DRMacIver's Notebook

Attractive People on Magazine Covers as Hermeneutical Marketing

Attractive People on Magazine Covers as Hermeneutical Marketing

From Exuberant Animal by Frank Forencich, page 242:

The images we see on magazine covers are not authentic; they are manufactured. The models, beautiful as they might happen to be at the outset, are simply raw material for the digital hacks who do the ultimate make-over. What we see on the magazine rack are caricatures, not real human beings. They are not us.

No wonder we are confused. No wonder our eyes are out of focus. No wonder everyone looks ugly. By comparison to magazine covers, none of us can come close to measuring up.

Later, on page 243:

In each case, the subliminal message is the same: "Here is what you're supposed to look like. You don't, so now you've got a problem. But if you buy this magazine, and the products advertised in this magazine, you'll have a chance of looking this way, someday." Thus the magazines give a two-pronged marketing approach: create a sense of anxiety and offer a solution, all in one stroke. The strategy is nakedly, shamelessly manipulative.

A couple thoughts sparked immediately from this:

  1. Magazines... those are a boomer thing, right?
  2. Huh, visual hermeneutics.
  3. Huh, the supply of prototypes is a hermeneutic.
  4. Hermeneutics is a great marketing strategy.
  5. There's an interesting market coordination problem here.

"Hermeneutics" means "The Study Interpretation", and "A hermeneutic" is something you use to interpret the world. Also I did say that I see everything as being about hermeneutics.

These were all surprisingly interesting thoughts for a book that I didn't feel like I really got that much out of on my first pass through.

The magazines thing: Magazines still exist, obviously, but this book is from 2006 and I can't tell how much I'm just completely oblivious to the consumption of magazines and how much the world has just genuinely moved on. I feel like social media and youtube and the like have plugged the gap a bit and our supply of visual prototypes of what people are supposed to look like are a bit better than they used to be - still very filtered and aspirational, but not quite the degree of total airbrushing than they used to be then.

The fact that there were purely visual hermeneutics is not something I'd realised before. I tend to think of hermeneutics as quite a verbal thing, because I'm quite a verbal thing, but of course the way we literally look at the world has a huge interpretive element to it. You don't just look at something/someone and then judge after the fact that it's/they're beautiful, beauty is part of how you orient your visual experience of it in the first place.

The use of prototypes as a hermeneutic is also something that... I guess if you'd pointed it out to me I would have said "Yeah, of course" but it wasn't foreground information. A lot of how we interpret the world is going to be by comparison to other things in it, and so the supply of salient things to compare against are a huge part of my hermeneutic.

Hermeneutics as marketing: If you can control how people look at the world it makes it much easier to sell them on your particular solution to the problems that you highlight.

Market coordination: There's something of an arms race here. Each magazine is made more competitive by advertising with pictures that are only slightly more attractive than its competitors, but they then catch up, which is how we end up with this hyperoptimised scenario where people are attractive to a degree that actual humans can't really manage.

I feel like I could expand any one of these into a full notebook post, but I'm supposed to be focused on other things this week, so I won't.