The internal inconsistency of the Vanity Fair Free Tote

When the US 2020 election was approaching and anxiety at its height, I added subscriptions to several publications beyond my existing barrage of news gatherers (Bloomberg, WAPO, the Atlantic, Politico). I was looking for any source of tea leaves to read to know where this election was going, whether or not the US was going to descend into autocracy. As I furiously scanned the internet, I followed various Internet threads into Vanity Fair articles a few times, so when I saw the $15/year offer, I pulled the trigger. I like to support journalism when I use it.

Their online subscription offer includes a paper version of the magazine. Odd, because you can’t opt-out of the paper mag and just go digital. Also odd, as having a magazine is an entirely different experience. A magazine, being a curated set of articles, presents you with information you probably would not choose to pursue as you would by following an internet search. So the mag came, and one Sunday I sat down with my coffee and started reading.

Clearly, this was not the magazine for me. Right off, I realized the two major ‘personality’ articles are about people with trust funds. On top of that, the ads are also for people with trust funds. Example: a feature on skiing outfits featured a $2500 jacket. I don’t think I spent $2500 on my entire wardrobe the 5 years I lived in a ski resort.  Of course I was quite poor then, but still, I would not spend $2500 on a jacket now, and I’ve been working for over 35 years. I have a steady paycheck, but I don’t own a $2500 anything smaller than a car.

This pandering to the already-wealthy was not an anomaly; the next month’s magazine had a profile of an artist whose trust fund (yes, again) only paid him $50 to $100K a year, poor guy. The other profile? Again, a woman born to wealth, playing in the Hamptons, etc. Well, damn, I’m starting to get the impression this magazine is for the one percenters. I was there for the political ‘Hive’ articles and random profiles of internet-era phenoms like Poppy (an internet ersatz Lady Gaga) who titillate me with cultural decomposition.

But the mag told me, with every Rolex ad or men’s grooming ad (hey, I get my hair cut, and I own a razor, that’s it bud), that I am definitely not one of them…the ‘them’ being their intended audience of posh social creatures with more money than they know how to spend. Until I see this:

This. Note, WITH WRAPAROUND LOGO which apparently is further inducement. Why? The whole thing is perplexing. Click to zoom.

Yeah, a blow-in card. Totally banal, you see them in every magazine. But to this magazine, a deadly prick to the finger, a thematic spindle-wound. This mundane little slip of cardstock totally deflated the ‘imagine I’m wealthy’ bubble crafted by this magazine. Think about it…why would some Hamptons-vacationing, globetrotting stylish sophisticate care about getting a free TOTE BAG as temptation to blow an entire $15 (per annum!) on a magazine subscription? Is this because the rich don’t actually send for their own subscriptions? One of the help sends in these little cards and collects the bag? I don’t know, maybe that’s so, I’ve never had help (I am the help at my house–plumbing, electrical, gardening, cleaning you name it). But meanwhile, every time I look at this posh magazine and its glossy displays for products I don’t even comprehend, I think of that crass little commercial come-on…and the image crumbles.

Author: H.W. MacNaughton

Technologist and communicator. Into technology, jazz, Formula One, sci-fi and any good writing about real stuff.

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