Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Nuts to You, Reader's Digest

I'm probably showing my age here, but I can remember when, long ago and in a simpler world, Reader's Digest was a reputable magazine. It contained thought-provoking articles on current events and well-edited condensed versions of books with literary merit.

After a while, it started showing up on the supermarket checkout racks, right next to the National Enquirer, with specially printed just-for-the-supermarket covers that blared "LOSE WEIGHT NOW!" The articles and condensed books degenerated into sensationalistic crime and disaster stories.

The slow slide of Reader's Digest into tabloid trashdom hit new depths in April 2006 when the magazine started printing a regular column called "Normal or Nuts?" The column solicits and answers letters from readers who describe their quirky behaviors and ask if they might be autistic, obsessive-compulsive, or otherwise "nuts." In most cases, they are reassured that they are "normal."

Allegedly, the column is intended as harmless humor and simply points out that it is normal to have a few quirks. Yeah, right... I wonder if they would print a similar feature called "White or (any racial slur)" and describe it as a lighthearted look at racial diversity?

When I first saw this column, I thought there was a possibility that the management of Reader's Digest might be genuinely unaware of how offensive it is. After all, if one adds up all the people who fall into the socio-medical categories of mental illness, developmental disability, stroke and brain injury, etc., and all of their friends and family members who care about whether or not they are described in respectful terms, that's a pretty big chunk of the population. Why would any sensibly managed company make a deliberate decision to offend a large percentage of its potential customers?

Then it occurred to me that Reader's Digest probably intended to target its marketing efforts toward a different and more ignorant segment of the population. To put it another way, we're not the potential customers they have in mind. Those of us who regularly face prejudice and discrimination by reason of being seen as "nuts," as well as our friends and family members, are not at all likely to buy tabloid-style magazines promising that we'll have a perfect social life if only we can lose a little weight.

You see, we know better.

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  • I am very suprised to hear this of the Reader's Digest.

    By Blogger Casdok, at 10:52 AM  

  • There might be a few people within that population who have been dicriminated against in that way or who have friends and family who have been (or are) who would choose to run as fast as they can from the disciminating terms by laughing at them or even using them on others to make themselves look better....or maybe to feel better about themselves.

    Some may even go as far as buying tabloid magazines that exploit those who they don't want to associate themselves with or want others to associate them with.

    Jenny McCarthy may be in a tabloid magazine but as someone who might be related to someone who might be discriminated against in the very way that you are descibing that a tabloid would exploit people, would she go so far as to claim that she believes what is written in tabloids? Hmmmm.

    By Blogger Ed, at 6:03 PM  

  • In my opinion, anyone who gets a real diagnosis after having been cleared by the RD commentor should be able to sue RD for malpractice, or for practicing medicine (psychology) without a license.

    By Blogger Patrick, at 1:13 PM  

  • The Reader's Digest was, apparently, founded by the CIA. For what, i'm not really sure...


    By Blogger shiva, at 7:28 PM  

  • I almost wrote in to them about one particular response they had a few months ago...a young woman was saying she's very particular about how she arranges and eats the food on her plate at dinner, and they actually suggested from this alone that she may have Asperger's, because, they say, (I'm mostly paraphrasing here, since I don't have the article anymore) "those people" do these crazy things "for no reason".

    The sheer idiocy of someone playing at diagnosing a young woman with ASD because of how she eats her dinner is bad enough. But to gloss over people's sensory processing problems as "no reason" in a major publication, giving millions of readers the impression that the strategies some of us use to avoid unpleasant or painful situations are evidence of some kind of threatening insanity rather than the normal human desire to avoid things that make one uncomfortable...that's incredibly irresponsible.

    By Blogger Angela, at 11:29 PM  

  • Oh yes, the dread, "for no reason" excuse!

    ::rolls eyes::

    By Anonymous andrea, at 1:35 AM  

  • The CIA could not have founded the Reader's Digest, because the Reader's Digest published its first issue in 1922 but the CIA began twenty years later, in 1942 when it originally called itself the OSS (then changed its name to the CIA in 1947).

    By Blogger KateGladstone, at 3:09 PM  

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