Vital Signs

The New Yorker Under Glass

The first issue of The New Yorker (February 21, 1925) showed on its cover a dandy in top hat, high collar, and morning suit gazing through his monocle at a butterfly.  The drawing is reproduced yearly, and butterflies became a cover motif.  Whatever tastes, affectations, or snobbery the artist, Rea Irvin, wanted to suggest, it is time now to turn the monocle on the magazine and subject it to scrutiny.

What the glass reveals is a very disappointing publication, if one judges by former standards.  Though there had been modifications in the early years, as the magazine ceased to deal chiefly in humor and published more serious journalism and fiction, and though changes in editorship (from Harold Ross to William Shawn to Robert Gottlieb) inevitably introduced slightly different tones, there was no new departure until it was redesigned by Tina Brown, its editor from 1992 until 1998.  The aim was apparently to be modish, and that meant campy, vulgar, even outrageous.  Brown fired respected contributors (some left on their own), hired new people, including fashion photographer Richard Avedon, and adopted a policy of épater le bourgeois.  In the process, according to Gawker.com, she incurred losses of $70 million.  Generally, the same editorial positions have been maintained by her successor, David Remnick, whose staff includes several of her appointees.

For decades, my late friend Evelyn...

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