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Why Magazines Lead the Journalism of Low Expectations


The continous role of magazines is to contribute to the mediation of contradictory social relations, i.e. the essential contradiction between social production and private appropriation which we have no choice but to negotiate in the contigencies of everyday life. But the ways in which this contradiction is expressed, and the available means through which to mediate it, have been different at differernt times in the history of capitalism. The sweep of this history has exerted a determining influence on the smaller history of magazines, in which magazines have played their consistently mediating role by various, successive orientations to public life, private existence and the palliative (therapeutic) effect of sharing our private experiences in public. Magazines, therefore, are the little creatures of our historically specific social being.
Why Magazines Lead the Journalism of Low Expectations 
‘It was a fundamental principle…that everything was to be paid for. Nobody was ever on any account to give anybody anything, or render anybody help without purchase. Gratitude was to be abolished, and the virtues springing from it were not to be. Every inch of the existence of mankind, from birth to death, was to be a bargain across a counter.’
Charles Dickens, Hard Times (1854).

What Dickens described in his novels, first published in serial form in magazines, Marx theorised in his three-volume Capital: a critique of political economy. Though their methods were different, the theme these literary giants have in common is the commodification of every aspect of everyday life. In other words, they wrote about the historical development, i. e. it was not this way before but it is now, of a comprehensive system of social relations in which, barring an occasional oasis of secondary, non-commerical activity such as the family, everything we make to satisfy a human need is also required to make a profit.

According to Marx, modern times emerged as and when production (human beings making what they need and desire in order to survive and develop) becomes inseparable (except in analysis) from the production of capital. Dickens tells us that these Times are also Hard, because, in Marxian terms, the production of capital takes precedence over production to satisfy human wants. Thus, the world may want x, y and z (better food, more houses or pink elephants), but if it does not pay to produce these commodities, they will remain unmade and human beings will go hungry, homeless or simply unsatisfied.

Dickens’ plots are thickened by the way in which filthy lucre comes first. Marx offers a dense analysis of the workings of capital and the subordination of social intercourse to its laws. In both writers, capital rules our lives. But Dickens is primarily concerned with how particular lives are lived even under the general rule of capital; similarly, it is key to Marx’s theory that production for profit is not a law entirely unto itself, but can only exist as an aspect, currently unavoidable, of the reproduction of society.

In their different ways, each is chronicling what Hegel referred to as ‘the master-slave dialectic’: just as the master cannot exist as such without the slave, and vice versa, so the partial satisfaction of human wants, which can never be fully met for as long as they are subordinated to capital, is nonetheless the precondition for the existence of capital as such. The cruel irony of this is implicit in the quotation from Dickens, where the predominance of the cash nexus is as essential to modern life as it is disadvantageous.

In Marxian terms, this is the dual aspect of capitalist social relations, a double-sided way of life which is presented ‘in cell form’ in each and every commodity. Thus commodities are said to contain use-value (what it’s used for) and exchange value (what it will go for). Goods have to be good in each of these two aspects; and, in this society at this point in history, only in the constantly recurring relationship between these two aspects are there any goods at all. However, not only are they interdependent, the two, related aspects of the commodity are also contradictory: the one goes against the grain of the other. We have no choice but to live with this contradiction;moreover, our lives are lived out in the space created by the tension between use and exchange-value.

To recapitulate: In our society, goods are produced because they satisfy a human want, and because they contribute to the accumulation of capital, known to the minority who accumulate it as‘profit’. Every ‘good’ has to be doubly so: good for use and good for profit. These two aspects are not only distinct, they are contradictory; and this contradiction constructs the difficult places in which we live.

Why are these aspects contradictory, and why is this contradiction difficult to live with? The answer has to do with the how and the why of exchange. Goods are not exchanged according to the free choice of those who made them (who constitute the majority), but only in and through the market and in accordance with the interests of the minority who stand to gain directly from capital accumulation. Thus while use value expresses the dynamic of social production (people working together in order to produce what they jointly require), exchange value indicates the private appropriation of social production (you all work for me in order to produce my profit).

