Images of Christmas past

This evening I am running a two hour session on women’s magazines for my local council’s adult education service.  I can’t remember at what point I thought that developing a whole new talk to deliver to a whole new type of audience in the last week before Christmas was a good idea but despite end-of-the-year fatigue, I am looking forward to it.  Most of all, I’m relishing the opportunity to discuss women’s magazines in a really “big” way with no limits on topic or time period, something I’ve never been able to do before (this was a big factor in accepting the offer).  However, because of this vastness, I’ve wrangled a lot about how to structure the session so that it doesn’t just degenerate into “Here is everything I know about women’s magazines”.  I’ve gone with focusing on the different factors that shape such publications (publishers, editors, advertising etc), trying to mix group work, analysis and anecdotes.  I had originally planned to use Prezi for the first time but decided this was too much of a risk (especially as I don’t think I’ll have internet access).  In the end I haven’t even used PowerPoint as I don’t want to overwhelm the audience with visuals.  Instead, the publicity posters requested attendees bring a magazine along with them so people have a focus to look at and a concrete example to consider as we move through the session.    

I am also taking a pile of old magazines in case anyone doesn’t bring one of their own.  From this pile, I’ve picked out a few to hold up and talk about at certain points, including the first issue of Clique, my latest obsession.  When sorting through what to take, I came across some old Christmas issues of women’s magazines from the 1950s.  Leafing through them, I was struck that whilst we tend to bemoan the season’s commercialism and hyped up idealism as if they were a recent phenomenon (think John Lewis’ picture perfect advertisements), actually these trends have a much longer history.  I mean, who doesn’t glam up like this 1954 Woman cover for their office party?!  


And never mind the Boots catalogue or the perennial “What to buy the woman in your life” lists that populate Sunday supplements throughout C21st Decembers, this 1954 advertisement for Harvey Nichols in The Queen‘s “Christmas number” certainly peddles some  cosmetic gift sets (there’s a fair bit of bling on display too, presumably also available within the store).


These images of Christmas past, taken from a year when the last vestiges of rationing had only just been lifted in Britain, bought to mind an even older comment from George Orwell about the festive season: “Christmas is forced on a reluctant and disgusted nation by the shopkeepers and the press: on its own merits it would wither and shrivel in the fiery breath of universal hatred; and anyone who looked back to it would be turned into a pillar of greasy sausages”.  Retailers and the media pushing their Christmas agenda onto an unwitting public?  Was it ever thus?

Merry Christmas to you all.


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