What early French female press can tell us about a key period for women in public life



Lady Reading in an Interior (between 1795 and 1800).
Marguerite Gérard (1761–1837)

Siobhán McIlvanney, King’s College London

Straddling the private and public domains, the early French women’s press – the various published journals and pamphlets that began to appear in the 18th and early 19th centuries – can provide a unique insight into women’s everyday struggles and successes during a particularly turbulent period in France’s history.

Women’s magazines today are often thought of as ideologically somewhat conformist. They are seen to promote a limited range of feminine role models and to reinforce norms regarding women’s position within patriarchal society. The content of much of the early French women’s press presents a very different picture.

The origins of the French women’s press date back to the 18th century. The first women’s journal of any substance and longevity, Le Journal des dames, was published from 1759 until 1778. Over the next few decades a variety of different subsections and types of article emerged – many of which, whether the domestic magazine or the problem page, remain current in today’s women’s press.

It was my interest in the “political” potential of these representations of French women’s daily lives that gave rise to my book Figurations of the Feminine in the Early French Women’s Press, 1758-1848. During this period, French women had no right to political representation. Despite the Enlightenment emphasis on the rights of the individual, women were not considered of equal status to men. Their education was significantly less extensive than men’s in terms of both subjects taught and duration, resulting in high levels of illiteracy.

Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793)
Unknown artist

The playwright and social reformer Olympe de Gouges famously drafted her own Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Citizen in 1791 in response to what she viewed as the gendered inequalities of the original Declaration in 1789.

The Napoleonic Code of 1804 legally obliged wives to obey their husbands and gave the latter complete control of all property. So how did these earliest women’s journals engage with the rights and roles of French women at the time?

Building communities of women

The early French women’s press spans a range of genres, from the literary review (Le Journal des dames) to the fashion journal (Le Journal des dames et des modes [1797-1839]) to the more socially conscious feminist journal, La Femme libre (1832-34), which strove to improve employment conditions for women. These publications had a variety of target readerships, depending on the sorts of issues they covered – and these, in turn, partly depend on their historical period of publication.

Just as the Revolution of 1789 provided an impetus for women’s journals and pamphlets, such as Les Étrennes nationales des dames(1789) to intensify their demands for sexual equality, journals during the Restoration adopt a moralistic tone (Le Journal des dames et des modes, focusing on more light-hearted subjects such as fashion and characterising female readers as guardians of the hearth and paragons of virtue.

The actual readership of early French women’s journals, aside from what we can glean from articles and letters submitted by readers, is more difficult to establish and circulation claims are notoriously unreliable. Both literacy levels and the expense of the earliest women’s journals clearly limited their readership, although journals were passed among friends and within households – and, according to the correspondence of readers in Le Journal des dames et des modes (July 1803) were even read aloud.

What is clear is the pleasure expressed by many women readers at engaging in dialogue with a community of like-minded individuals and the resulting sense of collective identity and political consciousness based on gender. For the first time, French women readers – largely confined to the domestic realm – were encouraged to articulate their “private” opinions in a public forum.

Many women writers, such as George Sand, chose to adopt male pseudonyms when publishing.
Jean-Baptiste Bonjour (1801-1882)

Women authors too, such as Madame de Savignac – who published educational fiction for young people – writing in Le Journal des femmes in May 1833, appreciated the role played by women’s journals in supporting women’s intellectual achievements and in giving women authors the confidence to renounce their male pseudonyms.

Many contemporary women authors adopted male pseudonyms – Savignac makes specific mention of George Sand – in order to maintain anonymity and increase the likelihood of publication in a male-dominated publishing world.

Civic feminism

Women’s journals both act as a mirror to the society in which they are produced but can also help modify aspects of that society. Like today’s women’s press, early women’s journals in France were also selling the notion of a better life. But rather than appealing to the reader’s materialist aspirations, they did so by highlighting the need for women’s personal and public responsibility. They demonstrated a form of “civic feminism”, to employ a term adopted by the historian Carla Hesse.

If the content varies depending on the journal and the historical context in question, the radicalness of the agenda and of the narratives these journals promote is striking. Many journals – in particular the fashion press – still remained conservative in their worldview. But many others confronted legislative and social prejudices against women in an endeavour to strengthen their rights – whether to divorce or to vote – and to improve their standing in French society through the promotion of a more intellectually challenging education for women. As Suellen Diaconoff remarks in her study Through the Reading Glass: Women, Books, and Sex in the French Enlightenment:

It would be overstating the case to say that female editors focused on setting a full pro-woman agenda in their periodicals, or to assert that they saw themselves first as feminist activists and secondarily as journalists. But it is, nonetheless, true that their journals often carried a competing and alternative discourse for women, at significant variance from the model widely accepted in the mainstream.

Early French women’s journals also fought for a more inclusive French canon that treated women authors seriously. They championed women’s right to choose their own husbands in an age of arranged marriages and encouraged those women with unhappy marriages to write in anonymously about their problems, thereby providing the first example of the problem page (Le Courier de l’hymen, journal des dames, 1791).

