Things got a little more lively this week as we started to really get into thinking about how to analyze pulp magazines. Class discussion was fruitful and I was very engaged with how much people pulled from the day’s readings. While we covered both Christine Bold’s introduction to The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture Vol. 6: U.S. Popular Print Culture 1860-1920 and the introduction to Mussell’s Nineteenth-Century Press in the Digital Age, we spent the majority of our discussion working through an anatomical study of Popular Magazine, where people got really into things.
Something that came out of our discussions, which I really carries forward from my initial topic area last week, is the problematic history of pulp magazines. In class last week we discussed the origins of pulp magazines in Dime and Nickel magazines, which were predominantly of a “dangerous” and “sensational” variety, governed by a white and male master narrative.
Pulp magazines, coming out of this tradition, had to struggle to establish themselves as a quality source of reading material, away from the juvenility of the Dime mags. As we see in pulp magazines however, this was not entirely possible to get away from, as a lot of the master narrative elements continued. This is something that is picked up in BioShock Infinite, a game that explores issues of race and class extensively, mirroring issues of the pulp magazine era, while forcing us to analyze our own cultural perspectives (e.g. as explored more fully by Waypoint or HowManyPrincesses).
For now I’d like to hold off on the contemporary comparisons to pulps, and instead focus on the analysis of pulps themselves. As demonstrated by Bold, pulps historically fell into a low culture motif, despite their attempt to remove themselves from the Dime and Nickel days.
While this worked, somewhat, to elevate their cultural status, the dichotomous approach to culture remained a dominant force in their ‘place’ in the world — including in academic study. While ‘high’ culture is as much culture as ‘low’ culture, the social elites have continued to try to defame ‘low’ culture in order to keep social groups separate. This has been a problem for academic study in particular, as often ‘low’ cultural elements have trouble being studied in any depth–believed to be lacking any cultural relevance. Naturally, this is far from the truth.
With a large surge of literate Americans and ease of access to printing via the industrial revolution, pulp magazines became a tool of expression for the public at large. This was not without some sort of control however, that as much as pulps were avenues of expression for the non-elites (especially as more sub-genres developed), so too did they serve to normalize and establish a desirable master narrative of Americana. We saw this clearly when we performed an “anatomical study” on The Popular Magazine from December of 1908.
In this early pulp magazine we found a steady theme of adventure…but only so far. Quite frequently the stories in the magazine conveyed a sense that adventure can be found anywhere for the everyman–even just outside of the city. It is oriented towards this everyman, who is capable of reaching his own potential, if only he tries hard enough (read like traditional Americana or what). The advertisements (at this time) reinforce this theme, with promotions of becoming a better business man, family values, as well as patriotism and nationalism, naturally. This is quite literally laid out at the end of the magazine, where “A Chat With You” leads potential writers into how they should tailor their stories for the magazine. Underpinning these normative performances, we also see simplified and stereotypical representations of People of Colour and immigrants–quite often negative ones at that.
Finally, we took to buying our very own pulp magazines. Searching the e-racks of Ebay, we tried to find an authentic, interesting, and affordable magazine to call our own, and to document for the rest of the term. As a group, we readily decided on a sci-fi theme, as the stories they promised were sure to be entertaining, if only just to see how people saw the future. Luckily, we had a lot of potential options, and settled on a copy of “Amazing Stories” from the mid-1930’s. Sadly we weren’t able to get a synopsis of any of its contents but its cover alone was enough to draw us in. Some sort of squid people rolling people in a Christmas-ornament style orb–what isn’t to love? Here’s hoping its as interesting as its cover suggests–but wasn’t that the hope of all pulp cover art? To draw you in? Well, this one surely has us hooked, and luckily, it follows a nautical theme with “The Maelstrom of Atlantis.”
I’m ready to dive in.