Saturday, May 12, 2007

The New Yorker's covers about the ascent of man -- and the luxury cars he drives

I've always been both conflicted and beguiled by the contradictory double vision of The New Yorker. On the one hand, they offer some of the most incisive commentary we have about the social and environmental downsides of our advanced capitalist economy based on consumption and energy waste, an economy that pursues material acquisition with all the finesse of an out-of-control machine. On the other hand, their seductive ad pages help fuel that same consumption machine and help make sure it keeps humming right along. Spend too much time thinking about it and it just makes your head spin.

They really outdid themselves with their new three-part cover by Bruce McCall, titled "The Ascent of Man." This play on the old Darwinian phrase brilliantly portrays humanity evolving from the Stone Age into an ever more energy intensive way of life, which becomes a huge machine rushing through the pages of history, finally spinning out of control in the last panel, shown here (click photo to enlarge). You can see all three pages flip by in succession on the magazine's contents page. Bruce McCall is one of the magazine's quirkier contributors in both words and pictures, and this is a masterful visual portrayal of where our heedless consumption of energy is taking us.

But look at who's advertising on the alternating pages. It's Lexus extolling the evolution of their contribution to life on this planet, culminating with their luxury SUV hybrid RXh on the final spread. No, not a Prius. A big, honking 270-horsepower behemoth that's more about sheer power and performance than saving the planet. With a clean, spare layout featuring a gracefully arching flowering sprig that also sprouts miniature molecules that may or may not have something to do with emissions controls, the presentation elegantly presents this SUV as the peak of automotive evolution, the epitome of environmental friendliness. The ad copy is cleek and seductive.
Proof that nature and progress can coexist comfortably.
Very, very comfortably.
This is luxury hybrid.
This is the pursuit of perfection.
But is it? Evironmentalists don't think so.
"ONE question lingers after driving the 2006 Lexus RX 400h: How did it come to this, that Toyota is now selling a hybrid gas-electric vehicle with no tangible fuel economy benefits? In my test-driving, the Lexus hybrid, which is based on the gasoline-only RX 330, did not achieve better mileage than the 2005 RX 330 that I drove for comparison. My hybrid tester's window sticker did boast a federal mileage rating of 31 miles per gallon in the city and 27 on the highway, compared with just 18 and 24 for the RX without the hybrid drivetrain. But the government's testing procedure has a habit - one that seems to be exaggerated with hybrids - of rendering fuel economy numbers as relevant to the real world as national energy policies have been to actually reducing dependence on foreign oil. Speaking of which, isn't that what hybrids are all about: conservation, improved fuel economy, weaning the nation off its oil habit? Perhaps not any longer."
Like they say, there will always be a New Yorker. Just as there will always be people smart enough to see exactly where we're headed, and rich enough not to give a damn.

1 comment:

Dr Diablo said...

I don't know why you're so baffled, MadGuy. The answer to your puzzled question is lurking between the lines of the very post that poses it.

The NEW YORKER's primary audience consists of affluent middle-class folks who make money at crass endeavors, such as, say, floating the IPOs of crumby companies. However, they do not want to be thought philistines or to think such thoughts about themselves.

The NEW YORKER has always occupied a cherished spot on the coffee tables of yuppies, who feel that it lends tone to both the room and its occupants. The NEW YORKER makes its subscribers feel that they appreciate the finer things, support the arts, and cast a cold eye on the doings of mainstream America, and a grand feeling that is, however unjustified. Former employees of the magazine feed right into this sense of its specialness with their endless reminiscences of one another. Ross, Shawn, EB, Thurber--one could go on and on, and often does.

I am not saying that the NEW YORKER is not a good magazine, which it sometimes is. However, it has always been known for publishing material that goes down easy with the Lexus set. A quick thumb through any issue tells you that is aimed at the self-indulgent affluent, who may be reading it while he drinks fine cognac from an expensive snifter, looking up when moved by an especially arresting passage of the Vivaldi in the background.

If you want real denunciations of the social order and don't want it surrounded by ads for consumer junk that undercuts the text, THE DAILY WORKER is the periodical for you.