So our whole society is bound up within this essential contradiction; and that which is essential is, necessarily, that which will not go away. Hence this contradiction and its discomforting effects have to be mediated, addressed and at least partly resolved (addressing a contradiction and partially resolving it are subjective acts of which the objective results constitute ‘mediation’), and these lines of response occur at social, interpersonal and even intrapersonal levels. We may not think of it in these terms, but even the way we see ourselves in our own mind’s eye is bound up with strategies for resolving the discontents derived from this contradiction.

‘Man is not at home in the functional milieu’, is Jean Baudrillard’s formulation of the unease we experience in everyday life. The biblical version is more succinct: ‘Man cannot live by bread alone’, an insufficiency which prompts what Peter Gay describes as the ‘hunger for wholeness’. Why this craving? Again following Marx, I am suggesting that the answer lies not in God but within bread itself. For there are already two breads – the bread of use-value (social production), and that of exchange-value (private appropriation), neither of which is ever alone from the other; and neither are we ever alone from the contradiction between the two; rather we inhabit that contradiction – it is where we live, which in turn makes us hungry for a third bread, the bread of heaven, i.e. religion. Thus, if we are not satisfied by bread alone, or, to extrapolate from the particular, if we cannot live only on material goods, this is because such goods cannot but exist in the two, contradictory aspects of social production and private appropriation – a fundamental complication which we have no option but to navigate and which we spontaneously, continuously and unconsciously negotiate in terms other than those in which it first appears.

The particular forms by which we conduct this negotiation are generally known as ‘culture’. In other words, ‘culture’ is the generic term which we use to group together all the ways in which human beings address this social contradiction. But there is a further complication. In a substantively commodified world, i.e. where that which is produced must typically be produced as double-sided, contradictory commodities, we cannot but find ourselves seeking to resolve this contradiction by reference to commodified culture, i.e. cultural commodities which themselves contain the contradiction as well as our desire to overcome it.

Or, in the terminology previously employed, cultural commodities have exchange-value, but their use-value to us, which we can only access by virtue of having paid their value in exchange, is their capacity to address or provide temporary resolution of the contradiction which they themselves embody. Culture offers resolution from contradiction; cultural commodities, including magazines, exemplify the contradiction while providing some kind of absolution from it.

The contradictory terms for the negotiation of this further complication stretch even as far as the page furniture of magazines. ‘Win’, ‘Free’ and ‘Sex’ are indispensable to front covers because they each offer release from tension derived from this social contradiction. If readers win, it means that the tension is resolved in their favour, and ‘win’ is attractive to the reader because it holds out the prospect of such release. The same goes for ‘free’, which purports to absolve readers by resolving the tension between use and exchange-value in favour of the former: if it’s free, there is nothing to pay in exchange for use of it, and you are thereby freed from the otherwise ubiquitous contradiction between using and paying for something. And insofar as it occurs between non-paying, consenting, modern adults, even sex is a form of resolution: a pleasurable experience derived not simply from the biological necessity of copulation in order to reproduce the species, but from the desire to resolve, if only for the moment of orgasm, the fundamental contradiction which characterises our social being.

Assuming that ‘culture’ is indeed comprised of various strategies towards resolution of the essential contradiction which informs every aspect of our social existence, such strategies can be roughly divided into three types: the public, the private and the palliative. As a locus for resolving social contradiction, the public realm has held out the prospect of reform, sometimes even revolution. It is therefore characterised by emphasis on collective action leading to wholesale social change, or perhaps the collective repudiation of change (conservatism in response to socialism), at the societal level. This is the realm of politics in the modern period. The private, on the other hand, is the realm where individuals have tended to find personal resolution of contradictions which appear intractable at the public, political level. Once ridiculed by Voltaire as retreat into one’s garden, giving priority to this realm is now widely accepted as ‘lifestyle’, ‘identity’ and ‘self-management’.

