America gazing at its navel

Ken Hechtman writes:

Re our discussion in “Us and Muslims,” apparently Time Magazine agrees with you. They don’t think Americans should pay attention to other peoples’ politics either.

Mr. Hechtman linked an article at The Daily Kos in which several sets of Time Magazine covers are reproduced:

Each week, TIME Magazine designs covers for four markets: the U.S., Europe, Asia and the South Pacific. Often, America’s cover is quite, well — different. This week offers a stark example.



Yes, what you see is TIME devoting its cover in international markets to a critical moment in Egypt’s revolution—perhaps the most important global story this week—while offering Americans the chance to contemplate their collective navels (with a rather banal topic and supposition, to boot).

This is not an isolated incident, for perusing TIME’s covers reveals countless examples of the publication tempting the world with critical events, ideas or figures, while dangling before Americans the chance to indulge in trite self-absorption.

Witness these stunning dichotomies:


[Several similar sets of Time covers follow.]

LA replies:

That is stunning. However, the issue I raised in “Us and Muslims” wasn’t whether we should pay attention to “other people’s” politics, but whether, in a well-ordered world, we would need to pay attention to Islamic politics. Obviously, given the actual state of affairs, we do need to pay attention to them. But the Time Magazine covers are symptomatic of another problem: that the U.S. media really does ignore the rest of the world.

This is paradoxical. On one hand, the liberal mainstream media are pro-diversity, anti-traditional patriotism, anti-“isolationism,” pro-globalism, even pro-One Worldism. On the other hand, the liberal mainstream media act as if only events in the U.S.—or events directly impinging on U.S. interests and loyalties abroad—matter, and they largely keep the American public in the dark about everything else going on in the world. The Time covers are an extreme expression of this attitude.

I can’t entirely explain it. The idea may be that the U.S. is so big, has so much going on in it, that we just don’t need to pay attention to others. Or the media may cynically believe that the American public is too stupid to understand, or has no appetite for, foreign news, and so the media for commercial reasons ignore it themselves. At bottom, however, I think it’s an expression of an incredible American narcissism, which the mainstream media, though deeply alienated from America, largely share. But they share the narcissism not because they love America, but because they despise it and want to bring it down. Those magazine covers, which reduce Americans to the lowest level of triviality, are not an expression of love and concern for America, but an expression of contempt. They reduce Americans to nothing. And that may be a more effective way of carrying out the leftist agenda than having lots of stories about foreign politics that Americans won’t read anyway.

- end of initial entry -

Timothy A. writes:

Those Time magazine covers would be more telling if not for a couple of factors. First, the international story on the cover of the non-US editions of Time is included in the US edition as well, it just isn’t the cover story, so the US audience isn’t deprived of those international stories. Second, the audience for the non-US editions of time consists of Americans as well - American expatriates. No non-Americans read Time (very slight exaggeration). Liberal mainstream media is globalist, but they still need to sell magazines, and Americans are someone less interested in international affairs than are nationals of other countries (especially Europeans), therefore the choice of cover story.

LA replies:

Of course those articles were published in the magazine, even if they were not featured on the cover. But, beyond the symbolism of the magazine covers, I was speaking of the U.S. media as a whole, and their ignoring of foreign affairs. A big exception to this is the New York Times, which has extensive coverage of events and developments in other countries. But as far as TV news and most newspapers are concerned, it’s as though the non-American part of the globe doesn’t exist, unless the U.S. is directly involved there.

Kristor writes:

The less the American media tell Americans about events and living conditions in other countries, about their customs and cultures, the less Americans will resist the immigration of those cultures to America. This omission creates an immense lacuna in the American understanding of what threatens us, and a profound naiveté about our capacity to withstand it. So we are complacent. That’s just what Time wants. Time wants us to be anxious and worried about the power and greed of American capitalism and the tyrannical danger of American military and intelligence capabilities; Time wants us to obsess over the poisons in our atmosphere and the danger of having too many kids, not the waves of immigrants arriving from increasingly powerful and wealthy foreign countries. Time wants us to be horrified at the idea that anyone might discriminate against foreigners on account of their strange and—to our culture—lethal ways.

It’s the mirror image of Hollywood’s portrayal, to denizens of foreign lands, of America as a place where everyone—even poor people in the housing projects of big cities—has at minimum a vast and comfortable apartment, everyone is beautiful, and no one ever works hard. No wonder everyone wants to get here.

AM writes:

I think the Time magazine covers can be explained more benignly. Time is principally an American magazine, so it’s American readers expect and want a more domestic focus, just as say, German readers of Der Spiegel would. If the readers of the non-U.S. editions are buying a foreign magazine, they probably want more “foreign” focus as well, just as the English version of Der Spiegel probably has a more global focus as well. American readers buying foreign magazines tend to want more foreign content, and the same is likely true for Europeans, Asians, etc. They are probably also smarter, better educated and wealthier than their countrymen who opt for local magazines. Liberals like to think Americans are much more provincial than Europeans, but I’ve seen little real evidence of this.

Besides, Time, at least stateside, is garbage; the writing is so simple I feel insulted reading it. It seems to hold itself out as centrist or non-partisan, yet they are invariably liberal. You say that these banal covers reflect the media’s contempt for Americans. I think the truth, as Steve Jobs said, is far more depressing. In a 1998 speech, Jobs mentions his exploration of TV. He used to think that “there was a giant conspiracy to put mediocrity on TV and dumb it down … to rob the American populace of their mind, if not their soul. But then I found out the truth, which is far more depressing. Which is, the networks give people precisely what they want.”

While Americans may not want the leftist spin of these magazines per se, the banal content is very much desired. After all, we see men and women gorging themselves daily on trivia like sports and celebrities, respectively, so it isn’t entirely unexpected. Nor are the countries of Europe much more refined in this regard, each with their own array of mediocre media.

Timothy A. writes:

By way of comparison, I decided to look at covers of the principal newsweekly in Italy, L’espresso (center-left politics). The first year I found was 2009.

Of the 52 issues, only three covers featured international stories (a flu epidemic, a G7 summit, and the Copenhagen meeting on global warming).

Forty-nine of the 52 covers featured domestic (Italian) affairs or domestic politics.

LA replies:

That’s surprising, especially as the affairs of European countries are so intertwined now.

Douglas W. writes:

The discussion of TIME magazine reminded me of this hilarious video from the Onion titled “Time Magazine Announces New Version of Magazine Aimed At Adults.”

James R. writes:

You wrote:

“I can’t entirely explain it. The idea may be that the U.S. is so big, has so much going on in it, that we just don’t need to pay attention to others.”

If you’re a good progressive, you believe that, at bottom, problems in the world are the result of our actions: Western colonialism, racism, economic imperialism, and the like have made things as they are. People elsewhere in the world are just responding to the stimuli we give them. While there is a lot of talk about respecting the agency of the Other, in practice the left does not do that. They cannot do that for reasons you’ve pointed out: if liberalism is universal, everyone wants to be liberal, and is really liberal at heart.

Therefore we don’t really have to learn about the Other. This is why university departments ostensibly devoted to diversity and the study of other cultures have no clue; hardly anyone can really speak Arabic or Farsi or Pashtun and the like. Because in such departments it’s never really about studying them, it’s about studying “what we do to them.”

As for why the magazine covers differ elsewhere: since only what we do really matters, to fix the world means fixing America. This leads to a high degree of solipsism at home, with superficial respect for difference abroad.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 26, 2011 12:37 PM | Send

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