House Style of The New Yorker

Especially in the 1930s when the country was sunk in the Depression and approaching war, whether or not it was intended to reading The New Yorker served to some extent as an escapist measure. Similar to the Broadway Musicals of the 1930s, people could picture a world different from their own, a world of affluence and culture where people were more concerned with the question, "What shall we do this evening?" than "How shall we make ends meet?"

The New Yorker never intended to be a journal of serious social commentary, or to frontally attack the issues of the day. It was purposefully light-hearted and chose to get its message across through caricatures and satires rather than in-depth news reporting. The New Yorker's official myth has come to consist of three main parts: "the eccentric editorial leader, a disorganized and unreliable staff, and unexpected success rewarding creative chaos in the absence of an editorial plan."

The New Yorker became an important part of American popular culture and played a crucial role in developing American comic traditions. The mid-1930s saw the inclusion of American Humor into the Academy as a subject worthy of academic study. It claimed its own right as a discipline, "halfway between folklore and literature." Editors cultivated contributors who specialized in a single mode; there were authors of verse and fiction, artists to create cartoons and idea drawings, and some contributors who could do both, like James Thurber. Tina Brown, who served for a six-year term as editor in the 1990s, described the old New Yorker as "full of mischief, lots of wit, and covers bursting with life." The New Yorker was writing for affluent, young, college-educated urbanites who formed a "visible and potent generation of reader-consumers." In a shift away from traditional folksy, rustic wisdom and humor, the magazine developed a fast-paced, witty, highly cultured and artsy type of humor. This was understandable, since they were recruiting staff members and writers from an exclusive system of networks that included Ivy League universities, elite social circles, and local journalism.

The magazine focused on three main branches. As a news department, there were many stories on sports, personality profiles, and political satire. In the "Talk of the Town" section, carefully selected events occurring around the city were highlighted as "worth going to" and all of the short headline "newsbreaks" were accompanied by brief, wry commentary. In the area of consumer service, writers would discuss fashion, real estate, travel opportunities, and automobiles, anything that was a high class good or service. The critics reviewed the theatre, art and museum exhibitions, and the "current cinema," as well as restaurants and nightlife. The magazine was closely tied to it's namesake city, and sponsored a write-in column entitled "Why I Like New York." Many of the entrants described New York as crowded, filthy, and unhealthy yet found it inconceivable to live anywhere else.

It is interesting that a magazine with such a localized focus attracted such a wide national audience. Much of that phenomenon was due to the fact that The New Yorker offered a new brand of humor that was intelligent and sophisticated, and although it was exclusive, all you had to do was buy a subscription to become a part of that world.


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