July 21, 2011

The New Yorker

I was never able to justify a subscription to the physical edition of The New Yorker magazine. My current apartment’s mailbox, for instance, is not even large enough to fit a single unwanted catalog addressed to “Resident” without forcing the mailman to fold it in half. I also thought that I would be moving more frequently. I’m sure that the address modification form is not actually the byzantine nightmare that I imagine it to be, but I remain wary. Consequently, I would only occasionally read from the meager selection of articles that Conde Nast makes available to the unwashed masses on the magazine’s official website.

A few months ago I purchased an iPad and in a lovely moment of serendipity my decision to do so coincided with Conde Nast’s decision to at least sort of try to not go out of business and offer digital subscriptions to their magazines through a suite of tablet applications. “$6 a month is not very much at all” I said to myself. “This is going to be great.” And it was. Like Shawn Blanc (in this article about reading on the iPad) I was surprised by the file size, but there were videos, and audio clips of authors reading aloud, and pictures large and clear. These multimedia elements didn’t completely explain the ridiculous number of megabytes required for each issue, but they at least made it tolerable. The experience was off to a good start. That is, until the cartoons.

You see, up to this point I had been relatively shielded from the cartoons. The first article that I read as a fledgling New Yorker subscriber was in the June 6th issue. It loftily positioned itself as being from “The Annals of National Security” and was about the threat of a nuclear Iran. The subject matter was serious and the writing was truly excellent. Then, right in the middle of a quote from a government consultant about “dire” consequences, this idiotic cartoon appeared:

Dr. Jekyll and Mister Softee

Imagine being in a theater on the edge of your seat during a pivotal scene. Suddenly, a pretentious clown appears on-screen. He tells a humorless joke that he is clearly very proud of, pauses awkwardly for maximum effect, disappears, and then the movie continues as if nothing happened. Or imagine a friend telling you a heartbreaking story, but pausing mid-sentence to mention a particularly hilarious fart. It sounds ridiculous, right? Well, The New Yorker can help you understand how this feels–sometimes in ways that are borderline insane:

Leave room for sex.

Call me crazy, but it strikes me as wildly inappropriate for a lame sex joke to appear in an article about the Freedom Riders. Genocide in Rwanda and murder on a massive scale? Don’t worry, they’ve got the perfect cartoon for that page too:

"Your faucet is running."

The application is designed to let you move between articles by swiping left to right, and between pages by swiping up and down. Because the cartoons are almost always positioned at the bottom of the page, the application sometimes misreads desperate attempts to remain focused on the article and thinks that the reader is actually touching the cartoon on purpose instead of swiping the nonsense away. This causes it to helpfully launch the Cartoon Gallery, a looping black void that stretches on forever featuring every soul-crushing cartoon from the current issue. This happens way too often and results in an incredibly frustrating experience when you are in the middle of a good article.

I don’t exactly know what happened, what confluence of factors led to The New Yorker simultaneously attracting two disparate demographics: those who enjoy quality journalism and a well-crafted sentence, and those who enjoy cartoons that look like what one might find, crumpled and rejected, in some forlorn corner of Gary Larson’s studio if he were heavily drugged during the least-fertile period of his career. I don’t know if it is The New Yorker’s intention to serve as a sort of Make-A-Wish Foundation for unfunny individuals with very little artistic ability. I just don’t know.

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