I chose to examine entertainment periodicals for this assignment. Below are the periodicals I chose. They are in order from lowbrow to highbrow.
People: A weekly entertainment periodical. This magazine struck me as the most lowbrow for several reasons. First, it is composed of pictures more than anything else. Secondly, there is an advertisement on almost every other page. Thirdly, the articles are kept very short and straightforward. The language is simple and devoid of analogies or historical perspective. The magazine focuses on celebrity gossip and fashion, short film reviews, upcoming films, etc. People also includes “special interest” stories obviously meant to do nothing more than pull at reader’s heartstrings, an example is the article about sweethearts reunited after many years. In this particular issue, People felt compelled to offer political “insight” into the war with an article from a correspondent in Iraq. The magazine seems to believe that its audience has little time and/or intellect since all issues are simplified to an extreme. There is little to no “author voice” in the articles-most seem as though they could have been produced by a computer program. The articles are designed to skim the surface of a topic without offering any critical thinking or deeper contemplation of the issue. The attitude of the magazine towards its readers seems to be, “You don’t really want to think too hard, just look at the pretty pictures.” The advertising in this magazine is staunchly middle class and aimed at women since there is an abundance of beauty product ads. People struck me as the written equivalent of a daytime soap opera pretty to look at but with no real substance.
Entertainment Weekly: This magazine is similar to People but focused a little more on the film industry with slightly less gossip and “celebrity worship”. EW includes box office and video rental numbers unlike People. There is still an abundance of celebrity pictures; again almost every page of the magazine contains color photos of celebs. Like People, EW also contains a great many ads although the products advertised differ slightly. EW doesn’t seem to be so focused on only women readers and doesn’t offer as many ads for products that would appeal primarily to “homemakers”. EW includes ads for liquor, computer equipment, and credit cards-products slightly more upscale and not as gender biased as People. The tone of the magazine leads me to believe that EW believes its readers are interested in the entertainment world primarily in terms of celebrities and mainstream media but they also offer up some alternatives to their readers. For instance, there is a fairly in-depth article on author James Frey who is not particularly well known. EW also offers more book reviews than People and gives the current best-sellers list.
Premiere: Premiere is different then People and EW in that it focuses more on movie making then celebrities. There is no section at the front with pictures of celebrities out and about as there is in both People and EW. There are significantly fewer ads and for more upscale products. There are ads for film school and groups such as the Anti-defamation league and the ACLU. This leads me to believe that the intended audience for Premiere is more educated, sophisticated and socially conscious then for People and EW. The circulation rate is also much lower for Premiere than the other two; thus, Premiere’s audience is more specialized so they don’t need to pander to the masses like magazines with extremely high readership. Premiere credits its readers with being more aware of what is involved in film making and expects them to be interested in the process as a whole and not just the finished product. There is a big article on the top movie screenwriters, which is an aspect of filmmaking that is completely untouched by People and EW. Premiere also offers its audience a little more than just mainstream entertainment information; it also discusses some smaller films and makes some “indie” type references. This issue focused a great deal on the Sundance Film Festival, which I saw no mention of in the other two magazines. The language used in Premiere is more sophisticated than in People or EW, terms such as “neo-Romantic allegory” show that Premiere expects that its audience is fairly educated.
Cineaste is the most highbrow of the magazines I chose. It is very specialized as evidenced by its low readership. It is very different from the other three magazines for a variety of reasons. First, it has almost no advertisements and very few pictures. The pictures that are included are all black and white and are mostly movie stills, not pictures of celebrities outside of their work. The articles are vastly more in-depth and the language is very sophisticated. The magazine approaches film as an art form and displays this attitude by focusing on the historical and social context of films. Cineaste assumes that its readers are already fairly educated about film and it offers them long, intense, though-provoking articles. The articles in Cineaste are much longer and more academic then in the other magazines. The language is very sophisticated and the writer’s voices are much stronger than in the previous three publications. The format of Cineaste is much simpler and blander then in the other magazines. There does not seem to be the need to entertain their readers with “pretty pictures” but instead to enlighten them with well-written articles. The other magazines focused primarily on recent media, while Cineaste only discusses films but includes articles on current and past films. Cineaste is the only magazine of the group that includes articles on foreign films which is another indication that they expect their audience to be educated and somewhat sophisticated.
