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A couple of days ago, I happened to be poking around RationalWiki, and I came across an article describing a magazine called The Conservative Teen. No, this isn’t an Onion article.
And no, that’s not from a Something Awful or Cracked photoplasty contest.
Apparently, what happened was a bunch of middle-aged to old rich white men realised that youngsters were increasingly turning to worldviews and holding opinions that postdated the 1950s, and decided to try and regain the youth with something that appeals to them – a glossy magazine printed on dead trees!
No, I’m not kidding. Cripes, I haven’t even gotten my introduction over and I’m already ranting about their idiocy. You know, while I generally think technology is awesome, I find myself preferring lower-tech things to a surprising extent. For example, I like novels, yet own exactly one ebook. I didn’t get an mp3 player until 2010, and on the rare occasions I buy music, I still get it on CD. I have bought no more than five things online, ever. I don’t own a tablet, and my mobile is of the non-smart variety. I read The Irish Times, Scientific American, Linux Format, 2000 AD, Judge Dredd Megazine, CLiNT, and sometimes Heavy Metal, all in dead tree format. I do not own a tablet. (I also don’t have a Facebook account, but at this point that’s more a matter of pride). And yet, for all that, I can see how this venture was doomed to failure.
Kids today don’t read magazines. Newsstand sales of magazines, as well as newspapers and comics, are dwindling. Sure, the existing stalwarts will soldier on for a good long while, but all print media everywhere is shifting to electronic distribution (which leaves those of us with limited Internet access in the cold). Modern teenagers read things on their tablets, or possibly laptops; they do not buy paper magazines in newsagents. So, what the creators of this thing ”should” have done was create an iPad app, like a bunch of other magazines have done to considerable success. Apple, with its ban on porn, insanely evil controlling nature, cynical exploitation of the hard work of others, and near-mandatory adulation of the word of a semi-mythological figure, would seem to be a perfect fit for the sort of person who makes a magazine called The Conservative Teen.
But anyway, the magazine launched in, I think, January. It was mostly ignored by shoppers, but went memetic online; the Internet found out about it, and responded by pointing and laughing. In response, the publisher took down their website and tried to avoid mentioning that it had ever existed. However, the damage had been done, and there are a bunch of mocking articles scattered all over the webwebs. However, most of those only describe the silliness in general, in a fairly short space. I intend to read every word in this magazine to get a good, in-depth probe of modern American conservatism.
At this point, I should probably mention that I am a 26-yeat-old Irish liberal socialist with a university degree who is about to lose a job due to circumstances beyond my control. I’m heterosexual, but would be willing to have sex with a dude if he was handsome and we both understood it was just for fun and there would be no romantic relationship (but hey, we can still be friends). I am also an insufferable nerd and thus I can’t guarantee I won’t go off on a tangent about why you should use free (as in freedom) software. As for the questions that matter to the Internet: Macs are PCs you idiot, Linux, Cinnamon, Emacs, Marvel, dubs, Obama, if the mother’s life is in danger, absolutely, yes, no, and no but that’s just me.
So, now you know my biases, let’s begin.
Many electrons have been spilled mocking how incredibly Aryan these kids look. (Fun fact – the actual Aryans are Iranian. Hitler just appropriated the word at the same time he stole the swastika). However, while the cover does nothing to dispel the idea that conservatives are a bunch of racists, it isn’t really that bad in and of itself. Go to any newsagent, or the magazine section of a supermarket. You’ll see that, unless a lifestyle magazine is targeted at gay men or is specifically about men’s health, there is an 88% probability that it has an attractive young white woman on it. Indeed, Vogue made a big deal a few years ago about having an issue where every single model was black; I suspect that was the first ever issue to have a black cover model. So The Conservative Teen is actually not being racist here; it’s just reflecting the standard trend in lifestyle magazines.
However, this doesn’t change the fact that nobody could possibly want to be friends with these kids. Not even me, and I’m a lonely, bitter, socially awkward misanthrope who has no friends and has never had a girlfriend, but who is not so cynical as to think that people automatically suck. Seriously, look at these kids. They have that smug, entitled look of people who were born into wealth and made more money by exploiting the system as it exists, and think that they deserve everything they have. And the clothes. Great Lugh, they suck. They’re so exaggeratedly ”wholesome” and ”clean-cut”; you just know that if these kids ever accidentally (it would have to be an accident because nobody is ever going to invite them) ended up at a house party, they would spend the entire time sniffing indignantly and looking down their noses at everybody having fun and wearing nifty clothes.
