Wednesday, April 15, 2009

1001 Airheads

Left over from my post with a notable lack of glückenfreude (see 1000 Readers) is the still broiling issue of why our culture is awash with semi-literate nonsense. It wasn't so much that so many are craven enough to click elsewhere, but that elsewhere is so low brow.

One would prefer to be bested by Paul Krugman or Robert Reich or Maureen Dowd.

One of my favorite professors in college, a Canadian author of short fiction whom the fickle goddess Pheme has so far undeservedly passed over, was fond of regaling the dozen of us in his short story seminar with a wide range of intensely memorable stories and vignettes from his life. It was, I suppose, a way of teaching us how to tell a story.

This included the one about the former student who, dropping by his office, declared that he was "into a new kind of reading." Intrigued, my prof asked what, assuming perhaps that the young man had discovered the then-hot Donald Barthelme. The answer, my prof said, amid gales of laughter that forced him to repeat himself so we could make out the words, was TV Guide.

Indeed, I later learned, when circulation and subscription figures became of professional interest, that TV Guide used to have tens of millions of readers and still garners 3.2 million. In contrast, Newsweek has a circulation of 2.7 million and the magazine I would have died to see my byline in, The New Yorker, only 164,000.

So, what's with that?
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