Magazine Archive I, a searchable archive of five leading women’s interest magazines, dating from the 19th century through to the 21st. Titles are: GH

Better Homes and Gardens (1925-present)
Chatelaine (1940-present)
Good Housekeeping (1887-present)
Ladies’ Home Journal (1887-present)
Parents (1949-present)

All of these magazines were aimed at a female readership and thus are excellent primary sources for investigating the “women’s sphere”–from cooking and decorating to family health and parenting issues, from fashion and beauty to gardening and travel (most likely in the form of the family vacation). These magazines also touched on social issues of the day; individually or taken as a whole they represent a trove of  19th and 20th-century history and culture.

image_4 This from the Archive’s About section: “The magazines are all scanned from cover to cover in high-resolution color, ensuring that the original print artifacts are faithfully reproduced and that valuable non-article items, such as advertisements, are included. Detailed article-level indexing, with document feature flags, enables efficient searching and navigation of this content.”

A search on “lemon meringue pie” turns up 95 hits–one can compare a 1903 recipe to more recent ones. Turning to underwear, the 50s are a decisively bra-obsessed decade. A search on “bras” or “brassieres” over the decades proves no contest with the 50s putting up over hundred hits above its closest “rival” decade. A subject like addiction plays out like this: of 335 hits overall there are 36 in the 50s, 56 in the 60s, 47 in the 70s, 42 in the 80s, 77 in the 90s, and 86 from 2000-2009. 

The Women’s Magazine Archive I is a Proquest Database and you know what parentsthat means: it’s sitting in a suite of many other Proquest databases Penn subscribes to, including the Vogue Archive (1892-present).  If you want to select both of these files together you’ll have another iconic women’s magazine in the mix, all in the same search.