Palliative resolution of social contradiction, the third form of mediation, is the psycho-social equivalent of paracetamol. Where the contradiction between social production and private appropriation proves painful, by such means the pain is killed or suppressed at least until the pain-killing drug wears off. It is in this sense that religion has been ‘the opium of the people. ’ All three types of mediation have co-existed throughout the modern period, but their co-existence has frequently taken the form of contestation, with the private and the public often in conflict with each other and both of these in habitual opposition to the palliative, e.g. the attack on the consolatory effects of religion from both Left and Right. Hence, while all are discernible throughout the whole of the past two centuries and more, at various times each has been weighted differently. In other words, there has been a portfolio of mediating forms since the onset of capitalism and its essential social contradiction, but society’s investment in any one of them has varied at different times. This is to say that while the contradiction is essential to the mode of commodity production (consistent throughout an historically specific period), the preferred means of addressing it are contingent (inconsistent, varying according to changing circumstances).

Similarly, there are some activities which operate in all three registers simultaneously. Art, for example, occupies a place in the public and the private, while also playing a consolatory role. This is also true of some religions, some of the time. Meanwhile, other mediating forms have moved, over time, out of one register and into others, going with the flow from one type of resolution to another. This is what I want to say about journalism and magazines, that in the course of their historical development they have moved from the public, to the private and latterly to the palliative, in accordance with the dominant trends in society. This would mean that the technically the same components – words and pictures on a printed, periodically published page, have had different social roles at various times in modern history.

Magazines, in particular, have changed from lean-forward to lean-back technologies:means of communications which once required readers to lean forward and concentrate in order to utilise their content, but which now allow readers to lean-back and absorb content which has thus become therapeutic. Yet in order to make this argument, I must first establish when and why people, including magazine readers and writers, have withdrawn their investment from one strategy for the resolution of contradiction, and put it into another, thereby prompting the major modification of magazines which I then go on to describe.

My first task, then, is to characterise different periods in modern history according to changing, society-wide preferences for various mediating strategies as identified above. In my periodisation, the public was the preferred type of resolution in the period from 1870-1945. For three decades from the 1960s, the private came into its own. But in the most recent period, discernible from the mid-1990s to the present day, the palliative has been taking precedence over public and private as the strategy adopted by increasing numbers of people in the attempt to address essential social contradiction.

1870-1 was the year of the Franco-Prussian War between France and the Prussian-dominated new nation of Germany. The defeat of France by the Prussian army set the stage for a half-century and more of bitter and bloody rivalry between these two imperialist powers. But the Franco-Prussian War was itself the stage for another kind of war of which the consequences were equally far-reaching. Inside the war between the two nations, the occurred the first outbreak of war between two, fully formed, metropolitan classes: the working class and the bourgeoisie, or capitalist class (In previous skirmishes such as the English Chartist movement of the 1840s and the Continental revolutions of 1848, the joint opposition of capitalists and workers to an increasingly outdated aristocracy was such that their interests were not yet posed in stark opposition; neither was the character of their respective classes fully formed). Indeed there are grounds for turning this description around and describing the Franco-Prussian War as an external expression of the new level of internal strife which became known as class war. In any case, during the course of the Franco-Prussian War, the working class people of Paris took the lead in the attempt to overthrow the capitalist class and set up their own kind of society. This was the Paris Commune. It was a short episode – order was restored even as France was defeated, but it had long-term consequences. For this episode posed a question which could only be addressed in public terms.