I also note that this issue is dated Winter 2011. This issue hit the newsstands in late December 2011 or early January 2012. To paraphrase Morbo, MAGAZINE PUBLISHING DOES NOT WORK THAT WAY! The date on the cover is the date the issue is ”removed” from the newsstands, not the day it appears.
I would at this point like to clarify that I have not done more than lightly scroll through my PDF copy. I have no idea of the actual content is. With that in mind, I am going to keep count of instances of blatant incompetence. Each instance is equal to one Morbo. Current Morbo count: 1.
I also notice that the mag’s title is written in red and blue, and there’s white in the background. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was a deliberate attempt to subtly make the cover look American.
Wait a minute. The girl is wearing blue, the dude is in red, and they’re both white. My Ra! These are literally the all-American kids!
Above the title, we read that this magazine is “Fostering conservative values * Countering liberal bias”
Sweet Haruhi, there is so much wrong with that. Teenagers, being teenagers, really don’t like being told what to do, so the line about fostering conservative values will immediately drive away any who happened to give it a second look after seeing the title. Furthermore, people don’t actually read magazines for the outright purpose of having a wordview reinforced; they generally read them for information. For example, I read Scientific American to find out about recent scientific discoveries, and Linux Format to find out what’s going on in open source. I used to read Cube for news about Nintendo, and to decide if games were worth getting or not. That’s the same reason people read all video game and media magazines. People read Hello and the like to find out what celebrities are up to, Prudence to see how to save money, Vogue to find out what is fashionable, ”Cosmopolitan” to find out how to have better sex, and lads’ mags to find out what various young women look like in their underwear and/or naked after being photoshopped to be hotter.
People do not buy magazines with the aim of having a specific viewpoint or political orientation presented to them. Now, one could argue that a given magazine does have a certain slant; Forbes, for example, appears to be conservative, but people read it not for the conservatism, but to find out interesting things about money.
And really? ”Fostering”? So the point is to emphasise and nurture ideas that already exist? Kind of limiting yourself there, as you’ve just alienated all the liberal teens by telling them that they are the wrong sort of person to read this magazine. Since this appears to be openly conservative propaganda, one would expect the writers to want liberal kids to read it in order to convert them to conservatism.
But in fact, the word fostering is clearly there to encourage parents to get this for their kids. Real smooth move there, guys. Teenagers don’t like things their parents think is cool (unless it’s music from the 60s and later, possibly), so even those that might be conservative are going to be wary of this. And getting a magazine from your parents? Not cool.
Then there’s ‘Countering liberal bias’. OK, let’s say there is a liberal bias in the media. want to counter it? Excellent!
But you’re doing it wrong. This magazine is called The Conservative Teen, and the previous half of the tagline on which I have just written four paragraphs states outright that its purpose is to spread a conservative viewpoint – in other words, it is declaring that it will fight liberal bias with conservative bias. What is this, Conservapedia?
No, conservatives, the way to combat bias is with neutrality. The fact that they are nakedly claiming to fight bias with bias presents a false dilemma that is all too common in today’s world. These people feel that if one does not have a liberal bias, one must have a conservative bias, without ever considering that neutrality can be a thing. It’s like how Apple’s horrible “I’m a Mac and I’m a PC” ad campaign cast all other PCs as a single, homogenous group that automatically ran Windows, thus simultaneously reducing a wide and varied hardware landscape to a choice of two things, while also sneakily denying the existence of Linux, BSD, and Amiga (yes, Amiga is still around), which suited them, because Apple’s entire campaign was based around not being Microsoft, and the existence of third options utterly undermines their message that being sick of Windows is a good reason to get Mac. Microsoft did a response campaign, proclaiming the greatness of ‘PCs’, which ignores the fact that a) Macs are PC and b) not all PCs run Windows; Apple’s portrayal of the two of them as the only competitors suites Microsoft very well, as it meant they could ignore and avoid having people find out about alternatives that actually work.
