Magazines As Entertainers. The Social Role of the American Consumer Magazines. A Blast from Mr. Magazine’s™ Past… Dissertation Entries Part 4March 13, 2015
3. Magazines as Entertainers
Although entertainment was not considered a function of mass communication until late in the fifties when Charles Wright added it to Harold Dwight Lasswell’s three functions, magazine history books have described the role of magazines as entertainers since their earliest years. Wright defined the entertainment role as “communicative acts primarily intended for amusement irrespective of any instrumental effects they might have.”
Benjamin Compaine noted that magazines throughout their history “have provided a wide range of diversion – from sexual escapism to informative pieces on the space programs.” In fact, magazine historians say that for almost two centuries, the eighteenth and nineteenth, the American magazine was the most important entertainment medium available. Unlike other media, magazines did not arise out of necessity. “There was no immediate need for magazine reading,” says John Tebbel. Magazines were a leisure time occupation of the upper classes. This “leisure time occupation” soon spread to reach other classes of the American population, and the role of magazines as entertainers expanded to provide both entertainment and recreation to countless isolated American families in a period where those pleasures were few and far between.
The above information was written in 1983 and is taken from a portion of my dissertation when I was at the University of Missouri-Columbia where I obtained my doctorate in journalism. And while the majority of the material still holds true, things have changed drastically in some areas.
The entertainment factor of magazines figures greatly into the social equation of their role in society. In fact, in 1983, when I wrote my dissertation, some of the biggest magazines on the newsstands were in the entertainment category. It was the year that McDonald’s introduced the Chicken McNugget and the second Cold War was at its height and it was a great year for entertainment reads. Magazines such as:
People – a weekly American magazine of celebrity and human-interest stories, launched in 1974 by Time Inc. With a readership of 46.6 million adults, People has the largest audience of any American magazine.
TV Guide – the weekly American magazine that launched in 1953 and that provides television program listings information as well as television-related news, celebrity interviews and gossip, film reviews, crossword puzzles and in some issues, horoscopes.
Many of these leaders in the entertainment category are still going strong today and some are not, but the connection between magazines, media personalities and the interest and entertainment of the buying public is still just as magnetic as it was in the 1980s.
People love famous people; they love to read about them, learn all the juicy gossip that may or may not be going on in their lives, and they love to discuss them with friends and family.
But media personalities aren’t the only theme when it comes to entertainment magazines; there are crafts, games, hobbies, sports, music, collecting and in today’s niche magazine world; a host of other subject matter that is so spectrally broad that it boggles the mind.
As Tebbel wrote, “There was no immediate need for magazine reading,” I totally concur. And will add, there never will be a “need” for magazine reading. We’re not going to die out as a race if we don’t find out the latest scandal going on in the Kardashian camp, or whether or not Madonna will ever wear Armani again after her embarrassing fall at the Brit Awards, but I counter with this; while those topics and many others may not add years to our life spans in the scheme of things, they do make the dash between our birth and death dates much more interesting and enjoyable simply because they feed a “need” all human beings have: the connection to other human beings.
And that is a major role that entertainment magazines fill: linking one human spirit to another.
Until next week when Mr. Magazine™ sounds off on magazines as initiators…