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Monday, June 11, 2018


Failure comes to everything, eventually.  Ideas simply stop working.  Fashionable notions find their days and dim, replaced by others.  Only ideals and needs endure—and each time will find some vehicle for each.  It’s not always a happy process, but it is the essence of progress.

We have covered half-life’s here before: ideas which come back as nostalgia items or are repurposed for a new need.  There are more horses being kept in this country than ever before. And not a one of them has an actual use.  Even cowboys drive trucks. They’ve come back as pets, affordable pastimes for the rural-inclined. It’s the biggest comeback ever, if the numbers are right.

Sadly, not everything which has outlived its utility is finding a place in our world. Our beat here is the magazine, in general, and pulp fiction, in specific.  Pulp fiction is doing well and will probably never die. Most of what is currently passing for entertainment in big time media has its roots in pulp fiction. Its previous container, the magazine, however is on a straight downward trajectory with no uptick potential evident.  Gossip and fashion are holding on, but everything else seems to be on the endangered species listing.

We previously covered the death of Newsweek in these pages. After a series of tragic-comic fits, America’s second favorite news weekly bit the dust as any sort of going concern.  It is now a cult’s trademark, used sporadically to dress up oddball stand-alone publications (which we have dubbed neo-pulps) and give credibility to a website which deserves none.  It’s a new vampire stage, an existence predicated on the desire to fool the unwary.

I fear Time Magazine, the last of the news weeklies, is now heading down the same wobbly path Newsweek did in its death throws. Let me make this clear: Time was never in all that exalted of a position to begin with.  Although they have shied away from sensationalism or the plastering of celebrities on pages, Time long ago developed a penchant for stunts. Time will raise stupid issues. Time will create controversy. Time invented the ‘stunt issue’ with their Man of The Year branding and listings of the world’s most influential, powerful people. The only thing that keeps them from doing a swimsuit issue is that its parent firm also owns Sports Illustrated.

Selling the cover, however, is sort of a new low. Sometime back we covered Conde Nast’s seeming attempt to break into the advertorial market with the creation of a magazine custom tailored for a specific advertiser. It was sent free, as additive material, to the subscribers of Conde Nast’s many fine periodicals.  All in all, it was a fairly nice magazine, a bonus, a fine value-added proposition for all involved. This is not. This is being a whore. This is sending me junk mail in place of the magazine I have subscribed to.

There is nothing newsworthy about drones. As a class of items, they have done nothing interesting lately of note. They are not new, even as a subclass of little radio-controlled helicopters. Even their commercial deployment and other attempts to figure out how to make money on what is essentially a toy is old hat at this point. Other than their possible future use as a method of tracking me down and killing me, there is nothing relevant or interesting about them. Moreover, even as a method of my potential demise, the subject is dated. People have already been killed by drones. Thousands of them, in fact. So what’s the sudden buzz? Other than Intel parting with cash in your direction?

Time’s one-time stable-mate Life Magazine has similarly been guided to some lesser stage of existence. Few living people have ever seen an actual regularly issued copy of Life Magazine. It went into some sort of stasis field about the time everyone got a color television. It has been intermittently revived as a brand for vo-tech libraries, oldies collections and coffee table takes on short subjects. It was a leader in the neo-pulp field until recently, shovelwaring out old coffee table book contents in magazine form. Here we see it in the form where a cow turd becomes indistinguishable from mud, the heretofore unheralded harmonic convergence of the neo-pulp and the coloring book.

That’s right. It’s a coloring book. It’s not a flippy book coloring book—otherwise I would have immediately ascended, achieving critic’s nirvana, and thus I am here to recount this. I did not believe it at first. Mind you, Life has already done tours as a Sunday section (like Parade) and as a shill for crosswords and word finds. I saw the ‘LIFE’ logo and did not make any connection to the fine world of adult coloring. It could have as easily been related to LIFE the breakfast treat or LIFE the board game. The cause for being a coloring book is stated as ‘inspirational coloring book’. I kid you not. The inside is a coloring book, done in the style for adults, but not particularly inspirational as it is architectural. The connection to LIFE, the once magazine, is that the artist of the coloring book is drawing scenes of buildings which were previously photographed in Life. She’s drawing the same subjects. Cow turd is now mud indeed.

This is what happens when you rehash something so many times that people forget what was originally attractive about it. Hint: in Life’s case, it had giant full color photographs of interesting stuff. When you take  the ‘giant’, ‘full color’ and ‘photograph’ out of the product, it becomes unclear what Life is supposed to be a brand name for.  Thankfully, the thing seems to be a failure. I picked up my copy at the dollar store—a place for the last sightings of misplaced old brand names.

Han Solo seems to have gone the way of Life also.  Although Han will probably not be mistaken for Solo Cups anytime soon, the fact that he’s the title character in a new Disney movie has escaped the public’s notice. Shades of John Carter Warlord of Mars, no one care. While Disney seems to have scored big with its acquisition of Marvel Comics, the incorporation of the Star Wars properties is petering out. That there aren’t too many shades of difference between John Carter and Marvel and Star Wars gives one pause. The material is rather reflective of each other, pulp fiction John Carter having directly inspired Marvel and Marvel having inspired Star Wars. (Kind of.)

A few things could be happening here. John Carter had numerous strikes against it. It is massively dated material, and not really timeless. (Tarzan and Conan are timeless.) John Carter is a space opera which takes place at the turn of the last century. We’ve been to Mars. No one is there. Of course Edgar Rice Burroughs didn’t know that, but I suspect someone at Disney did. It might have worked a bit better if it was modernized. Put Carter on present day Earth, just as a starter. Move the action to somewhere other than Mars. Otherwise the thing is irrelevant. Marvel’s stuff works because it’s science fiction with a heavy dose of the here and now. Although there isn’t a Marvel character younger than the Star Wars band, having stayed contemporary gives the likes of Spider-man and Thor a continual edge. Star Wars could always overcome its ‘long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’ movie serial trope through the magic of telling new stories—ones people don’t already know the ending to. We know Han Solo dies. We know every interesting thing he’s ever done. How about something new?

We are continuing with the revision of Weird Detective Mystery Adventures and should have a new ‘Living Edition’ online within a month or so. We also have a fiction piece slated as well as a new Pulp History work.

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