People magazine

A commentary
By Luis O. Victoria

For many years People magazine has been categorized as one of the most successful publications in the United States. With close to 37 million subscribers and numerous awards it has become one of the most recognized American icons in terms of pop culture. Proposed in 1973 by Andrew Heiskell, then Time Inc.’s chairman, and what began as a page in its sister publication, Time magazine; came to light in March 4th, 1974 with an issue featuring Mia Farrow on the cover, 20 pages of advertising and a cover price of 35 cents. Eighteen months later, in October of 1975, the magazine became profitable; a marker that took Time three years to achieve and Sports Illustrated 10 years. With all these achievements and tremendous popularity it’s presence in our society it’s undeniable. In this work I will examine People magazine as a means of expression of our popular culture that reflects and perhaps even molds our contemporary values. In the first issue, managing editor Richard Stolley promised that the magazine would focus on “the headliners, the doers, the comers, and on plenty of ordinary men and women caught up in

extraordinary situations”. Its editorial concept stated: “nothing fascinates people more than other people-not just celebrities, but all kinds of people: extraordinary people doing ordinary things, and ordinary people doing extraordinary things” The magazine

philosophy is that of a chronicler of popular culture “that reports on current events by looking at the people participating in or affected by those events” It also claims that this human-interest component enables readers to maintain a strong emotional connection to the magazine. After examining the magazine I certainly cannot agree with those concepts as them being People’s main spotlight at the present time. It’s certain that the magazine focus in some interesting articles depicting current events or regular people in not so regular situations; you can always find a few of those, but it’s also true that most of its content is pure advertising and mostly celebrity stories, gossip and entertainment industry events in general. For instance, on the February 3, 2003 edition out of 130 pages 63 were dedicated to advertising. Most of the full page ads were located to the right (most visible page) with few exceptions. The ads were ranging from TV shows to depression medicine; dog food, tobacco, cereal, cosmetics,

cellular phones, soap, nutrition bars and weight loss among others. This clearly indicates a heavy orientation towards consumer products for female households, ages between 25 and 50. Fifty one pages were dedicated to celebrities’ interviews, stories, events, gossip, music and movie review, biographies and fashion. Only 12 pages were intended for non-celebrities/current event stories about ordinary people. This also indicates a magazine oriented towards the life of celebrities and personalities; to whom I doubt any ordinary person like you and me will have any “strong emotional connection”. In general the magazine is well written, very expensive for a newsweekly; $3.29 (as a matter of fact the most expensive in the market), and maybe not that accessible to all “people”. According to my research in the past few years the magazine seems to have shifted its original focus on events related to ordinary people doing something noteworthy, towards the celebrity business. It looks like is actually answering to the needs of Wall Street and not the needs of the public. Its focus is predominantly consumer goods and entertainment. In my opinion it only perpetuates stereotypes about celebrities, the way to dress, the way to look, what to buy, etc; it randomly offers positive role models (maybe with some of its few

ordinary people stories) and cannot be considered a trend setter in terms of social contemporary values. This magazine doesn’t pursue any social advancement; it just perpetuates the existing set of values by appealing to its subscriber base. What does this say about our society? The fact that People magazine has been one of the most popular publications in America is an indication of how the entertainment/consumer industry have dominated our lives by shifting our focus from social, family, intellectual and spiritual values, towards the celebrities’ life; in where what they do, the way they dress or even what they eat, has become more important to some of us than even paying attention to the issues of the world we live in. I don’t particularly think that reading People magazine hurts anybody but it certainly doesn’t promote any positive response in terms of inner and social development. It’s just a simple Doctor’s office waiting room reading. No more, no less.

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