By the Numbers

September 23, 2007
Posted by Jay Livingston

Does Montclair Socioblog have a reader at CBS TV?

Two weeks ago, I blogged about all those numbers on the covers of women’s magazines.
Today, CBS Sunday Morning led off with a piece about the same thing.

It turns out I wasn’t quite right. The numbers are everywhere, not just on women’s magazines. Twelve steps, seven habits, a thousand places to see before you die. And that’s not counting all those ten-best list. Men’s magazines too find numbers irresistible. The CBS piece showed the guys at Men’s Health kicking around ideas. “'Ten or 15 signs she's cheating' is always a great one.” And the editor tells CBS, “When we put lists or numbers on the cover, our newsstand sales go up.”

Sure enough, at the Men’s Health website today you can find
  • 5 ways to get her into your bed
  • 10 foods you should eat every day
  • 10 muscles she wants to see
The lists and numbers appeal to two strong themes in American culture: self-improvement and rationalization. Self-improvement is a theme in American magazines date back at least to the late nineteenth century. It’s an idea that expands rapidly in a culture of optimism and an ideology of individualism and social mobility.

As for rationalization, it seems there is nothing so personal and ineffable that we can’t try to reduce it to a prescribed number of steps, Power Point list of bullet points. Like workers on a Taylorized assembly line, we can all follow the same routinized procedure to find success, raise happy children, be physically fit, have mindblowing orgasms, overcome our fears, or find the perfect hair style for this fall.

1 comment:

SARA said...

I've always thought "numbers" were used as part of a visually appealing artistic layout practice! In retail art it does make magazines sell..and have you noticed more times than not the "number" is in another colour?