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Jun. 21 2009 - 8:51 pm | 5 views | 1 recommendation | 9 comments

Breaking news – I’m not conservative and I’m pretty wholesome

Yes, you read that correctly.

Pleasantville for all

Reader’s Digest began in 1922 as a family magazine  co-founded by Lila Bell Wallace and DeWitt Wallace.  A  wonderful compendium of humor, inspiration, information, and fun, it’s reached millions of people over the decades — farmers and ranchers, soldiers far from home and immigrants dreaming of a life in the States some day, “housewives” and boy scout leaders, and children growing up whose families value the lessons of patriotism and brotherhood.  Everyone I knew in the 50s loved Life magazine for its photos and humorous back page and Reader’s Digest for its fun and galvanizing sense of America. It was sweet, simple, and not stupid.  If you didn’t read it at home, you read it at the dentist’s or in the school library.  It was for people who didn’t necessarily go to college or write a thesis on Sophocles.  It was dependably about patriotism, not politics, and love of family, not family feud.  It might have been mischievous, but it was never damning — an unabashedly happy place for grown-ups.

One of the most valuable assets of the company became its subscriber base.  As the list grew into the millions, with reams of marketing information about its demos,  the list became a marketer’s dream of a niche and was sold all over the world.  It was one of the company’s most valuable assets.  Still is.  And that’s fine.  Here’s my problem …

As new ownership figures out how to take Reader’s Digest forward, and retain and grow its wholesome subscriber base, it’s taken to seeing its readership not as who they are in full, but as who they are politically.  When did patriotism and family and the dream of America become the province of the Conservatives? It may be streamlined to see “traditional” and “conservative” as the same thing.  Problem is, they’re not the same thing.  I know many liberals who are extremely traditional.  I know many Conservatives who are not.  And wholesome people don’t all go to church.  Some go to other places of worship.  Some have looked deeply and decided not to go to places of worship.  Does this mean they’re not Reader’s Digest people, lovers of patriotism, of sweet and humorous looks at American life, even among members of the military?

In a sort of macaroni and cheese country club way, Reader’s Digest is about to become “restricted,” a gated community for conservative politics.

And already, somewhere along their journey from the center of the earth, the elitist word has started to find itself never far behind the “C” word in their vision for the magazine.  It’s a dangerous thing.  And Reader’s Digest should know better.

Here’s the NY Times on what’s going on over in that little corner of Chappaqua legally re-named Pleasantville by the lovely couple who also brought us the “liberal” Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Foundation — its founders:

After years of trying to broaden the appeal of Reader’s Digest, the publishers are pushing it in a decidedly conservative direction. It is cutting down on celebrity profiles and ramping up on inspiring spiritual stories. Out are generic how-to magazine features; in are articles about military life.

“It’s traditional, conservative values: I love my family, I love my community, I love my church,” said Mary Berner, the president and chief executive of Reader’s Digest Association.

via Reader’s Digest Moves Right of Middle-America – NYTimes.com.


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  1. collapse expand

    Seems like quite a burden to shroud oneself in a flag and carry that heavy cross around while defending a myth against the tide of reality.

  2. collapse expand

    Vickie,

    I am confused as to why the new Reader’s Digest ownership believes that Conservatism is the path of America’s hearts. Didn’t we just ave eight years of a president who flaunted American ideals yet whose office tortured, turned spies in, started illegal wars, etc. If anything the American dream is our current president. And the stories of Americans should include those living in both blue and red states.

  3. collapse expand

    Vickie you forgot the barber shop, that’s where my memories of the Reader’s Digest were made. Frankly Vickie I think you’re memories of The Digest might be a bit off the mark. The Digest was always right of center. I can’t speak to the politics of Lila Wallace, but DeWitt and his magazine were anything from liberal. From RD’s wiki:

    “Since its inception, Reader’s Digest has maintained a staunchly conservative and anti-communist perspective on political and social issues.”

  4. collapse expand

    Isn’t this the tale of modern-day political conservative movements? Brand liberals as crazy activists, stuck-up snobs, and free-loading inner-city folk, which makes everyone else good ol’ boys who love God, no matter where they live, or what they do. It is why Sarah Palin said it was good to be with “real Americans” in West Virginia. (I think it was there. I’m sure someone will correct me.) I hate this narrative that a lot of people buy into, and help spread.

  5. collapse expand

    Wouldn’t that be spectacular? If Reader’s Digest follows a path that includes real, empathetic voices from all sides, without pandering to what has become a microscopic view of each side, and simply saying no to the need to throw around ill-fitting rhetoric? Now that would make a spectacular comeback for them. I don’t know anyone — do you — who wouldn’t want to hear the stories of soldiers, farmers, immigrants, worshippers and their humanitarian efforts around the corner and around the world. If, on the other hand, they need to survive financially by picking a niche and it is Christianity or “Stars and Stripes,” then all they have to do is say so. That would be a pity because there’s a way to reach all of us using their “traditional” approach — America in full, without the politics.

  6. collapse expand

    Brian and iskid2 and lib, Thank you for your comments. Enjoying them and hope to hear more from you. Did you notice how difficult it is for any of us to talk about a magazine with stories about American lives without framing it as right, left or conservative, liberal? I ask you this in all seriousness, what are your definitions of those terms these days? They’ve been deflated in value to such an extent that they don’t inform. I’m talking about RD as a safe haven from labels, a quiet public park in which people talk about their day. One of the purposes of the original format was to condense a lot of magazines for people who couldn’t afford to buy them all or find the time to read them all. It was encapsulations. There’s nothing elitist about talking to your neighbor as well as your professors. I personally read across all sorts of media, but does the fact that I have an M.A. and an interest in art and can include intellectual matter on these things cut me off from the rest? Does who I vote for cut me off from the rest? That’s what I’m for. Reading openly, staying open. Now let’s count to ten and see how long it takes for someone to call that naive.

    • collapse expand

      You sure can pack a lot in one paragraph Vickie! Well first the RD issue. I think a magazine like RD displays it’s conservative values not by what it publishes but by what it doesn’t. For example how many stories of “American lives” published in RD include stories about gay couples adopting children, or the nightmare of immigrants seeking health care in the ER?

      For me, being a liberal means that not only does the govt have a role in making sure there is a place for everyone at the table but it is obligated to do so, and so so aggressively!

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  7. collapse expand

    Say what you will about RD, but when I was a kid, my father made me do the vocab quiz every issue. Come SAT time, I knew my “folderol” from my “frivolity.”

  8. collapse expand

    And then it was on to National Geographic to see happy women washing clothes in a river, and Ed Sullivan to see a man talk to his hand puppet on national television. We’ve come a long way, baby, and that’s not folderol.

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