This same thing is seen in American political discourse. There appears to me to exist an inability to see more than two options in any political situation. For example, if one isn’t a Democrat, they must be a Republican, without considering that they may be Dracula. Or, since communism is a form of socialism, people conclude that all socialism is communism and that it is therefore evil. This also manifests in an annoying tendency to lump together all forms of capitalism, whether it be capitalism with some restrictions and regulation to protect workers from employers, or laissez-faire capitalism as beloved of libertarians and objectivists, which would be just as horrible as communism. Heck, people are even going atheist because they see what the religious right gets up to and conclude that religious automatically means jerk.
This in turns seems to derive from America’s use of first past the post voting. FPTP tends to result in a two-party system because people who might support a minority party don’t vote for their favourite party, but rather for one of the biggest parties which they disagree with the least, on the grounds that this will keep out the parties they actively dislike. Since the smaller parties don’t get votes, they shrivel and die, leaving a situation where there are only two parties in the country, and the choice is between one of the two.
This results in a situation where one has to choose between one of two positions, which end up being labelled as liberal and conservative. This leads to some pretty major grouthink for two reasons. Firstly, there is a human tendency to pay more attention to people we already agree with and to be more critical of those we disagree with. Hence, liberals take the Democrats more seriously, while conservatives pay more attention to Republicans. Secondly, since nobody wants to support a party they dislike, there is a tendency to rationalise one’s choice and decide that one really does agree with the party platform, regardless of what it may be, because one voted for them.
With such a situation, where the only real choice is between Democrats and Republicans, political ads end up looking like this shit.
Taken at face value, this ad gives me good reason not to vote for Romney. But why then should I vote for Obama? There’s nothing in here about why Obama is good, just that Romney is a jerk.
This doesn’t happen where other voting systems are in place, such as instant runoff voting. IRV means that people can vote for the person they like, and also give a second preference vote to someone they don’t like as much but has a better chance of winning. This in turn results in smaller parties getting more votes and thus mattering more, and thus voters have much more choice. This means that there is no negative press – sure, you could make an ad attacking another candidate, and you might even persuade some people not to vote for that guy, but it won’t persuade them to vote for you, since there could easily be someone they’d rather support. Furthermore, if all your campaigning is based on how much others suck, it turns people away from you, since you haven’t actually given people any reason to support you.
On that note, the most prominent article shown on the cover is entitled Hot Air and Cold Facts: Of Liberal Media Bias. See my last several paragraphs for a discussion of what is wrong with this notion.
Related to the subject of enforced binaries, the headline in the bottom right corner is “Why Abstinence Works”, because an article about not having sex has massive appeal for teenagers. OK, guys, the debate here is not between teaching abstinence and not teaching abstinence. A proper sex education programme as supported by liberals actually does clearly state that teenagers should ideally avoid having sex at all. However, liberals recognise that some teens are going to shag anyway, because they’re teenagers, and so we should teach them about contraception so that if they do happen to have sex, the probability of STDs and unwanted pregnancies is minimised. This in turn will reduce the number of abortions, and isn’t that something you want?
And speak of Hades, right above that headline is one entitled “Why the Unborn Need Our Protection.” Dammit American right-wingers, stop sharing views with me, it makes me look bad. I should also note that while American conservatives go out of their way to prevent abortions, and then do everything in their power to deprive babies of a reasonable standard of living after they’re born. That’s rather hypocritical, and is an idea that I’m sure I will be ranting about far more once we hit the inside of the issue.
The other prominent article is “Welcome to to the Debt-Paying Generation”. Right, because teenagers are ”really” concerned about that. Seriously guys, a 16-year-old who works at McDonald’s after school thinks that getting $150 (I have no idea what the current going rate might be but this looked about right) a week is awesome. Sure, they might not like taxes, but for the most part they haven’t known what things were like during the boom years. Oh, wait, sorry, I was thinking of Ireland – taxes haven’t gone up in America because the Republicans kept blocking any increases.
The idea of paying of sovereign debt is a somewhat abstract notion that teenagers are at best vaguely aware of. This is not the sort of headline that will attract readers. I have more to say on this, but I figure I should save at least a little for the articles themselves.
Right, well, that’s quite enough on the cover. Next update, I’ll say something about the actual contents.