By posing the question, ‘who rules?’, by introducing the possibility that working class people might come to rule their own world by forcibly removing its current owners, the Paris Commune constituted collective, proof-in-action that the contradiction between social production and private appropriation could be resolved in favour of the former and in the overthrow of those who stand to gain from the latter. The question was posed, and answers to it given, in general terms rather than strictly personal ones. Not, what does this mean for me personally? But, what are its consequences for society as a whole? Thus the Commune posited the public as an unavoidable fact of adult life throughout advanced capitalist countries, i. e. all those countries in which the capitalist class and the working class were developed as such. In this realm, strategies either for the maintenance or removal of social contradiction, i. e. party political programmes, were to be collectively contested, rejected and implemented. To be an adult was to be part of this discussion and its sometimes violent consequences. Not to take part in it, or, as many people experienced it for much of this period, not to be allowed to take part in it, meant that you and the social group of which you were part were not recognised as adult human beings. That this category of non-adults included non-males and non-whites, is a well-founded criticism of the realm of modern politics;but while this weakness needs to be recognised, it need not detract us from the salience of this realm as the (then) primary place for addressing the effects of social contradiction. This primacy is shown even in its negation: those not allowed to take up this preference fought for the right to do so, for example in campaigns for women’s suffrage.

1945 was the beginning of the end of this era. Wherever fascism had come to power, it did so by destroying the working class as an organised, political force. When fascism was itself defeated in 1945, most of the people who defeated it were working class, but they were fighting not on behalf of their own class but in the name of particular countries owned by sections of the capitalist class. For this to have occurred, a compromise must have been reached, whereby capitalists reorganised their social order (more precisely, the social relations in which they are advantaged) so as to make room for the organised working class, but in allowing itself to be incorporated in this way, the working class gave up the prospect of taking power on its own terms.

The logical consequences of this compromise have only recently become fully evident, more than half a century later, in the marginalisation of organised labour. But trends were set (this is not to say they were uncontestable) in 1945 when the prospect of working class power was taken off the agenda. Furthermore, since this was the key question on the modern political agenda, in the longer-term this had the effect of removing the agenda itself, while at the same time undermining the place in which it had been addressed. Thus the public gradually lost credibility, and for good reason, as the realm for the resolution of essential social contradiction. In the 1960s – it is not possible to give a single year because ‘the sixties’ are best understood as a sensibility or mood which did not come upon everyone all at once – there was a growing emphasis on the private as the site for addressing social contradiction. At first, this took the form of convergence between the private and the public, the personal and the political, best summed up in the definitive slogan of late sixties/early seventies radicalism:‘the personal is political’. What was radical about it was the shifting of the site of contestation, and the re-location of the hoped-for resolution of social contradiction, from barricades and picket lines to the bedroom (‘trangressive’ sexuality) and the kitchen (transgressing the established division between men’s labour and women’s domestic work). Early proponents of this personalised radicalism hoped that the question ‘who rules?’would be back on the agenda but in a different form. But in the more recent turn of events (again, this is not to say that events were fated to turn this way), the question ‘who does the washing up?’, has become as banal as it sounds. Stripped of its public aspiration, the radicalism of the sixties became the consumer oriented, shopping-centred ‘lifestyle’ of the 1980s. The personal, it transpired, was not political enough to sustain the public realm.

The transfer of social investment from the public to the private has been discernible even in public life. In response to the unravelling of the 1945 class compromise, Margaret Thatcher and her followers proposed a restatement of the private, most famously in the dictum that ‘there is no such thing as society…. only individuals and their families. ’Proposing the private was a radical deconstruction of the already unstable public realm, but as a stand-alone response (‘there is no such thing…. ) to the consequences of social contradiction, it was bound to be found wanting. The irony is that for all the conflict between them, the public and the private have turned out to be interdependent, just as they are each derived from social and anti-social tendencies arising simultaneously from the contradiction between social production and private appropriation. In short, if you slash and burn the public realm, as the New Right did in the 1980s, then the private world for which you are proselytising proves oddly unsustainable. This was the nation ill-at-ease with itself which John Major recognised but was unable to address in the first half of the 1990s. Enter New Labour, and the proclamation that ‘things can only get better’ in New Britain. But they haven’t, rather our unease has heightened, whether around terrorism, bird flu, or paedophilia; nor is it likely to lessen, for the following reasons.

