Something that’s been at the back of my mind as I’ve been going through these old periodicals is, what would a nutty academic in the year 2160 think about our world if she were to do a similar project to mine? First of all, I’m glad I’m not her! I couldn’t imagine doing a representative cross-section of non-newspaper periodicals for our current moment, let alone all the other forms of media we’ve got. Thinking about circulation numbers–what magazine would have the largest circulation today? Would the researcher include things like Maxim? Don Diva? Is Us Weekly more representative than Harper’s? Readership is a lot more fragmented and segregated in the twenty-first century, and if something’s “general-interest,” that probably means it’s something that white people are interested in.
So, basically, I’m wondering if my methodology, which has been taking circulation figures into account might be potentially misleading. Yes, tons of people read the Family Herald, but tons of people read supermarket celebrity magazines too. If our brave twenty-second century scholar were to flip through the pages of Us Weekly, would that be getting a more representative picture of our society? Yes she would–and it’s a weird feeling for me, since she might have a more comprehensive understanding of American culture in 2010 than I would. (Well, that’s not too hard to imagine, since I only find out about stuff that happens in New York City if it makes it across the pond to the Guardian.) Still, I think the boundaries were less rigid between the periodical strata. The London Journal, for example, always included bad jokes from Punch. People’s and Howitt’s Journal took stuff from Athenaeum. Eliza Cook’s Journal quotes from the Edinburgh Review and Blackwood’s. It’s very much a semipermeable membrane, though. The monthlies and quarterlies considered the more humble, much more widely read publications (or bought, at least) beneath their notice. I guess the analogy would be, let’s say the New York Times was widely and respectfully quoted by Fox News and talk radio. On the other hand, we might know of those more popular media outlets, but we wouldn’t even bother fighting the crap that O’Reilly and Beck and Limbaugh pollute the airwaves with. Or–it would reflect the amount of coverage of people-of-colour-targeted media within the mainstream (i.e. white) news.