They petitioned for improvements in women’s education and employment conditions (La Femme libre and La Voix des femmes, 1848). In short, for their contemporary readers, these early journals promoted women’s intellectual, familial and professional contributions to French society.

For today’s reader, they provide a privileged and – as yet – largely un-navigated mapping of French women’s evolving personal and political trajectories.The Conversation

Siobhán McIlvanney, Reader in French and Francophone Women’s Writing; Head of Department of French, King’s College London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Mad Magazine is finished, but its ethos matters more than ever before



The magazine taught its readers to never swallow what they’re served.
Nick Lehr/The Conversation via Jasperdo, CC BY-NC-ND

Michael J. Socolow, University of Maine

Mad Magazine is on life support. In April 2018, it launched a reboot, jokingly calling it its “first issue.” Now the magazine announced it will stop publishing new content, aside from year-end special issues.

But in terms of cultural resonance and mass popularity, its clout has been fading for years.

At its apex in the early 1970s, Mad’s circulation surpassed 2 million. As of 2017, it was 140,000.

As strange as it sounds, I believe the “usual gang of idiots” that produced Mad was performing a vital public service, teaching American adolescents that they shouldn’t believe everything they read in their textbooks or saw on TV.

Mad preached subversion and unadulterated truth-telling when so-called objective journalism remained deferential to authority. While newscasters regularly parroted questionable government claims, Mad was calling politicians liars when they lied. Long before responsible organs of public opinion like The New York Times and the CBS Evening News discovered it, Mad told its readers all about the credibility gap. The periodical’s skeptical approach to advertisers and authority figures helped raise a less credulous and more critical generation in the 1960s and 1970s.

Today’s media environment differs considerably from the era in which Mad flourished. But it could be argued that consumers are dealing with many of the same issues, from devious advertising to mendacious propaganda.

While Mad’s satiric legacy endures, the question of whether its educational ethos – its implicit media literacy efforts – remains part of our youth culture is less clear.

A merry-go-round of media panics

In my research on media, broadcasting and advertising history, I’ve noted the cyclical nature of media panics and media reform movements throughout American history.

The pattern goes something like this: A new medium gains popularity. Chagrined politicians and outraged citizens demand new restraints, claiming that opportunists are too easily able to exploit its persuasive power and dupe consumers, rendering their critical faculties useless. But the outrage is overblown. Eventually, audience members become more savvy and educated, rendering such criticism quaint and anachronistic.

During the penny press era of the 1830s, periodicals often fabricated sensational stories like the “Great Moon Hoax” to sell more copies. For a while, it worked, until accurate reporting became more valuable to readers.

During the ‘Great Moon Hoax,’ the New York Sun claimed to have discovered a colony of creatures on the moon.
Wikimedia Commons

When radios became more prevalent in the 1930s, Orson Welles perpetrated a similar extraterrestrial hoax with his infamous “War of the Worlds” program. This broadcast didn’t actually cause widespread fear of an alien invasion among listeners, as some have claimed. But it did spark a national conversation about radio’s power and audience gullibility.

Aside from the penny newspapers and radio, we’ve witnessed moral panics about dime novels, muckraking magazines, telephones, comic books, television, the VCR, and now the internet. Just as Congress went after Orson Welles, we see Mark Zuckerberg testifying about Facebook’s facilitation of Russian bots.

Holding up a mirror to our gullibility

But there’s another theme in the country’s media history that’s often overlooked. In response to each new medium’s persuasive power, a healthy popular response ridiculing the rubes falling for the spectacle has arisen.

For example, in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” Mark Twain gave us the duke and the dauphin, two con artists traveling from town to town exploiting ignorance with ridiculous theatrical performances and fabricated tall tales.

They were proto-purveyors of fake news, and Twain, the former journalist, knew all about selling buncombe. His classic short story “Journalism in Tennessee” excoriates crackpot editors and the ridiculous fiction often published as fact in American newspapers.

Then there’s the great P.T. Barnum, who ripped people off in marvelously inventive ways.

“This way to the egress,” read a series of signs inside his famous museum. Ignorant customers, assuming the egress was some sort of exotic animal, soon found themselves passing through the exit door and locked out.

They might have felt ripped off, but, in fact, Barnum had done them a great – and intended – service. His museum made its customers more wary of hyperbole. It employed humor and irony to teach skepticism. Like Twain, Barnum held up a funhouse mirror to America’s emerging mass culture in order to make people reflect on the excesses of commercial communication.

‘Think for yourself. Question authority’

Mad Magazine embodies this same spirit. Begun originally as a horror comic, the periodical evolved into a satirical humor outlet that skewered Madison Avenue, hypocritical politicians and mindless consumption.

Teaching its adolescent readers that governments lie – and only suckers fall for hucksters – Mad implicitly and explicitly subverted the sunny optimism of the Eisenhower and Kennedy years. Its writers and artists poked fun at everyone and everything that claimed a monopoly on truth and virtue.

