That title up there is the subtitle of the latest issue of McSweeney’s — specifically, McSweeney’s No. 33, the San Francisco Panorama. Although it was published and distributed in December, I couldn’t find it anywhere locally to take a look at it until last week, when I found two copies at a Borders in Fredericksburg.
I paid $16.00 for a newspaper?
McSweeney’s, if you’re not familiar with it, is a quarterly (roughly) print magazine of both fiction and creative nonfiction. Robert Mitchum’s jailhouse tattoos in The Night of the Hunter show exactly how I feel about McSweeney’s. Not just this issue. Every issue.
I was predisposed to like No. 33. I love newspapers and I love the newspaper format. My favorite magazine of all time is The Monster Times, a sci-fi/horror/fantasy/comics magazine from the ’70s, published in newspaper format.
But the problem with this issue of McSweeney’s is the same problem I have with every issue of McSweeney’s: The graphic design is exemplary. Superb. Contemporary. Cutting edge. Magnificent.
But . . .
The contents leave me utterly cold. Intrigued intellectually; but completely devoid of feelings or passion.
The editorial goal with this issue was, in the words of editor Dave Eggers and noted in a marvelous “Information Pamphlet” included with this issue:
We’re hoping to remind readers of all the things a printed newspaper can do. The articles are long, the design expansive. We think newspapers are essential, and should always be part of the delivery of news and information. We’ve got a lot of friends who used to work at newspapers and were laid off. And we’ve got a lot of friends working at newspapers now who keep watching their space shrink as budgets get tighter and space more precious. The Panorama is just a reminder that readers will be more likely to pay for a physical paper if they’re given something very different than what they can get on the internet. And until someone gets people to really pay for content online, the paper newspaper is still the most viable business model for getting journalists paid to do the reporting essential to a democracy.
If this issue is a Celebration of the Newspaper, then I submit that every issue is a Celebration of the Mundane. That is the basic tenet of what’s considered contemporary Literature: finding the small, “important” stories of everyday life, using typical, but somehow atypical, characters. Ordinary people in ordinary situations.
I have always preferred stories about ordinary (or extraordinary) people in extraordinary situations. Turning to McSweeney’s for stories I like is, I have found, much like turning to the New Yorker for the cartoons when you’re used to the cartoons from Playboy or the original National Lampoon. The latter are laugh out loud and frequently rude, that makes you want to share them with friends; the former is intellectual and droll, and laughter is eschewed for comments such as, “That’s funny” or “Oh, that’s clever” and might be mentioned over dinner in the Hamptons.
To get the joke, you have to be one of us, dahling. If you don’t get it, you’re one of them.
I guess I’m a them.
McSweeney’s and its editors generally have a San Francisco mentality, which is quite evident with every issue. With the Panorama, San Francisco comes to the fore, as it should — every newspaper is a reflection on its home community. By extension, McSweeney’s is the nation’s New Yorker, if you will, but with a contemporary San Francisco attitude: hip, edgy, bohemian, literary — and, really, I do like all those things.
But I’m a them, and McSweeney’s isn’t written for peasants such as I.
Take a look at everything that makes up this newspaper:
Frankly, this is some good shit. If this were an actual daily (or weekly) newspaper, this would be an incredible, monumental achievement of news and creativity:
• 350,000 words (that’s 2-3 novels)
• 10 sections (Main, Section Two, Sports, Arts One and Two, Food, Comics, Opinion & Analysis, Books, Magazine)
• 120 broadsheet pages (that means regular large-size newspaper pages — actually, they’re larger than most newspaper pages today)
There’s more that I can list, but the important thing is, they did what they set out to do: they made a one-shot newspaper that stretched the form and the promise of the newspaper and made it not only ultra-contemporary, shaking off most of the design traditions that have been inbred for decades, but updating journalistic content for the 21st century.
Actually, I love it.
It engages the reader 100% with its graphic design. The choice of article topics are perfect regarding the San Francisco audience. However, nationally, with more than a few articles about the Middle East, it pushes interest. For years now, American newspapers have suffered with the burden of reporting on the conflict in the Middle East, when the large majority of the American public doesn’t give a damn about it — and is actually turned off by the topic. The Panorama rams it down our throats. In this respect, it is a throwback to 1950s-’60s journalism: “We will tell you what the important things are you need to know . . . and you will read it.”
The articles are about a good variety of topics — and the important thing is, it’s a matter of difference: topic choices most newspapers wouldn’t make because the overriding philosophy with metro-dailies is Local Interest First.
And every page has color. It’s used logically, beautifully and creatively.
This issue is wondrous and magical to look at, to behold.
But it’s so damn literary with regards to content that it leaves me absolutely cold inside.
To be continued . . .