A Letter From the Editor

By Published on .

My favorite magazine is not one of those totemic accoutrements of the modern urban lifestyle. Oh, sure I subscribe to fine publications that probably have the Tina Brown seal of approval, including The New Yorker and Wallpaper and Vanity Fair and Harper's, and I can sing their praises with the best of you. I also like the coffee table magazines in our business, the CAs and the Graphises, even though they can be long on pretty pages and short on personality and, well, journalism.

But the magazine that truly sets my heart aflutter (apart from Creativity, I hasten to say) is a highly original British monthly called Fortean Times (www.forteantimes.com). Combining mordant wit and serious academic inquiry, editors Bob Rickard and Paul Sieveking cover the world of strange phenomena like no one else. They've been at it for more than 20 years, since long before the field was soiled and sensationalized by cynical exploiters of credulity, such as Fox producers and publishers of books on angels. (Full disclosure: I wrote a few paid articles for the magazine some four, five years ago).

Fortean Times takes it name from one of the most colorful characters in American science and literature: `strangeness' researcher Charles Fort (1875-1932), a lovable eccentric whose four non-fiction works often mocked the overearnest learned men of his time. Fort's absurdist leanings are evident in his take on Cartesian logic -- "I think, therefore I had breakfast" -- but he also took delight in rationally challenging the scientific status quo, like the time he skewered Charles Darwin's survival-of-the-fittest theory. Fort demanded to know who these `fittest' were. "Not the strongest; not the cleverest," he concluded, because "weakness and stupidity are everywhere. There is no way of determining fitness except in that a thing does survive. Fitness is only another name for survival. Darwinism: That survivors survive."

Like Fort, the magazine he inspired strikes a nice balance between openmindedness and skepticism. It reports intelligently from the front lines of the unexplained: slabs of ice falling from the sky, crop circles, Bigfoot sightings, near-death experiences. In addition, Fortean Times covers the perfectly explicable but just plain weird. A recent issue told the tale of a Colorado rooster called Mike, who, in 1945, got his head chopped off by his owner. But Mike, curiously, refused to croak. It turned out his brain stem was still attached to what was left of his neck, extending his lease on life. The barnyard wonder lived for another four years, being fed grains and water through his gullet opening; he was featured in oddity exhibits and in the pages of the Guinness Book and Life and Time.

What does this have to do with advertising? At my most cynical, I think Mike's fortean adventure proves that you can find fame and fortune with less than half a brain. But mostly, and more charitably, I believe Charles Fort can still teach us something about a quality that many talk about and few possess: thinking outside the box.

Fort always stood ready to challenge what Great Wise Men had proclaimed to be just and true. Like a curious if slightly bothersome child, he could never stop asking why. He was restless and dogged and passionate. I see those same things in some of the very best creatives in advertising, who, by the way, are not necessarily easy to get along with. But bit by subversive bit, they tilt our view, making us see things in a new light, and selling a helluva lot of spaghettios in the process.

On the topic of interesting magazines, I guess I never really outgrew my boyhood, because I can become quite engrossed when there's an issue of Teen People or Seventeen lying around. C'mon now: who could resist coverlines like `Dating horror stories' and `Does your guy bud have a secret crush on you?' When the time came to put Creativity's Hot Creative Teams issue together, we realized we'd found an opportunity to pay homage to this magazine category, this celebration of puberty -- and so we had our top picks photographed as teenie heartthrobs. Forgive us, it's just this one time. Next month we'll be back to what passes for normal around here.

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