Between the three types of putative resolution of social contradiction set out above, there is a sliding scale of effectiveness in accordance with the ratio of real to imaginary contained in each. The public realm involved the concerted action of millions of people, and as such the prospectus for historically significant social change was founded on something really substantial. Of course, there were always utopians, and it was never realistic to expect that the essential social contradiction of capital could be resolved unless addressed in the most fundamental terms. Yet even if its efficacy was sometimes overestimated, what occurred in the public realm was nonetheless real, historical, substantial. In a fully privatised world, by contrast, you have to imagine that you are the only subject. That is, the resolutions of social contradiction which are open to you here, in the realm of the personal and the private, also require you to pretend, more or less, that the rest of the world is a mere object. Private strategies for the solution of social contradiction therefore depend not only on self but also on self-deception. For some people it can work some of the time;but as the prospect of making real history here declines, so the amount of imagination involved increases. We are on our way down the sliding scale. The palliative is even further down. Here the time-frame of the proposed resolution is extremely restricted:whether you get drunk or read glossy magazines, you know that the resolution on offer is restricted to a moment or two of what then becomes mere consolation. Recent events, I suggest, have tended to lower the available forms of resolution to the single level of consolation. In 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, the prospect of an alternative to the capitalist social order was levelled along with it. Until that time there had been proof-in-action of an alternative. As an actually-existing alternative, the ‘socialist’ Soviet Union was barely preferable to the capitalist original, if at all;yet it continued to play a role as the exemplar of the future possibility of something other than the hegemonic system. Since that time, to borrow another Thatcherite formulation, there is no alternative: TINA, for short. We live in a contradiction, but there is no prospect of really resolving it, even in terms other than those if its essence.

That there is no alternative has serious consequences for both public and private registers of response to social contradiction. Although in the realm of modern politics there was rarely any direct mention of the contradiction between social production and private appropriation, insofar as modern politics arose in the attempt to resolve this contradiction through working class revolution, there was always a recognition of it, albeit typically tacit.

Similarly, the resort to private strategies was in considerable part a rejection of the public mode of addressing this contradiction. Indirectly, therefore, and only implicitly rather than explicitly, it too made reference to the possibility of an alternative social order brought about by revolution. But when the possibility of revolution has been removed, for some considerable time at least, the plausibility of substitute resolutions – whether of public or private character, social reform or personal lifestyle – plummets along with it. This is the domino effect of TINA. And now that both public and private have been knocked down to diminutive size, all that remains is the prospect of consolation.

‘Palliative’ is the only one of the three p-words left standing. I shall now indicate how their demise is demonstrated in the rising significance of magazines and the changing status of magazine journalism.

When the public realm was hegemonic, i. e. it dominated the lives and minds of many people, the correspondingly dominant form of journalism was the newspaper. Of course there were magazines, but they existed as junior partners to newspapers. The latter, with their remit to be the first draft of the whole of history, were well-placed to cover the question which lay somewhere (sometimes many layers down) beneath the events of every story of the epoch:who rules? In other words, the general scope of newspaper coverage was well suited to an historical epoch pivoted on large, social questions and collective answers to them. Indeed the real order of development was the reverse: it was because of this orientation, the pivotal role of the public realm, that newspapers developed as generalists, delivering each day the draft of what the mainly male, white adult needed to know in order to enter and operate in the public realm without making a fool of himself. Such was the influence of this news-oriented generalism that even some magazines adopted it. The Economist (1843 -) exemplifies this. So did Life in its first incarnation (1936-72), while the brevity of its second life (1978-2000) indicates the increasing difficulty of carrying off such generalism. But typically magazines have been more oriented towards the particular: they are storehouses, but stores of good, pleasurable information about specific things for particular readers. Their inherent propensity is thus to the more particular realm of individual interests: in other words, the private.

