We all know that Teen Vogue has somewhat implausibly transformed over the past year into a hyper-politicized left-wing blog for the anti-Trump “resistance.” But until recently it seemed like an outlier; other such magazines more or less stayed in their lanes.
Not anymore. The websites of heretofore non-political, nonpartisan lifestyle magazines are peppered these days with random Trump-bashing posts.
Men’s Journal: “We Know He’s Huuuge, But Is He Obese?” Men’s Health: “Here Are Donald Trump’s Favorite Foods, Ranked From Unhealthy to Coronary-Inducing.” Golf Digest: “Why President Trump’s Immigration Policy Could Affect Golf’s Workforce More Than You Think.” Architectural Digest: “How Trump’s Tax Plan Could Hurt Historic Architecture.” And so on.
Perhaps the most egregious example of the trend is a recent article in Outside, a magazine ostensibly dedicated to the outdoors—sports and adventure, hunting and fishing, health and fitness, gear and apparel. These are the sort of things a great many middle-aged white guys in suburban and rural America are really into. The same guys, in other words, who predominately voted for Donald Trump last year.
No matter. The editors at Outside must have concluded that their 4,700-word feature story on the world’s largest ice-fishing contest needed what every such story needs: random, out-of-context Trump-bashing.
Fear And Loathing At An Ice-Fishing Tournament
The writer, Ian Frazier, opens his dispatch from rural Crow Wing County, Minnesota, with a vignette about how he and the two photographers assigned to the story, Thomas and Christian—“Young fellows in their thirties… both of them residents of Brooklyn”—arrived in the small Minnesota town of Brainerd and proceeded to sit around talking trash about Trump:
I joined them for breakfast the next morning at the Grand View Lodge, where we were staying. It’s a pleasant place, and bedbug-free, unlike the Washington, D.C., motel where I had spent three nights earlier that winter while attending the presidential inauguration and the Women’s March. I showed them the large, itchy bedbug bites I had acquired on my right shin as souvenirs of the new administration. Bedbug stories were exchanged. Then:
‘Back when there was DDT, you never saw a bedbug,’ Christian said.
‘DDT was killing the bald eagles. They banned it, and now we have bald eagles again,’ Thomas said.
‘And now the bedbugs are back,’ Christian said.
‘So what do you want: bald eagles and bedbugs, or no bedbugs and no bald eagles?’
‘I don’t know. I think I’d rather have no bedbugs.’
‘Yeah. I hate bedbugs. And bald eagles have hair like Trump.’
‘Yeah. Bald eagles do look like Trump. F-ck bald eagles.’
Because no account of ice-fishing in rural Minnesota is complete without meta-narratives of how the writer and his crew don’t like Trump. Notice, too, how Frazier wants his readers to know right off the bat that he attended the inauguration and covered the Women’s March in DC. He’s a real journalist, you see, and he knows whereof he speaks.
The piece, headlined “The Daytona 500 of Ice Fishing,” is supposed to be about this huge ice-fishing tournament that draws 10,000 anglers from all over the Midwest to compete in sub-zero temperatures for a $150,000 prize. It’s not the sort of story that lends itself to political commentary.
That doesn’t stop Frazier from trying his damnedest. Interspersed throughout his rambling account of Midwestern ice-fishing enthusiasts—whom he tends to quote with dropped “g’s” like, “Heck, I’d rather be on the ice any day than inside lookin’ at walls”—are random asides about Trump, as though he’s trying to tell his readers, “Look, I might be covering an ice-fishing tournament in Minnesota, but like all decent people on the coasts, I hate Trump.”
A Harvard University grad and erstwhile humorist for The New Yorker, Frazier must have intuited on some level that his incessant Trump references might make him seem like a prissy liberal to some readers. So he goes out of his way at one point to boost his rural American bona fides, inserting himself into the narrative as a sympathetic outsider:
They asked how I happened to be doing this article—’What was it, did you draw short straw?’ I told them I liked to write about the middle of America and hated that sometimes it was referred to as flyover country. They said that term didn’t bother them at all, and in fact they hoped people on the coasts would continue to ignore them and stay away.
But it’s not quite enough. His wide-eyed description of a local bait shop—“It had fishing stuff I didn’t even know existed, and a wall shingled with trophy-fish photos dating back to the first Bush administration, and burbling tanks full of bait that swam like soup noodles and often jumped above the surface with a wild hope.”—made it sound like he had never been in one, or that he assumed his readers had not. Either way, it leaves you wondering who, exactly, this story is for.
I suspect it might be for the Brooklyn friends of his photographers, whom Frazier keeps bringing up like a Greek chorus commenting on the article’s nebulous anti-Trump theme and instructing readers how to respond to it:
Thomas eyeballed the surroundings and gestured to a line of ice huts outside the contest zone. We saw a Trump flag and a Confederate flag near it.
I pointed out that those were the only examples of those kinds of flags among the many dozens of banners now fluttering on the ice (HOOSIER ANGLERS ROCK! and GRAND CASINO MILLE LACS and, strangely, BUD LIGHT WELCOMES HUNTERS). I told them not to fret: a majority of Minnesotans were Democrats anyway. The guys spun their wheels and drove off, skeptical but cheerful.
Amazingly, that’s not the last we hear of the intrepid Brooklyn duo, who come back later to comment on Trump’s first travel ban, a totally irrelevant piece of national news that broke nearly a year ago:
From a distance, I saw Thomas and Christian in the bucket of a lifter arm that had elevated them above the crowd. Soon after, they were next to me on the ice, agitated about a news story on their phones. ‘Did you see this about Trump’s travel ban? Google has called all its foreign-national employees back to the States!’ Thomas said, scrolling to the headline on his screen. The next I looked, he and Christian were flying overhead and taking pictures from a helicopter.
Not Everything Has to Be About Trump
By the end of article, this sort of thing becomes excruciating. Thomas and Christian appear again, amazingly, bearing yet another reminder of Trump’s perfidy: “Thomas and Christian had to leave to photograph demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and would hardly have time to stop at their apartments on the way.”
I get that a lot of people don’t like Trump. Some people are offended and outraged by him, and also by the idea that tens of millions of their fellow Americans voted for and still support him. But inserting random anti-Trump commentary into an otherwise anodyne feature story about ice-fishing in an outdoors magazine is a typical example of politics becoming an all-encompassing black hole of cultural outrage and virtue-signaling in the age of Trump.
It makes for a tedious and disjointed feature story that will no doubt annoy and alienate some readers of Outside. But it’s also ugly and condescending, and its aggregate effect on our civic culture—not just from this one magazine but from all the media outlets that now engage in this sort of thing—will be to corrode our civic life, cheapen our political discourse, and strain the bonds of brotherhood we should feel for our countrymen.