From Chaplin to Zuckerberg
August 27, 2015 4:30 AM   Subscribe

 
I suddenly couldn't get past the image of a grinning Bill Cosby on the cover of Seventeen.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 4:43 AM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would have liked a little bit more discussion about what may have driven changes to cover design. For example, Seventeen might always have been a magazine sold primarily on the newsstand, whereas both National Geographic and The New Yorker may well have had more subscription–based readerships for much of their lives. Such a difference would heavily influence the job a cover has to do and how it works.

Likewise, the fungibility of women’s and men’s lifestyle magazines drives innovation in order to retain readership. National Geographic would not have been exposed to the same pressures due to the lack of exact competitors.

A bit of history around the different printing and composing technologies might have been welcome too. The full–colour covers of Vogue and Cosmopolitan in the 1900s likely cost a lot, not only for the printing, but also for the loss of advertising which many magazines of the time carried on the front. What was the purchase price of those magazines? The newer, bolder, and text–heavy covers of some magazines may well have been helped by the use of computers.

There’s so much depth missing from this article.
posted by Emma May Smith at 5:34 AM on August 27, 2015 [7 favorites]


I enjoyed this, but it gets off on the wrong foot literally from the first words:
Cosmopolitan covers started out with women dressed conservatively. Then they started showing some skin. Then more skin. Finally, they started posing in sexy positions.
That is at best misleading -- Cosmopolitan has had a long and varied history from its launch as a family magazine to its heyday as a publisher of short fiction to its current existence as a women's magazine. Its wikipedia page makes fascinating reading. Did you know that this is where H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds was serialized? Or that it had its own film production company back in the era when the transition was happening from silents to talkies?

In fact, Helen Gurley Brown did such an amazing job of rebranding it that it is now hard to imagine it was ever anything other than what it is now. When I finally got around to watching Mad Men, I was hoping against hope that in 1965 or so, SterlingCooperWhatever would wind up with the difficult task of promoting its switch from general interest and fiction to focus on women's issues and first-wave feminism, but I realized that there was probably no way to make what the old magazine was comprehensible to a modern audience. People hear "Cosmopolitan," they do not think of Rudyard Kipling and Ambrose Bierce, they think of "76 Bedroom Moves That Will Make Him Gasp."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:39 AM on August 27, 2015 [13 favorites]


I really liked the New Yorker 90th anniversary cover.
posted by Sangermaine at 6:15 AM on August 27, 2015


I really liked the New Yorker 90th anniversary cover.
Yes, me too, though I think they should have made it 15 cents.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:52 AM on August 27, 2015




Pretty badly written article. Doesn't present us with anything except Google image results for magazine covers from certain years. No analysis or history, yet the author mentions doing research for this article?
posted by dazed_one at 7:21 AM on August 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


For example, Seventeen might always have been a magazine sold primarily on the newsstand, whereas both National Geographic and The New Yorker may well have had more subscription–based readerships for much of their lives. Such a difference would heavily influence the job a cover has to do and how it works.

This, and, the shift from actual newsstands to grocery store check-out lanes as the primary sales front for most of these. It's a completely different arena, where you're not only competing against other similar publications, but also against candy bars, National Inquirer, Diet Pepsi, racks of last-minute impulse buys, screaming kids, etc. In that environment, magazine covers are de-facto quickly-read ingredient lists of what's inside the magazine.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:54 AM on August 27, 2015


No analysis or history, yet the author mentions doing research for this article?

Perhaps she means she curated it.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:18 AM on August 27, 2015 [2 favorites]


In addition to what people say above, the snarky commentary is not entirely supported by the covers they show. Examples:

"Cosmopolitan covers started out with women dressed conservatively. Then they started showing some skin. Then more skin. Finally, they started posing in sexy positions." That woman on the 1920s cover is apparently hoisting a blanket to cover her breast, and is bare above. Not so conservative.

Seventeen:
"What we told teens in 1955: Share your stories, articles and artwork.
We also told them "Things I Have Learned from the Boys I Have Dated." (Yes, I looked up a couple of articles from the issue.)

What we tell teens today: Get an insane body. It’s hard, but you’ll look hot!"
What we also tell teens: "Make Over Your Room (For Almost No $$$)" - this is the lead headline of the magazine cover. There's also "Update Your Wardrobe (Without Spending Any Cash)," which is analogous to the "Sew It/Suds It Wardrobe" article callout from the 1950s. (Back then it was cheaper to sew, but nowadays it is far cheaper to buy clothing.) But way to cherry-pick one item out of nine on the modern cover.

I enjoy the covers, but this article is so tiresomely "things back then were so much better and wholesome!" And the evidence they show does not actually support what they say.
posted by rednikki at 8:30 AM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also, sexualization of women on the cover of Cosmo bad, but sexualization of women on the cover of GQ good? Because...it's better to use sexy women as something to lure men in than as something that women might identify with and find empowering?

And the author also uses my least favorite writing tic: "perhaps best known." People use that phrase because they think it sounds more important than "best known for" or "famous for."
posted by rednikki at 8:34 AM on August 27, 2015 [1 favorite]


It seems like there's some interesting stuff going on here, which is largely unmentioned by the actual commentary. How do you manage to link to Robots Reading Vogue without even mentioning the 1970 and 1980 pictures?
posted by ckape at 12:03 PM on August 27, 2015


Even in the 90s, I thought that magazine covers were all the same and indistinguishable on the store shelves. But that Sarah Michelle Gellar cover of Cosmo was magnificent when it came out. I have no idea what it was about that cover at the time - the light purple color, SMG's popularity, my college-aged male lizard brain, that amazing dress, or what.

There were plenty of attractive women on magazine covers, but none of them were as memorable as that one cover. It still sticks in my mind, and it's what I think of when I think of Cosmo the magazine.
posted by fremen at 2:53 PM on August 27, 2015


This is really cool. Not surprised about the new yorker.
posted by jl87 at 7:01 PM on August 27, 2015


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