The insignificance of man in the face of modern magazine publishing

Nothing demonstrates to a man his ultimate insignificance in the Great Economy like his inability to unsubscribe from a magazine.

(All right, fine: Lots of things demonstrate to a man his ultimate insignificance in the Great Economy. But this one is particularly stupid, and sufficiently banal that I can laugh at it, unlike, say, losing my job, which was less obviously humorous.)

Here’s what happened. I used to subscribe to a hipstery sort of design and decorating magazine called ReadyMade, full of the sort of things I’d have wanted to make and do in my impoverished twenties. I read it in my late thirties out of ironic nostalgia for my own youthful irony. That magazine went out of business with six months left on my subscription, which I had been unlikely to renew anyway, and the parent company (Globo-Zines Inc.) sent me Better Homes and Gardens instead, a thoroughly un-hipsterish and unironic publication and one whose design notions I had even less desire to emulate. I see that the two magazines have ostensibly the same purpose, but the demographics are completely different. The one ran ads for new releases by twee little indy bands; the other shills Campbell’s soup. And where ReadyMade at least pretended that you were actually going to do some of the projects described in its pages, Better Homes and Gardens doesn’t seem to. It seems designed solely to sell paint.

I usually ignore it until my daughter spots it and unsheaths it from its plastic wrapper. (ReadyMade didn’t come wrapped in plastic, but arrived with its cover charmingly, insouciantly crinkled.) She’s a junior art director, so she finds this kind of thing fascinating. Her contribution to Sunday dinner is folding the napkins into boots and butterflies. But even she can’t get anything out of BHG, except for one article in the December issue on tying bows from ribbon. Being homeschooled, and raised in part by me, she makes fun of it mercilessly.

“Hey dad! It says this month’s hot color is jade. We have to paint the whole house jade.”

“I’ll get right on that.” (Chopping onions, or whatever.)

“No, we have to go to Home Depot now and buy paint…”

“I’ll do it next month.”

“Next month it will be too late! They’ll be on to apricot or something.”

And then it goes into the recycling bin, except for the plastic sheath.

After a few months of this skim, chuckle, and chuck routine I was invited to renew my subscription, a subscription I hadn’t newed in the first place. I ignored the invitation. Invitations were followed by increasingly stern warnings, and then, blessedly, a large-lettered LAST ISSUE across the front of the sheath. Sweet release! I tossed the last issue.

And then, a month later, arrived the next issue. Without a bill.

And a month later, another one. It’s been six months now since my LAST ISSUE, and still they keep coming. Yesterday I noted that the address sticker says JUN 16, by which time the girl will be a teenager and have moved on from napkins to boys.

Clearly, I don’t matter in this equation. I know, of course, that the real clients of a magazine are its advertisers. Were there any doubt the “hot color of the month” ought to have made it clear. The “content” as much as the explicit advertisements has the sole purpose of making me want to buy more stuff, most of which is conveniently sold by sponsors who bought the following page. Still, it’s hard to find evidence more pointed than that the issues keep on coming without my payment. I’m just eyes on the ads, a walking Visa card. I’d write CANCEL on the bill and send it back, but they don’t send me bills any longer, just the magazines.

In ye olden days they’d have made me pay for the privilege of wanting to buy things, but in ye olden days I’d have had a use for the publication. Sadly, though, outhouses aren’t up to present building codes, and I fear my modern plumbing would reject the heavy paper. The only use I can find for it is a bit of doggerel:

They said that my subscription would be cancelled,
And I rejoiced. I may even have dancelled.
Yet still I find this pox inside my mailing box!
The glossy paper’d prob’ly break my can. Hell!

Pardon the finial expletive, but the rhyme scheme demanded it. Sometimes propriety calls for a drink, and sometimes form demands an expletive. What can I say: It’s a broken world, and my poetry isn’t going to fix it.