Dumbing Us Down to Sell More Magazines

Ellen Padnos
Ellen Padnos

We get a lot of magazines here at the house.  It’s silly, considering we read most of our news online, but old habits are hard to break.

Monday night, as I was headed to bed, I picked up this week’s Time Magazine.  As a dog lover, I was drawn to the cover photo of two cute dogs with the title “The Surprising Science of Animal Friendships.”  I read it – cute story – fell asleep, and didn’t think about it again.  Until…

I was watching The Daily Show the next night and Jon Stewart mentioned the same cute cover of Time Magazine I’d just read.  He deftly showed how Time’s covers are sometimes different in each region of the world with the U.S. version basically dumbed down in order to attract more newsstand sales. For example, this week, the US cover had the picture of the adorable dog friends, while Europe, Asia and the South Pacific all featured the new Italian Prime Minister on the cover.

Time covers


As I laughed out loud watching the clip, I realized something: I was the donkey here.  I had totally fallen for this picture.  If I had seen a picture of Prime Minister Mario Monti with the jolting headline, “Can This Man Save Europe?” I would have left the magazine upstairs and instead fired up my Kindle when I crawled in bed.

I love Jon Stewart for bringing this to my attention and making me take a hard look in the mirror.  My big question is WHY. Why do American’s like “softer” news? Why are we less likely to discuss and think about real issues compared to educated people around the globe? Why are we more interested in pictures of dogs than “The Man who can Save Europe?”

I skipped taking Lola to the dog park to really think about this and try to figure out the “why.” Is it that we don’t have time? Are our values different? Are schools to blame? Are we being lazy?

My first thought was time.  We all know the old adage, “a woman’s work is never done.”  I’m with you.  I have four loads of laundry to fold, about 30 emails I’m dying to respond to and a to-do list with 18 work-related things to be done. On top of that, I have to be a Mom and wife. That will suck up any patience and effort I have left. When I finally get the kids to bed at night, the ONLY thing I want to do is quiet my brain with something mindless.

My second thought is values.  As Americans, we tend to value happiness. We don’t want our kids to “lose out on their childhood,” so we push back on homework. We were outraged about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. We want our kids to “be happy,” myself included. Learning about global realities is hard to think about.  It’s hard knowing that a grandmother raising seven grandchildren in Kenya has four basic needs: flour, cooking oil, a bar of soap and Waterguard (to treat drinking water). It actually hurts to know that someone’s life can be so tough. Thanks to Amazon, I just learned this morning that I spend $.04 cents per wipe.  One day’s worth of baby wipes is what these people live on per day.

My next thought is schools.  Are we teaching kids to enjoy learning; or are we teaching them to memorize things they will forget after the test? Are curriculums too parochial? Are parents, teachers and students so narrowly focused on “Getting Into the Best College” that they can’t see the forest through the trees? Are we preparing our kids for 21st-century jobs?

I’m not sure why Americans prefer the dog cover.  I’ve always strived to push myself intellectually, reading and thinking about things that were not easy for me. Yet, I still picked up the dog cover.

I’ll end with a personal story that will give you some insight into what we are trying to do at MeaningfulWomen.com.  After he acquired the domain name, Ben met with a lot of people trying to figure out the best use for it.  One very successful entrepreneur who runs several women’s online properties said, “the only way to make money in women’s content is with celebrity stuff.” As a woman, I was horrified. We are SO MUCH more than that!

Thanks to that comment, though, our mission was set. We intend to create a site that gives readers thoughtful and meaningful opinions and content.  We aim to distribute women’s news, personal stories and opinions, and will definitely mix in some fun! We will probably not be reporting on the Italian Prime Minister, however. That is unless he starts talking about women…

Speaking of fun, enjoy the clip from Jon Stewart, below…

Click here to see more articles on MeaningfulWomen.com by Ellen Padnos.

Ellen Padnos lives in Manhattan Beach, CA with her husband, Ben, her children Anthony (5), and Annie (18 months), and her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Lola. You can also follow her on Twitter (@ellenpadnos).

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