Hence in the historical epoch when the public took precedence over the private, (public) newspapers came before (private) magazines in the journalistic pecking order. However when from the sixties onwards more people transferred their allegiances out of the public into the private, not only did some magazine titles transform themselves accordingly, magazines as such also experienced the beginnings of a transformation in their status. Thus the journalistic success stories of the sixties were magazines like Nova (1965-75), and Oz (1967-73), which accentuated the social significance of our private lives. As signalled above, the political radicalism originally associated with personalised strategies was soon superseded by a more conservative kind of consumerism; hence Cosmopolitan (1972 -), which wanted women to achieve orgasm, has survived, whereas Spare Rib (1972-93), which would have them burn their bras, has not. But as well as the break between personalised radicalism and sheer narcissism, there is also a lineage linking the two; and this accounts for the continuous career trajectory of Felix Denis, from the radical and indictable sex life of Oz in the 1971 Old Bailey obscenity trial to the prioritisation of style over content associated with Maxim (1990 -2008) and other titles in the Denis publishing empire.

The trend towards the ascendancy of magazines continued in the 1980s with the elevated status accorded to the Face (1980-2004), and i-D (1980 -): these were spot and then full-colour celebrations of personal style, in sharp contrast to the anonymous absence of style in the miners’ strikes, Irish Republican bombs and daily coverage thereof which jointly constituted the public realm during the‘Thatcher decade’. In establishing itself as the leader of what then became a new genre of influential magazines,

Nick Logan’s Face also helped to settle accounts between public and private with the balance very much in favour of the latter. Here one title took the lead, and in constructing a readership around itself also constructed a new field which other titles then entered into. However, the construction work carried out by the Face was based on social trends already in existence but not yet described. In contrast to the growing status, increased budgets and rising production values of magazines, since the sixties newspapers were either being closed down (News Chronicle, Daily Sketch), or being accused of ‘dumbing down’ (the Sun). Either by ‘not being a proper newspaper’ in the latter instance, or in the case of the broadsheets by adding more and more magazine sections to the ‘main’ paper, which thus became less and less central, newspapers gradually gave ground to newly ascendant magazines, just as the public realm was pushed further onto the sidelines and the private took pole position in the attempt to resolve social contradiction. Another case in point is the political orientation of Daily Mirror editor Hugh Cudlipp in the 1950s and 1960s, compared to the highly privatised character of news under Mirror editor Piers Morgan in the 1990s. The publishing success stories of the 1990s and early 2000s indicate a further step up for magazines, alongside a society-wide lowering of expectations in the context of TINA. In respect of magazine publishing, the trend towards the palliative in preference to either public or private responses to social contradiction, is perhaps first discernible in the rise to prominence of Viz (1979-). Born in a Newcastle bedsit and first produced on a duplicator, early issues of Viz took inspiration from the American underground and its use of absurdist cartoons to puncture suburban, all-American complacency: vulgarity as the antidote to social pretension. But it is one thing to use the absurd and the vulgar as weapons against a particular social order – this is to suggest that life need not be absurd but is made so only by the spurious superiority of those giving the orders, and another to deploy these as an almost literal representation of the general human condition. By the time Viz moved from cult status to mass readership on the cusp of the 1990s, it had also moved from the former to the latter. In so doing, it could only offer readers the absurdity and baseness of all our lives as a consolation for the now-inevitable failures of yours and mine. That its readership increased even as its horizons were lowered, corresponds with the lowering of expectations throughout society at that time.

