I earned a sociology degree over by the newsstand

Categorized as 11/17/08 Goshen News column

You don’t need to set foot on a college campus anymore to get a liberal arts education. All you have to do is to browse the aisles of your local newsstand.

Newsstands are a microcosm of popular culture. Reading the covers on display there is like putting your finger on the pulse of the nation. You can see at a glance what hobbies we have, what styles are in, what we’re eating, and who’s famous.

Further, there is advice galore on interpersonal relationships. Within arm’s reach, there are any number of how-to guides on improving yourself or how to set about improving others. Imagine being able to find a diagnosis for that dysfunctional stinker in your life with a comprehensive 12-step plan for reformation while making a milk-and-bread run to the grocery store! Yup. It’s all right there.

As I like to stay up to date on current events and trends, I conducted my own “finger on the pulse” investigation recently. What I learned in the 15 minutes I spent in that one aisle is roughly equivalent to an associates degree in sociology, I’m pretty sure.

No doubt you know that celebrities are big news. It’s good someone is chronicling these people and their entirely normal lives. Otherwise, it would be impossible for middle-class people like me to keep it all straight. In mere moments, you can learn who is anorexic and who’s heading into rehab. We’d never know who’s dating someone they’re not married to again if it weren’t for the paparazzi hiding in the bushes and capturing them on film. This is serious journalism here, and it’s stuff we need to know.

By all appearances, soap opera news and celebrity news is interchangeable. Apparently, weekly updates are the only way to keep track of whose shoes are under whose bed now. As a soap watcher, there must be some burning questions that keep you awake in the watches of the night. Questions like, didn’t Erica know it was her half-brother she was dating? And, which lonely housewife is looking for love and what places is she looking in? Yes, people really do write this stuff, and other people buy it.

Far more relevant to me was the running magazine I found. “Beat fatigue mid run,” it said. Huh. What about beating pre-run fatigue? Or beginning, ending, and post-run fatigue, not to mention “comatose in the carpet” fatigue? Do they have a cure for that?

“Run strong all winter,” they claimed. I tried that last year. The only strong feeling I got was a sense of impending doom while windmilling on the side of an ice-covered road.

“The one stretch every runner should do,” was another title. Well, no wonder I was battling fatigue and feeling weak. There was one pretzel shape I missed.

Having grown up with a father and a brother who are avid deer hunters, I stopped to look at a bow hunting magazine. “Let’s talk whitetail,” it offered.

“Yes, let’s,” I thought to myself. “It’s almost winter, and I have one.” Knowing that the cure for this condition was a hefty dose of sun, sand, and surf, I scanned the rack and sure enough – there was a magazine to my left featuring that very thing.

Moving on, I found a pregnancy magazine. On the cover, it said, “Twelve labor surprises.” I didn’t read it, but I’m pretty sure a man wrote it. Otherwise, there’d be a lot more than 12 surprises, starting with lingering post-labor stretch marks roughly retracing the famed Route 66. I’ll bet that didn’t make the list.

There were innumerable diet and fitness tips. “Eighteen secret flat belly foods” caught my attention. When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Drop the “l” in “flat” and see what you get. This certainly clears up any confusion about where to file the Krispy Kremes and potato chips.

“Eat the holiday food you like without holiday hips,” trumpeted one cover. Now, you don’t have to be a dietician to know that if the holiday food you like is mashed potatoes, gravy, and pie with real whipped cream, it will go home on your hips. I’m sure this was just a simple mistake. It was supposed to go under “fairy tales” and got filed under “serious science” instead.

“Six strategies for dealing with difficult people,” left me slightly anxious. What if I tried these and blew through all six by noon? Would there be six more to carry me through to dinner? Fearing that six wouldn’t be enough, I left it there, clutching the three bucks they wanted for the advice, and headed for the checkout.

On my way past, I glanced at the bow hunting magazine once more and found the line of the day. “Some old bucks do crazy things,” it said.

Yes, they do. They really do.

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