Last night as I paged through the new issue of the New Yorker, dated 26 November, I felt like I was reading a dispatch from the one-percenters who run the American economy, take far more than their fair share of American income, and lately have ruined American politics.
Let me state first that I love the magazine. I have been reading it for more than 55 years, since I learned to read partly by loocking at its cartoons with my grandmother in her garden. My beginning as a writer was reading the articles of John McPhee when I was teenager. I’ve subscribed to the magazine for decades, and once tried to get a lifetime subscription. My heart still lifts when I find each week’s edition in my mailbox.
Today I consider its reporting one of the four essential things to read to understand the state of the nation, the other three being The Atlantic, the New York Times and the Washington Post. The New Yorker especially has set the agenda in certain areas, with Jane Mayer’s reporting first on official US torture after 9/11 and then, more recently, on the role of right-wing money in American politics. Ronan Farrow’s revelations about sexual assaults by powerful men have also brought about the beginnings of a change in our culture.
But as I paged through the magazine I saw something else. Every few pages there was a contradiction, a message from another America. Those were the advertisements. Reading them is like receiving dispatches from the oligarchy. They are prettied up, to be sure – they are not the oligarchy as it is, but as it would like to see itself. But they describe the state of our culture all too well. Future historians may do well to pay more attention to them than to the news columns of the magazine.