With the weakening of both public and private realms in the 1990s, new magazines such as Loaded (1994 -) developed a different way of addressing readers; and in their mode of address they expressed the limited extent to which they felt able to respond to social contradiction on behalf of readers. So, Loaded’s script went something like this:‘You guys, you may no longer have a job for life, you’re not even sure of your position in your own family (such is the ‘crisis of masculinity’, although we here are Loaded don’t use words like that), but even if you are not sure how to be a real man or even what it means to be one, for the time it takes to read this well-produced rag you can act out a pantomime version of masculinity. We are the consolation prize, know what I mean? (I know you know, so do we, but don’t let on). ’ Through this sort of combination of nervousness and boastfulness, Loaded offered a timely form of consolation, and Lad-ism took off: aggressive in appearance, palliative in essence. The reach of the palliative mode even extended to titles devoted to technology: once seen as the engine-room of public progress, before motoring towards private solutions in the shape of magazines such as Autocar, now, in the form of Stuff (1996 -), technology became consolatory and technology-led journalism began to promote the palliative pleasures to be had from girls-plus-gadgetry. The palliative character of new magazines is even more explicit in the wave of highly successful publications such as Chat (1985 -), based on carefully composed reports of fairly low-level, personal trauma. This is a pitch which starts with the private, but with little or no prospect of personal difficulties being resolved. For the reader, the consolation can come either from empathy with the victims who stalk the magazines’ pages, or from alienation: either, ‘I’ve been there’; or, ‘what is s/he like…?’ In any case, the effect is purely palliative.

The very latest round of successful magazines, those which celebrate celebrity, are a mixture of unisex Lad-ism and victim-lite; again the overall effect is to offer temporary relief from the suppressed discomfort of social contradiction. But while addressing such contradiction, in their ethos these magazines are resigned to it, and are invoking their readers’ sense of resignation by serving to confirm it. This is the warm bath of self-recognition which in recent marketing jargon is celebrated as‘the magazine moment’.

Not only in these specific genres, but in the general trends towards more and more particularity, magazines are expressing and confirming the preference for the palliative, and thus the exhaustion of public and private. While by specifying subject matter magazines have always tended to emphasise the particular and the private over the general and the public, in their acceleration of specialisation, magazines now serve to console readers by screening out of their minds, if only for as long as it takes to read the magazine, everything except the smallest and hence most manageable, comforting range of human activity. To use a hypothetical example, the dynamic in the development of new magazines is from the Gambler to Poker Player to Stud Player Poker (UK), and with each narrowing of the terrain readers are reassured by the guarantee that they will not be confronted by anything from beyond the territory proclaimed in the title, which thus becomes safer and safer as it also becomes narrower. What is not covered, cannot harm you, dear reader. Safety, the screening out of anything unpredictable, is thus another vital component in the latterday ‘magazine moment’. This level of reliance on ‘dog bites man’ is truly extraordinary, given journalism’s earlier dependence on ‘man bites dog’.

In such a context, one might expect newspapers to hold out in favour of general coverage and the public realm. But what would be the wellspring of their rearguard action? Not politics, where, as I write, the new leader of the opposition will be the candidate who is already closest to being a celebrity; and voting for a political party is a kind of consolation prize now that the game of history seems lost, whoever wins a general election.

Hardly surprising, then, if newspapers become more like magazines in their reporting (drop the hard news story), design (one picture, one front page story) and in their selection of what constitutes news. Here newspapers are aping their erstwhile junior siblings, not because the latter are intrinsically superior but because they have been more in keeping with the social demands of the moment.

Among newspapers as in magazine journalism and throughout today’s culture, such is the demand for palliative care that it tends to take precedence over all other considerations. With this somewhat depressing observation, I conclude my sketch of the correlation between changes in journalism and the periodisation of the public, private and palliative. This account is offered not as a definitive document, but as a spur to discussion and debate, conducted through the MagLab network.

However, this paper does have something definitive to say about inquiry which both aspires to theoretical height and critical insight while being grounded in the concrete reality of the magazine business. Although on my part this aspiration was born of personal frustration with the narrow instrumentalism of professional journalism and the fuzzy self-referentialism of academia, according to the frame of reference in which this paper is written, my kind of cross-referencing between the worlds of theory and practice is not merely subjective: it is more than a conceit which Alex Cameron, Richard Sharpe and others happen to share with me.

If there is a contradiction at the heart of social relations along the lines set out above, this must mean that magazines which are themselves as much part of the business of private appropriation as they are also an aspect of social production, can only be fully understood by means of research which is predicated on their dual aspect. Indeed this is the predicate of MagLab’s inquiry into that tissue of truth and lies which we call magazines.

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