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Friday, October 31, 2014

The New Yorker Cover, Interpreted

I really tried to ignore the new New Yorker cover.  I kept seeing posts on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter fly by, and the wave just gathered steam. I thought I could ride it out.  But it's safe to say that I have never seen anything attract this much of the beer world's attention since the dawn of the social media age, and now I have to join in.  Let's start with the cover:

“Hip Hops,” by Peter de Sève.

Over at All About Beer, editor John Holl has a roundup of some of the commentary (but by no means all of it).  Most of the analysis focuses on the semiotics of the setting, which ticks off cultural symbols like a Census-taker noting down demographics: tats, flannel, beard, multiracialism, hipster hats, a snobby sommelier contrasted with a downscale burger, and on and on.  It touches a raw nerve for many beer people--suggesting that working class, guileless, unpretentious old beer is being taken over by hipper-than-thou scenesters in Portland, San Francisco--and of course, Brooklyn.

But don't over-interpret it.

When they work, New Yorker covers are so delicious because they are are not didactic; they don't have an agenda.  They just reflect something in the cultural zeitgeist and become a mirror.  Recall six years ago, there was the famous fist bump cover.  In much the same way, it ticked off symbols.  Obama fans read it as delicious satire; his foes saw it as a take-down of the wannabe terrorist-in-chief. (And a lot of people were just angry that the slant wasn't clearer--they weren't sure who to be mad at.)

In much the same way, some people love what the current cover has to say, and some don't. Having been a subscriber for 15 years, my belief is that it doesn't have anything to say.  Good covers capture a moment in time, spark recognition and humor, and induce the reader to pick up the magazine.  They remain enigmatic for a reason--an obvious cover is like a bad pun.  Don't overthink it, just enjoy.


A final comment (update)
I got to thinking through my fingers over at Oliver Gray's blog, and after consideration, felt the comment would have made this post stronger.  So I'm adding it here.

I also think it’s an oblique insult to an artist to be too reductive. There are certain art forms–visual art, poetry, music–that are able to express complexity non-conceptually. We can reduce the meaning we take into words, but we are then creating a smaller, less-complex simulacrum. If we’re open to it, the power of a cover like this happens in the nanosecond before we begin the process of assigning meaning, when emotions and curiosity are the sum of our experience. When we then move to “meaning,” we’ve gone to a slightly different place than the artist intended.
I think, anyway.


  1. I thought it was delightful and fun! I agree, don't overthink.

  2. Jeff, I mellowed on my initial reaction, but can't deny how it made me feel when I first saw it. I expand on it here, if you're interested:

  3. I'm surprised the corporate beer machine hasn't picked up on this type of thing already. Don't be a pretentious snob, drink the working mans beer; a construct which is utterly ridiculous.