Number and type of advertisements: 100; household products, food, beauty products
Number of pictures: 210, all color
Number of words in average film review: 350
Examples of language: “cheesy fun”, “hot-butter sexuality”, “smooth as his clean-shaven head”
Examples of Articles: “Stars’ Personal Oscar Pics”, “A Dude in Full”, “Mighty Mouth”
Approximate Issue Circulation: 3.5 million
Cover: Oscar night pictures
Number and type of advertisements: 41; cars, perfume, computer equipment, liquor, credit cards
Number of pictures: 120, all color
Number of words in average film review: 800
Examples of language: “delectable lark”, “swirl and kick of modern male aggression”, “hooey”
Examples of Articles: “Pogaganda”, “The Big Night” (Oscars), “The Good ‘Girls’”
Approximate Issue Circulation: 1.5 million
Cover: Oscar night pictures
Number and type of advertisements: 28; cars, jewelry, film school, liquor, ACLU, anti-defamation league
Number of pictures: 90, a few in black and white
Number of words in average film review: 800
Examples of language: “idle-class kvetching at its most arch”, “crystalline performance”, “neo-Romantic allegory”
Examples of Articles: “Does Sundance Really Matter?”, “The Pen Ultimates” (about screenwriters), “Why Do Actors Make Great Directors?”
Approximate Issue Circulation: 600,000
Observations: Multiple “indie” references, extensive Sundance Festival coverage, article on screenwriters
Cover: Bruce Willis
Number and type of advertisements: 10; small press, small film distributors, film school
Number of pictures: 41, all black and white
Number of words in average film review: 1500
Examples of language: “paradoxical nature”, “cinephile”, “subversive nature of Le Corbeau is alluded to”, “parochial, solipsistic concerns”
Examples of Articles: “Cautionary Tales: Documentaries on the U.N. Sanctions and War with Iraq”, “Who Dat Man?: Shaft and the Blaxploitation Genre”, “Filming the Story of a Spy for God: An Interview With Costa-Gavras”
Approximate Issue Circulation: 11,000
Observations: In depth writing focusing on historical and socio-political context of films, delves into politics (article on Iraq documentary), no “celebrity worship”, articles approach film as art instead of entertainment, focus on film writers, directors, cinematographers more than actors
Movie Review: Affliction
Nick Nolte is perfection in this film as a lost soul watching everything in his life slip away. This film is a complex character study set in a small New Hampshire town that is also on the brink of losing itself. The stellar cast is rounded out by the amazing Sissy Spacek as Nolte’s long suffering girlfriend, the intense James Coburn as his intensely abusive, alcoholic father and the subtle Mary Beth Hurt as Nolte’s ex-wife who wants nothing more to do with the nightmare that his life has become. The only chink in this movie’s armor is the inclusion of several distracting sub-plots. Overall, this is a great film that will stay with you long after you leave the theatre. A must see!
Affliction is an intense dramatic tale that examines the disturbing pattern of male violence and explores how this harsh legacy is often passed on from father to son.
Nolte plays “Wade” the middle-aged son of an abusive, alcoholic father (James Coburn). Wade is the local sheriff in a small New Hampshire town. When the audience first meets Wade he is at the beginning of a downward spiral, a descent that is equally fascinating and painful to watch. The emotionally damaged Wade sees himself becoming more and more like his father, and finally takes drastic action in an attempt to find salvation. Wade reminded me more than a little of the lead character, Travis Bickle, in Taxi Driver. Affliction has many themes: dysfunctional families, psychologically damaged men, the tense relationship between fathers and sons, small towns with dark secrets, and the difficult moral dilemmas that men face but director Paul Schrader manages to merge them all together in a deeply poignant film. This is not surprising given that Schrader’s earlier films include Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, both films that also tackle the issue of male violence in a deeply affecting way.
Rounding out the superb cast are Sissy Spacek as Wade’s self-sacrificing waitress girlfriend, Mary Beth Hurt as his estranged wife, and Willem Dafoe, who appears mostly in voice over, as Wade’s younger brother.
Affliction is adapted from the novel by Russell Banks who also wrote “The Sweet Hereafter”, which was also made into a haunting film set against a similar bleak, snowy landscape.
Adding to the effectiveness of the film is the simple, yet perfectly suited, musical score by Michael Brook and the atmospheric cinematography by Paul Sarossy which acts as an effective metaphor for the growing isolation between the characters.
It is a sad comment on the state of filmmaking today that Affliction almost didn’t make it to theatres. The distributor wasn’t sure how to “market” such a melancholy film and released it straight to video. Ironic, considering it garnered an Oscar win for James Coburn and a nomination for Nick Nolte.
Affliction is a small, quiet film that packs an intense emotional punch. It deserves to be seen and those who take the time to do so will be richly rewarded.
I found it interesting that the lowest brow periodicals were rewarded with the highest number of readers while the highbrow magazines had very low circulation rates and thus much smaller profit margins. There is a great deal more intellectual effort put into Cineaste than People but all the rewards, in terms of money and recognition, go to People. This assignment just reinforced my belief that educated, intellectually curious people constitute a small percentage of the population. I believe that many readers of lower brow periodicals have the ability to appreciate and understand more sophisticated writing but simply don’t have the time or interest to pursue less mainstream options. Lowbrow magazines have their place, I have been know to purchase People magazine myself, but I also realize that I am reading the equivalent of literary junk food and supplement with sophisticated, thought provoking reading material. American culture is increasingly produced for and marketed to the lowest common denominator and periodicals are no exception.