Look — there’s Alfred E. Neuman at the Russell House!

Russell House magazine rack

Yeah, I know this doesn’t prove anything.

It’s just that, after all that stuff about how younger people can’t be expected to know who Alfred E. Neuman was, I thought I’d take note of this.Alfred E

I was doing my afternoon walk across the virtually deserted USC campus today, and cut through the Barnes & Noble (and no, I still can’t get over the fact that the Russell House bookstore is now a Barnes & Noble) in the Russell House because I like to get that short blast of air conditioning (and also because I love me some Barnes & Noble).

And as I passed by the magazine rack, there he was. Almost as big as life as the Swimsuit Issue. (Or Swimsuit Issues, plural. When did there start to be more than one of them?)

Does this mean kids automatically know who Alfred E. is? No. But at least it means the kids who pass through here have had the opportunity.

The weird thing about this to me is that magazine racks still exist. Who reads magazines? I know people still read comic books, and their big brothers graphic novels, but that’s kind of a cult commodity. Like vinyl records among some serious audiophiles.closer

They just seem like such big, slick, absurdly-expensive-to-produce dinosaurs.

What’s in a magazine that I can’t get in an even more attractive and interactive format, and more immediately, on my iPad? I don’t read the paper versions of newspapers, and I’m a lifelong newspaperman. Magazines just lie there and don’t do anything. You can’t even click on links. So why would I read a magazine?

Why would anyone?


8 thoughts on “Look — there’s Alfred E. Neuman at the Russell House!

  1. Norm Ivey

    I love my magazines. Mad, Rolling Stone, Classic Toy Trains, Brew Your Own. Others that come and go. They’re escapes. When I’m in a magazine, I’m not thinking about anything important. I like the ephemeral quality of magazines. I enjoy them, but then I feel no obligation to hang onto them like I do with books and music.

    I spend a lot of time staring at digital screens, and magazines are, I don’t know, nostalgic, maybe? I have memories of our entire family going to The Smoke Shop, a sort of cigar/pipe/newsstand place when we were kids. Later it morphed into a head shop, but it still had the magazines. Here in Columbia, it broke my heart when the last Capital Newsstand closed.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I should feel that, but I don’t.

      Sometime back in the late 80s or early 90s, something happened to me. The newspaper’s photo department was starting the transition toward digital. Still using film and all, but pictures were being digitized and computers — Macs — were being used to store and transfer images. I don’t know what the first picture that I saw on one of those beautiful (but now, terribly crude and low-res I’m sure) color screens was, but it blew me away. It had a life, shining out at me, that a print couldn’t have on even the nicest, shiniest, slickest paper.

      Over time, my mind adjusted to where the image on the screen became the “real” one for me. If I had a print, I couldn’t wait to scan it so that I had it digitally. Then I felt like I had something of lasting value.

      Does that make sense…?

      Anyway, that’s related to my lack of interest in magazines. What applies to pictures also applies to the written word. Electronic text, with hypertext links, is just so much more alive than anything printed on dead trees.

      I used to love magazines. I started subscribing to TIME when I was in high school, and as I got into college, I spent whatever little cash I had subscribing to Esquire, Harper’s and others. I enjoyed National Geographic for many years. I took Washington Monthly for awhile, and I really enjoyed the subscription to The Economist that I had at the paper. The New Republic, too, before its slide into irrelevance.

      But when I pick up a TIME at a doctor’s office now, it’s depressing. It’s so very thin, and when you open it you see content displayed as though in Parade magazine, which has never offered anything to appeal to me. Just a bunch of insubstantial junk thrown down on a page.

      Of course, much earlier, there was that wonderful repository of wisdom and inspiration, Boy’s Life. I loved that…

      1. Bryan Caskey

        Boy’s Life is still going strong. My son (seven years old) loves reading them. He’ll be a Wolf Scout next year. They have great stories, projects, jokes, etc.

  2. Norm Ivey

    Looking at the titles in your photo, I see one on the bottom shelf–Southern Cast Iron. I will need to check that one out…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      And speaking of anachronisms…

      I just saw that National Geographic “Atlas of World.”

      What? Is your Google Earth app having trouble getting a signal?…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        That said, I WOULD like to leaf through that Atlas. I’m curious…

        And who knows when some terrorist will explode an EMP in the atmosphere high above us, wiping out all our electronics?…

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    Back to Mayor Pete’s claim of ignorance re Alfred E….

    The thing is, I see reassuring signs of popular cultural literacy as often as I see the signs of willful pop-culture ignorance.

    For instance, today I saw this at the start of the weekly Slate News Quiz:


    That little blurb, with the Wile E. Coyote reference — especially the little “acme” touch — shows not only that the writer is thoroughly fluent in Boomer culture, but assumes that others are as well. And that confidence is probably justified.

    And I find that… reassuring. It brings us together. It gives me hope that the country isn’t completely fragmenting into tribes that can’t talk to each other.

    Yeah, I know it’s a lot to pin on a silly cartoon, but that’s how I react to it.


    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Oh, and yes, I’m making an assumption there that I failed to state overtly…

      That the people on the staff of Slate are MUCH younger than the prime audience for Roadrunner cartoons.

      That they’re more likely to be the age of that editorial assistant you see in the picture than to be my age.

      I could be wrong, but it’s a fairly reasonable assumption, based on what I’ve seen of Slate…


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