March 8, 2005
The End of an Era
For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to subscribe to The National Geographic (TNG.) This desire became a reality when I married by wife Heather. Evidently her parents believe that its an important part of their duty to provide a window into the the architectural and historical origins of civilization. I applaud this effort, but mostly just because it provides me with a free subscription to a publication I have always been interested in. While my interest in TNG has change a great deal from the time I was in the third grade, looking to find uncensored images of young females from some unknown tribe of recently found nudists living on the exact opposite site of planet from my Catholic grade school; my respect for the magazine has not changed. That is, until recently.
Each month my (I say my because I find that I generally have a great deal more interest in the TNG than any other immediate member of my family) brown grocery bag covered periodical arrives at my door and I eagerly open it, peer at the cover, and flip through a the magazine that I will, no doubt, read cover to cover at my next available bathroom break. A couple months ago I ripped open the paper cover to discover a startling headline.. “Was Darwin Wrong?” No, I am not kidding. TNG has placed the question of the origin of species in large bold print on the cover of their magazine. Obviously TNG would not have done so unless some startling new evidence was brought to light by a team of world renounced scientists that questioned the validity of Charles postulate. I skipped right over my usual reading routine and tore open to the page referenced by the aforementioned articled headline; and their in black and white was my answer… NO! The article when on to talk about evolution in animal species around the world.
Now I am being totally serious here. The National Geographic, a mainstay of international intelligence had printed up a “National Enquirer” style headline to inform me that the status quo had NOT change in our understanding of evolution. And they had done so to push a interesting (if not mediocre) article on evolution.
Now I wish I could say this was a single abnormality, but recently I have found that this same type of occurrence (although seldom quite as dramatic) is happening with startling regularity. For example, last months issue had a cover story that appeared on news stands but was not shipped as the default cover story to subscribers. I thought my TNG copy of “The Great Gray Owl” was a wonderful article, but was dumbstruck to find sitting on the new stand at Albertson’s, “Tales from a Nazi Ghost Ship.” I went home to find that, indeed, the “Nazi Ghost Ship” article was in my copy of TNG; but it was not so prominently displayed on the cover (being only in small white type at the bottom.) I read the articles pertaining to the “Nazi Ghost Ship.” The articles were wonderfully interesting, and spectacularly written; but had absolutely nothing to do with Ghosts. In fact the “on location” photographers didn’t even see any skeletons because of their desire to be respectful to the remains of the sunken WWII ship. Evidently being sunk is cause enough for a ship to earn the title “ghost ship.” Funny how I had always assumed that ghost != ship.
I guess this really started back about a year ago. Some of you may remember that TNG came out with a “special” (special meaning that it was not shipped to subscribers and thus could only be bought on news stands.) The “special” was (and I-shit-you-not) a TNG swim suite issue! The inside articles and photography has swim suites from around the world, from dozens of different cultures. It was NOT a bad publication, definitely not worthy of being a “special”, but not a bad magazine. However, the front cover of this no-nonsense, reliable, bastion of cultural integrity; was a VERY attractive, VERY California looking woman with three shells covering the three most important FCC locations. The “bathing suite” btw was not a suite that was particularly common amongst any indigenous peoples subgroup anywhere in the world (nor could it even be purchased at the time), it was custom made for that particular photo shoot.
The point I am making is that I had always hoped that TNG was somehow immune to the sensationalism that seems to have overtaken our culture. A publication that you could always count on to be a beacon of consistency for cultural, architectural, and historical reference. For the last 100 years or so TNG has been exactly that. There was once a time where I was in awe of a magazine that was so accurate in its depictions of world cultures that it was willing to show nudity (during the 50′s and 60′s no less) if that was the standard for that culture. Now it wouldn’t be enough to present the reality of the culture; it would, undoubtedly, be prominently displayed. And we are all the less because of it.