What’s Life? A Magazine by
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(115 Stories)

Prompted By Magazines

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Tough

For me, magazines are like comfort food. Not necessarily good for me, but all I want to read when I’m sick or feeling low.

What’s tough?

Life

What’s Life?

A magazine

How much does it cost?

Twenty cents

I only have a nickel

Tough…

I remember chanting this as a child when Life Magazine was read by most households in America. Known for its magnificent photography, it showcased artistic photos and beautiful illustrations, featured several series on science, and covered major news stories. While my father favored Time, the rest of us fought over who would read the latest edition of Life.

By 1960, with television’s popularity ascending and interest in getting news from magazines waning, it actually did drop its price to twenty cents and started featuring celebrities and prominent politicians. I remember huge photo spreads of President Kennedy and his family, stories about Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and ultimately articles with honest and gruesome pictures of the war in Vietnam. But even with the wonderful photos of Gordon Parks featured, coverage of the growing counter-culture in America, and an issue dedicated to our astronauts’ trip to the moon, Life circulation numbers kept falling.

Photo by Gordon Parks

By the time I was married and we were subscribing to magazines, Life was in free fall and stopped publishing its weekly magazine in December of 1972. I still loved reading weekly magazines, although I did consume my daily news via Walter Cronkite. Newsweek was our favorite. There was something very satisfying about reading it from cover to cover each week. My husband enjoyed Sports Illustrated as well.

Cable news landed the final blow to weekly magazines. With 24/7 coverage of everything (and nothing) and the ability to choose newscasts that played to our politics and biases, we were no longer consuming news from a common source of information. Many Americans were no longer interested in reading magazines, or anything else for that matter.

While there were some trashy magazines I read as a teen (Photoplay, Teen, Tiger Beat, and Seventeen for a bit of class) and my brothers’ beloved Mad, my parents only read Life and Time, so I did as well. As news in written form continued to decline, I developed a secret guilty pleasure: People Magazine. It started appearing in doctors’ office and beauty salons in the mid-seventies. At some point, my doctor husband started receiving free copies for his office waiting room. He brought the old issues home and I must confess I became addicted.

As the years went on, however, my interest in People began to wane. Who were these people and why should I care about them? The latest edition, which I flipped through in five minutes this week, featured pictures of Orlando Bloom and Cardi B in swim suits, Ludicris and Ciara with their “famous families,” and the demise of the relationship between Cassie Randolph and Colton Underwood from The Bachelor. I think People needs to publish an issue for seniors and start extending its “Beautiful at Any Age” feature to women in their seventies (besides Jane Fonda, because, well that’s just unfair).

For me, magazines are like comfort food. Not necessarily good for me, but all I want to read when I’m sick or feeling low. Perhaps they will make a comeback in this era of coronavirus, social distancing, and anxiety. Meanwhile, I may just have to read the stories in this week’s People about HGTV star Eric Eremita’s battle with Covid-19 or Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson’s secret daughter. As the pandemic continues to dominate my life, I long for Life, a magazine I could savor over the course of another endless week.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Marian says:

    Cool recap, Laurie. The photos you picked still are amazing, especially the ones from Gordon Parks. People just doesn’t do it for me, as you say. As a member, I get the AARP magazine, which is more boomer focused and does have some items of interest.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      When I turned 50 (or was it 55?) and AARP reached out to me, I was in such denial that I refused to have anything to do with the organization. I must confess I read it sometimes in doctors’ offices.

  2. Yes Laurie, magazines no longer serve as the did in our youth, but with us all
    on lockdown, maybe there is a market out there again, we’ll see!

    Meanwhile I’m trying to read more and watch “Breaking News” less!

  3. Your opening lines reminded me of how many jingles and catch-phrases I STILL remember (and find myself reciting!) from back in the day, and how few (if any) I can even think of that have been introduced more recently. Aren’t advertisers missing out on something here?

    Life Magazine did indeed have the best photography of the day! I just sent Betsy an issue for her Kennedy collection and in giving it one last glance before shipping it marveled over the moving photos. I’m a fan of Margaret Bourke-White’s images and still have an issue or two featuring her work from my Uncle Jack’s collection.

    I love your characterization of magazines as comfort food, not so much the NY Times with articles as deeply developed as books in some cases but especially People in that regard, and especially for a plane ride or vacation. . But whoa, the price has gone waaaay up! Good idea re the senior edition…now that I’d buy. And while we’re at it, why not remove the reference to age to make it not an “issue.”

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Barb, I am writing comments on articles to avoid the Sunday NY Times, which my husband is reading in another room. Will have to stop comments soon and start reading it, but my ability to concentrate is shot these days. Even the Style section is boring. I save the book reviews for a week and very rarely read them either. But my guilt over the waste of paper forces me to at least skim the important stuff, and I do enjoy the magazine section. What a low brow I have become in my confinement!

  4. Suzy says:

    Laurie, I remember doing the “That’s life” chant that you start with, except that it was “twenty-five cents” and “I’ve only got a dime.” So it seems the inflation between your childhood and mine was huge. 🙂 By 1965, your featured image shows that Life cost thirty-five cents, so the chant needed revising again! I do remember looking at the wonderful photos in Life every week, but don’t recall whether there was much text to go with them or not.

    I have only read People at the dentist’s office or in the check-out line at the grocery store, so I’ve probably never seen an entire issue. Mostly it seems that even if the cover is someone I’m interested in, the actual story about them isn’t worth the time. But I like the idea of a senior issue (or edition?), and “Beautiful at any Age” showing women in their 70s. I guess that’s what the AARP Magazine tries to do, but I stopped getting that magazine when I let my membership lapse.

    Thanks for another thoughtful story.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Ah, Suzy, the differences in our ages is reflected by our memory of childhood chants. Maybe we could start a senior magazine that is not as dumb as People or as filled with drug ads as AARP. Wait, is that Retrospect?

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    Laurie, you are absolutely correct. The rise of cable TV was the demise of good magazine news. I used to enjoy flipping through People while waiting at the checkout line in the grocery store, or at the hairdresser, but as you rightly point out, WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? I don’t watch reality TV, so I don’t care about the Housewives of Atlanta, or the Bachelor. Enough already. Where did real celebrities go? And good print journalism?

  6. John Shutkin says:

    A terrific review of the, well, life and death of Life, which I also remember well and fondly. I particularly loved the photo on the last page of each issue, which is also how I learned what “Miscellaneous” meant.

    That said, I do not recall the “That’s life” chant, though it does remind me a bit of Abbott and Costello’s famous “Who’s On First?” routine. Now I will have to memorize this one, too — and probably your version, not Suzy’s, based on my age.

    And I particularly like your analogy of magazines to comfort food. Ironically, even as magazines are dying, we need such food now more than ever.

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