To witness how dramatically a culture and its elite media can change in 40 years, and how a grown-up culture can vanish over those decades, compare how Newsweek described the Beatles to its readers when they first arrived on our shores with how the magazine reports on a topic that would have been inconceivable to the middlebrow overculture of 1964. First, Newsweek’s February 24, 1964 cover story on the Fab Four:
Visually they are a nightmare: tight, dandified, Edwardian-Beatnik suits and great pudding bowls of hair. Musically they are a near-disaster: guitars and drums slamming out a merciless beat that does away with secondary rhythms, harmony, and melody. Their lyrics (punctuated by nutty shouts of “yeah, yeah, yeah!”) are a catastrophe, a preposterous farrago of Valentine-card romantic sentiments.”
As Bryce Zabel of the Instant History blog, which collects classic Time and Newsweek cover stories and highlights their accompanying stories correctly notes:
It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? The Beatles generation became so mainstream that nobody can imagine that people felt that way, but Newsweek wasn’t just being stuffy, they were representing the overwhelming feelings of the vast majority of people over, say, twenty.
And at least forty years ago, Newsweek’s writers had the courage to stakeout an opinion and stick with it. Flash-forward 43 years. Here’s how Newsweek’s Sarah Kliff covers the loony the Vegan dating scene:
It might sound counterintuitive; after all, neither group eats meat. But for many vegans—who also eschew animal products like the dairy and eggs eaten by vegetarians—love may not be enough to conquer ideology. “I’m in a relationship with a murderer,” bemoans Carl, one of many vegans who wrote in to the “Vegan Freak” podcast for romantic advice. Carl, who didn’t give his last name, says his girlfriend is a regular vegetarian, and their differences are becoming a major source of tension. In the vegan world that’s not an uncommon dilemma. Bob Torres, one of the show’s hosts, says that dating and relationships are two of the most popular topics on the podcast, which deals with all things vegan.
Check out the photo of Torres that accompanies the article—it’s a posed shot in which he clearly chose to be photographed wearing a black t-shirt that highlights both of his arms festooned with tattoos. He may believe that meat is “murder” (a stolen concept if there ever was one, unless Fido and Elsie the cow are actually reading your copy of Newsweek), but he’s certainly not above mutilating his own body.
And note that with the exception of the quotation marks around “murder” only in the article’s subhead, which very likely was written not by the author, but her editor, Newsweek comments not a jot of opinion of their own on any of these topics in the actual body of the article, unlike its circa-1964 writers. Presumably they’re either in agreement on their interviewees, or they risk offending the delicate sensibilities of their remaining readers. But then, as I noted recently, Newsweek asked Diana West, “Are Adults Acting More Like Teenagers?”on their Website, as if there’s some doubt about this trend.