“The editorial mission statement has always been the same: ‘Everyone is lying to you, including magazines. Think for yourself. Question authority,’” according to longtime editor John Ficarra.

That was a subversive message, especially in an era when the profusion of advertising and Cold War propaganda infected everything in American culture. At a time when American television only relayed three networks and consolidation limited alternative media options, Mad’s message stood out.

Just as intellectuals Daniel Boorstin, Marshall McLuhan and Guy Debord were starting to level critiques against this media environment, Mad was doing the same – but in a way that was widely accessible, proudly idiotic and surprisingly sophisticated.

For example, the implicit existentialism hidden beneath the chaos in every “Spy v. Spy” panel spoke directly to the insanity of Cold War brinksmanship. Conceived and drawn by Cuban exile Antonio Prohías, “Spy v. Spy” featured two spies who, like the United States and the Soviet Union, both observed the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction. Each spy was pledged to no one ideology, but rather the complete obliteration of the other – and every plan ultimately backfired in their arms race to nowhere.

Mad skewered those who mindlessly supported the people who controlled the levers of power.
Jasperdo, CC BY-NC-SA

The cartoon highlighted the irrationality of mindless hatred and senseless violence. In an essay on the plight of the Vietnam War soldier, literary critic Paul Fussell once wrote that U.S. soldiers were “condemned to sadistic lunacy” by the monotony of violence without end. So too the “Spy v. Spy” guys.

As the credibility gap widened from the Johnson to Nixon administrations, the logic of Mad‘s Cold War critique became more relevant. Circulation soared. Sociologist Todd Gitlin – who had been a leader of the Students for a Democratic Society in the 1960s – credited Mad with serving an important educational function for his generation.

“In junior high and high school,” he wrote, “I devoured it.”

A step backward?

And yet that healthy skepticism seems to have evaporated in the ensuing decades. Both the run-up to the Iraq War and the acquiescence to the carnival-like coverage of our first reality TV star president seem to be evidence of a widespread failure of media literacy.

We’re still grappling with how to deal with the internet and the way it facilitates information overload, filter bubbles, propaganda and, yes, fake news.

But history has shown that while we can be stupid and credulous, we can also learn to identify irony, recognize hypocrisy and laugh at ourselves. And we’ll learn far more about employing our critical faculties when we’re disarmed by humor than when we’re lectured at by pedants. A direct thread skewering the gullibility of media consumers can be traced from Barnum to Twain to Mad to “South Park” to The Onion.

While Mad’s legacy lives on, today’s media environment is more polarized and diffuse. It also tends to be far more cynical and nihilistic. Mad humorously taught kids that adults hid truths from them, not that in a world of fake news, the very notion of truth was meaningless. Paradox informed the Mad ethos; at its best, Mad could be biting and gentle, humorous and tragic, and ruthless and endearing – all at the same time.

That’s the sensibility we’ve lost. And it’s why we need outlets like Mad more than ever.

This is an updated version of an article originally published on May 11, 2018.The Conversation

Michael J. Socolow, Associate Professor, Communication and Journalism, University of Maine

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

It was great having you, magazines. Let’s just say goodbye now


Gigaom

The announcement came one day in 1992, when I was eight, and was momentous enough in my household that I actually answered the phone with “Tina Brown became editor of the New Yorker!”

This is seared in my mind now as one of the most cringe-worthy things I did in childhood. Yet I’m telling you about it to provide evidence that I grew up surrounded by print magazines and a belief in their importance; so that now, when I talk about my increasingly sad relationship with magazines, you’ll believe that I’m not simply dismissing them out of hand, Millennial-style.

Magazines have been an important part of my reading and regular life, but they aren’t like books, where I actually can’t imagine what both my life and the entire course of human history would look like without them. For all of the debates about publishers and Amazon and so on, I don’t…

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Why tablet magazines are a failure


Gigaom

“We’re starting a new magazine,” the entrepreneur told me. “We have a potent niche to cover, and advertisers are dying for us to deliver interactive ads.”

Another woman I met with wanted to launch a tablet magazine about renewable energy. “It’s global and I have all the right connections to get it out there,” she said. “And I’ve found an out-of-the-box software solution to power it.”

Both projects impressed me. From an editorial point of view, they both nailed it. The entrepreneurs’ energy was great. A few years ago I would have been all in with them.

Today, though, my mind has changed. I fear the app-based tablet approach to magazines leads straight to oblivion, at least for individual magazine titles.

Not that tablets aren’t suited for reading. I discover most of the articles I read every day through my favorite iPad apps: Zite, Flipboard, Facebook (s FB) and Twitter…

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Article: Mobile Magazines 2 – iOS Newsstand


The link below is to an article that looks at Mobile Magazines and in particular those available on the iOS Newsstand.

For more visit:
http://www.teleread.com/apple/mobile-magazines-part-2-ios-newsstand/

Article: Mobile Magazines 1 – Google Play


The link below is to an article that looks at Mobile Magazines and in particular those on Google Play.

For more visit:
http://www.teleread.com/google/mobile-magazines-part-1-google-play-magazines/