Friday, June 11, 2010

Men's magazines from back in the day when men were attacked by small animals

A blog called The Art of Manliness has lots of front covers of men's magazines from the early to mid 20th century. (They're from this art book published by Taschen.)

The names of the magazines are as un-subtle as possible:

Man's Life
MAN'S magazine
TRUE MEN stories
Fury — exciting true adventures for men
Real — the exciting magazine FOR MEN
As I said in the heading, small animals were a theme. As you can see from the top of that blog post, one magazine cover proclaims: "Weasels Ripped My Flesh." This was apparently quite popular — not only did it inspire a Frank Zappa album, but one can detect traces of it on another magazine cover: "Flying Rodents Ripped My Flesh." Other covers have snakes, otters, and turtles.

Matthew Yglesias has a good catch on Twitter (which is how I found out about this whole thing). He calls it the "Best magazine cover-line ever":
"Sex Can Be Fun!"
The Art of Manliness argues that they were a bygone era's equivalent of pornography:
The popularity of men’s adventure magazines peaked in the late 1950s, when fifty different titles were published and hundreds of thousands of men picked up the magazines at the local drugstore or read them at barbershops. But as Playboy and then Penthouse came on the scene, and the courts loosened their restrictions on what was deemed obscene material, “the sweats” began to seem quite tame and outdated in comparison and couldn’t compete. They quietly disappeared in the 1970’s.
The link to the Art of Manliness post comes from the excellent blog Sociological Images, which observes:
They are a window into a time when being a man was clearly a very distinct achievement, but much less related to consumption than it is today.

Today’s men’s magazines emphasize control over oneself and the conquest of women, as do these vintage magazines, but instead of tests of strength, cunning, and fighting ability, they emphasize conquest through consumption. The message is to consume the right exercise, the right products (usually hygiene or tech-related), the right advice on picking up women and, well, the right women. In contrast, these old magazines pit man against nature or other men; consumption has not yet colonized the idea of masculinity.
Maybe the old view was more purely masculine: adventurous, heroic. But that's nothing against the new view. It's not inherently bad to consume things — consumption is a part of life. You're already consuming a magazine. I'd rather the magazine try to cajole men into buying the right cologne than try to implant in their heads that life is a series of a vicious attacks.