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September 25, 2009

Vanity Fair's Disappearing Demographic

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

My wife subscribes to Vanity Fair magazine, but I don't bother reading it. It has a rep as an upscale gossip rag, so maybe I'm missing something each month. Oh well, I don't read most magazines and surely miss a whole lot of really good stuff, so my Vanity Fair information loss falls into the statistical noise category.

One thing that interests me about the magazine is how often it features members of the Kennedy family. Consider the current issue:

Vanity Fair cover - October, 2009

Nancy tells me the Jackie article has to do with the trials William Manchester endured trying to write and get published a book about John Kennedy requested by Jackie. I imagine there's drama involved, but the matter is surely little more than a footnote to the Kennedy saga.

Despite such barrel-scraping, editor Graydon Carter continues to include articles about the clan year after year.

I suppose all those number-crunching folks at Condé Nast have reams of findings supporting the notion that Kennedys on the cover equal great news stand sales. Still, I have the oddball notion that the Kennedys are pretty passé from the newsmaking standpoint, especially since Teddy has gone on to whatever reward he merits.

Furthermore, Americans who have even a borderline adult personal memory of JFK's Camelot administration are Carter's age and older (he turned 60 this past summer). In the TV biz, audiences older than 50 tend to be disregarded; so what's Carter up to? Reliving the passions of his adolescence? Obeying rock-solid market research findings?

Beats me. Moreover [assumes jaded expression, flicks dandruff speck off shoulder] I can't quite bring myself to care.



posted by Donald at September 25, 2009


I've wondered the same thing. Esquire does this too. I have no interest in any of them. Camelot means nothing to me and I don't think Jackie was all that good looking.

But, they were rich. They owned Yachts. Presumably Vanity Fair readers aspire to Martha's Vineyard set.

You put it very nicely - VF is totally a gossip mag for the rich.

Posted by: Ed on September 25, 2009 1:50 PM

For the Manolo, the recent death of Dominick Dunne means that he no longer has any reason to read Vanity Fair.

Posted by: Manolo the Shoeblogger on September 25, 2009 2:08 PM

Not that I've looked through copies of Vanity Fair with any frequency, but it's my impression that the target market is probably in the 30-45 age range, or a bit older. Not the sort of people who'd have personal JFK memories.

Posted by: Peter on September 25, 2009 2:52 PM

Oh, the Manolo would make a perfect Blowhard!

Posted by: Pupu on September 25, 2009 8:37 PM

I'm not old enough to remember the Kennedy adminstration, but our elders,the nuns who taught us, seemed to constantly hold out Princess Grace and especially Jackie as role models. Can't imagine VF profitting much on the Catholic demographic though.

Posted by: Bradamante on September 26, 2009 9:01 AM

I have often wondered the same thing. I have been a poretty regular reader of VF, as they sometimes have some good stuff, but pass right buy the kennedy stuff. The journal combines a sort of 60s nostalgia with a Hollywood of ther 30s obsession. I like to think of it as a royalty mag for a democratic nations - it portays our "betters" to us, and so is interesting as a sociological study of who people like Carter think are worth profiling.

Posted by: Gerald on September 26, 2009 10:51 AM

I open Vanity Fair occasionally when I'm browsing in the local Barnes & Noble. In terms of layout and general attractiveness it's the best celebration of the rich and famous mag out there, IMO. Maybe you're interested in the doings of the beautiful people and maybe you're not. Either way there's such a thing as class and VF's got it.

I think Jackie is a special case ala Marilyn (you don't even have to add Monroe) and Marlon (ditto the Brando). They still fascinate. And not just us fossils.

Posted by: ricpic on September 26, 2009 9:55 PM

In 1840s America, you might pick up The Dial and see headlined within the latest essays and poems by Emerson and Thoreau. A decade later, a brand-new monthly called Harper's, an entire six-month bound volume of which, second-hand, will run you even today the price of one issue of Vanity Fair, serialized with woodcuts of stunning intricacy the latest novel by Charles Dickens, often gaining the rights from its English counterparts doing likewise, Household Words and All the Year Round. Meanwhile, half a world away in Russia, Nekrasov's journal The Contemporary leapt into print with the vivid dispatches from the siege of Sevastopol of the young Leo Tolstoy. Out of London in the 1950s came Encounter, a single issue of which might feature historical reflections from Hugh Trevor-Roper and Isaiah Berlin, investigations in philosophy by A.J. Ayer and Stuart Hampshire and Sidney Hook, and poetry from Stephen Spender, Boris Pasternak, and the young Josef Brodsky.

So it was with the greatest of pride that National Review readers in the age of Bush, building on two millennia of PROGREff IN THE DIVERf UfEFUL ARTf & fCIENCEf AffEMBLED, THAT NOBLE TORCHBEARING PROMETHEUf MIGHT PROVE A LIGHT UNTO Uf ALL FROM OUT OUR IMMEMORIAL DARKNEff, YEAH., opened their Christmas stockings to a cover bearing a caricature of George Clooney and the banner "Get Over Yourself, George", while their cousins from "across" the "political" "spectrum" enjoyed 12 issues per annus horibilis of a journal styling itself in "unwitty" self-parody as Vanity Fair, each issue reading for all the world as though it had been edited by Charlie Rose with an undertaking grant from the Floored Foundation.

Albert Jay Nock, "The Decline of Conversation", in On Doing the Right Thing and Other Essays:

THE more one thinks of it, the more one finds in Goethe's remark that the test of civilization is conversation. The common method of rating the civilization of peoples by what they have got and what they have done is really a poor one; for some peoples who have got much and done a great deal strike one at once as less civilized than others who have got little and done little. Prussia, for example, was relatively a poor State a century ago, while fifteen years ago it was rich and active 5 yet one would hardly say that the later Prussia was as civilized a country as the Prussia of Frederick's time. Somewhat the same might be said of Tudor England and modern England. The civilization of a country consists in the quality of life that is lived there, and this quality shows plainest in the things that people choose to talk about when they talk together, and in the way they choose to talk about them...

Posted by: Scott Lahti on September 26, 2009 9:58 PM

Don't you get it? Jackie Kennedy is the white Michelle Obama.

Seriously,now that Dominick Dunne is gone, why read it? (And I have subscribed 15+ years).

Posted by: aggieann on September 28, 2009 1:28 PM

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