You can tell much from waiting room magazines
Remember the adages, “You can tell a lot about someone by the company they keep”? Or “You can tell a book by its cover”?
Here’s a new one: “You can tell a lot about a doctor by the magazines he has in his waiting room and the covers of those magazines.”
Case in point: Last month, I had an appointment at a group practice, where I’d never set foot before. I’m always on time for medical appointments, even though I expect to be kept waiting at least 15 minutes. This is my chance to get caught up on fashion, food and gossip by magazines I don’t already get. To my shock and disappointment, the waiting room had nothing but issues of The New Yorker.
Once upon a time, The New Yorker would be in a doctor’s waiting room, mixed in with National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, Time and Vogue, to cover the reading needs of all patients. To have this magazine as the only publication worth reading said a lot to me about those doctors. It was worse than virtue signaling; it was intellectual superiority signaling.
Were they for single-payer health insurance? Were they for third-term abortion, even infanticide? Were they for the New Green Deal? Were they for higher taxes, free college and open borders? My husband, Richard, who eschews waiting room mags and is more savvy than I (he always brings a crossword with him), said, “Maybe that’s what the doctors read, and they take it off their taxes as a business expense.”
The cover of the June 3 issue of The New Yorker, with a cartoon of the president’s shoes being shined by Attorney General William Barr and Senators Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell, tells us even more about the writers and readers of the once-esteemed magazine. Are they really against cover-ups as long as it isn’t theirs? Don’t they see that we’re witnessing the demise of wise humor?
I grew up with The New Yorker ? its prose, its poetry, especially its cartoons. My parents had a subscription to the magazine, and we all looked forward to its weekly arrival. For me, it was the cartoons. I loved James Thurber’s dogs.
If there was a cartoon I didn’t get, my father would explain it to me. Once, he even submitted a carton to The New Yorker. As an artist, he knew that sometimes a picture was worth a thousand words. It was about The Algonquin hotel restaurant’s famous round table, where leading writers, humorists and artists from The New Yorker used to meet daily for lunch exchanging ideas, puns, jokes, even political nonsense. The gist was about being a fly on the restaurant’s wall. Dad’s cartoon was rejected, of course, as The New Yorker was notoriously picky about accepting freelance submissions. Even with pull (his cousin, Julia Ransom Doty, was the mistress of Raoul Fleischmann, publisher of the magazine), my father’s cartoon didn’t make it past the cartoon editor’s desk.
It seems that all a writer or a cartoonist has to have now to please The New Yorker’s editors is a fatal case of Trump Derangement Syndrome.
These past weeks, I’ve been thinking that the country isn’t going to survive the next 18 months unless we can recapture the political satire that our greatest writers, artists and politicians once had and passed on to us through publications. Ben Franklin had a keen eye for the absurd. His famous woodcut of an eight-segmented snake, representing colonies and regions, with the caption “Join or Die” showed the Founders’ worry of the new nation’s disunity.
“James Gillray, an English illustrator, is thought to have been the father of the political cartoon,” writes Michael Taube in a recent article in The Washington Examiner. “A tour de force in sociological commentary, he challenged the boundaries of satire and good taste. His most famous cartoon, ‘The Plumb-Pudding-in Danger,’ or, ‘State Epicures Taking a Petit Souper,'” published about 1818, witnessed the ravenous British Prime Minister William Pitt and French Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte carving up the world at the dinner table.” Mr. Taube’s article discusses “The looming extinction of political cartooning ? a matter of thin skins and tight budgets ? would mean the tragic loss of a richly American art form.”
It seems “that in the 1980s there were about 300 staff cartoonists at newspapers around the country and that now there are fewer than 100,” political cartoonist Daryl Cagle wrote a year ago, in Masthead. “Editors prefer cartoons, drawn in the traditional style, which do not express a strong opinion that some readers might disagree with.”
Why should editors bother at all to try and persuade if they have to be politically correct? I get it that it’s hard to compete with social media that can instantly shame. But how much better we all were when we could digest a clever, harmless cartoon and maybe even laugh at ourselves.
I stopped reading The New Yorker in 2004 when the magazine backed John Kerry for president. The same John Kerry, who now talks to ayatollahs behind our backs. New York had become, after decades of bad governance, a very livable city under Mayor Rudy Giuliani. When 911 happened, we were living in Manhattan. It was not a good moment for political cartoons. But come they did. I remember President George W. Bush, after an initial acknowledgement of his finesse in handling our new war, being portrayed as an oaf. I don’t remember Mr. Kerry being portrayed as a fake Vietnam veteran, or a rich guy marrying into a ketchup fortune, at the helm of his 70-foot yacht or windsurfing off Nantucket. A good political cartoonist was being handed a gem on a silver platter.
Mr. Taube writes that “Caricatures of the president’s hair and weight are still in demand, but the well will run dry before long.” He mentions that Sarah Boxer in the Atlantic’s 2018 April issue wrote, “political cartooning has become surprisingly tricky in the age of Trump… There were ways of depicting … Bush, that for racial reasons, no cartoonist would use to caricature President Barack Obama.”
Mr. Taube finishes his article by writing, “Cartoons need to be brave, irreverent and sometimes outrageous, qualities that have been cowed in this epoch of heightened sensitivities, picky readers and cash-strapped publications.”
Has anyone noticed how thin The New Yorker has become? Or Time or Newsweek?
If you’re in a waiting room and you only see thin magazines, some of them years old, as I did recently at another doctor’s waiting room, walk out and find a new doctor who cares about his waiting patients. Not a doctor who is signaling that he’s not up to speed, even on new medical news. Or a desire to cure TDS.
In any case, it’s no laughing matter.