I just finished a little series on hunting octopus, and I guess in my own shoddy way it is an homage to a lost art form, the long hunting or fishing story. Hemingway, Faulkner and E.B. White used to make a killing on that kind of stuff.
When I was a boy in the late 80’s and early 90’s I had a subscription to Outdoor Life Magazine. The articles covered hunting and fishing skills and technique, cooking, adventure stories, enlightening public policy discussions about land conservation and wildlife management, along with the monthly backwoods humor of Pat McManus.
But the best part of the magazine came every other month or so with extended stories about the human side of outdoor sports. Looking back, I suppose they were a little sentimental, and they always came back to the basic themes of paternity and tradition: a boy’s first deer hunt, an old man’s last deer hunt, a group of hunters takes a troubled fatherless boy hunting and watches him grow into manhood, a childless old man helps a fatherless boy shoot Christmas dinner for his mother and little sister, an old man passes on to his… well, you get the picture. Hardcore outdoor types tend to be a quiet, sensitive crowd; this stuff was right up their alley.
Long after I had let my subscription run out, I still liked to pull out old issues and reread those stories about fathers and sons (or their surrogates) and the woods, but my mom threw out my stacks of Outdoor Life when I left home, much to my chagrin.
A few months ago I was thinking about renewing my subscription, so I picked up an Outdoor Life at the library to see if the old magic was still there. Oh my, was the magic gone! Replaced by glossy advertisements. Three times the advertisements, and half the pages. Most of the articles were essentially advertisements too, excited (almost orgasmic) descriptions of new gear. (The basic technology of the firearm or fishing rod has not advanced for a century; what the hell can be all that new about them?) I checked out Field & Stream, it was actually worse.
I am not saying anything new: we all know that people read less today than they did a generation ago, and magazines are cutting all kinds of corners to make ends meet in a dwindling market. Newspapers are doing just as poorly. Major American newspapers are selling today for a tenth of what they were bought for twenty years ago. (The prices are the same as the value of the real estate they are sitting on, meaning the businesses themselves are worthless.)
Chickens and eggs: which comes first? Are print media collapsing because people don’t read, or are people not reading because of the trash that is being printed? Granted, your average American college student is an ignorant boob compared to your average American eighth-grader a century ago when it comes to things like reading comprehension, history, civics or basic math. But it isn’t that poor enlightened journalists are trying to communicate with an ever more vulgar populace; the journalists themselves are vulgar, pompous ideological clones of each other. (When was the last time you read a hard-hitting investigative report on anything? Wasn’t it the illustrious Ezra Klein who said the U.S Constitution was written “like, a hundred years ago”, and therefore unimportant?)
Sorry for the rant. It is just a strange feeling, cheering on the collapse of something you have grown to hate, while realizing something beautiful has been lost forever.