The New Yorker's Advertisements

The New Yorker's affluent cosmopolitan readers aspired to know things and desired to possess them. The magazine was aimed at an audience who had enough disposable income to purchase luxury items, but had probably not inhierited them. The upper-middle class professionals who read the magazine embraced trans-Atlantic crossings, horse races, expensive furs, imported spirits, exotic vacations, club memberships and monogrammed luggage as necessary props of civilized adult social life. Advertisers guided the status conscious audience through the marketplace by suggesting that their choices could set them apart from the common herd who bought inexpensive, poorly made, tasteless objects.

Elite consumerism was as much a measure of one's worldliness as intellectual enlightenment. The magazine projected an overarching belief in the use of affluence to benefit the whole society. Possessions translated into proof of a successful relationship to the world of goods. Readers engaged with questions about the condition of the world believed that it was part of their duty as an affluent elite to watch over it. The combination of advertisements for elite consumer goods with more substantial fare depicting some of the world's more disturbing features transmitted a version of the real world that appealed to the magazine's upper-middle class readers. The changes in the outside world during the 1930s were reflected in the magazine's humor, cartoons, journalism, and fiction. These elements shared an earthiness that suited the troubling times, often looking down on the depressed American economy and the war-torn world. Advertisements, though, continued to present a climate conducive to consumption for those who could still afford to take part in big city elite culture. "The New Yorker possessed an almost magical authority. The magazine lay claim to being the voice of an intellectual which readers' most compelling urges - to know about and possess elite goods and services and to be citizens of a truly progressive society - could coexist peacefully. For many readers, the magazine's appeal was that it furnished them with an apparently seamless version of the world of consumption and social engagement they wished to inhabit."

The nature of the magazines readership set it apart. Advertisers in the metropolitan magazine could reach a sizable number of well-to-do consumers in the New York area with far less expense and wasted circulation than they could through metropolitan newspapers or through national magazines. Vogue, which had 28,000 readers in New York, would cost $1,500 for a page advertisement; the same amount of space in The New Yorker, with half of its 125,000 readers residing in the metropolitan area, cost $850. The advertising community took heed, making The New Yorker one of the top three American magazines in number of pages sold in every year between 1927 and 1940. Interestingly, it was first only once, in 1934.

This is very likely attributable to the repeal of Prohibition the year before. According to an internal New Yorker document, liquor advertising represented about 17 percent of the 1934 gross profit and 40 percent of the increased volume. Plentiful advertisements of this kind portrayed the proper consumption of alcohol as an agent of social transformation. The New Yorker was born into a world where high drinking in defiance of Prohibition was a sign of social acumen. The era view of alcohol consumption as an elegant and rebellious act continued to inform New Yorker depictions well after the repeal, illustrating alcohol as the chief lubricant of civilized life. Advertisements portrayed the consumption of alcohol as an aristocratic pastime - placing the drinker on the same level as the polo players, hostesses, and clubmen who shared their excellent taste in liquor. This one promoting Lord Calvert whiskey "for you who can afford the finest," satisfied the snobbery and prudence of the readers while commodifying their elite culture.

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