Mostly (not) on McSweeney's!

A blog for my academic ideas, more or less.

McSweeney’s and the Econopocalypse

After doing one a couple of weeks ago, McSweeney’s are doing another sale:

Apparently something’s going wrong with the economy. An econopocalypse, we heard. Thus, we have put together an emergency bailout package for the book-buying public. Once again, almost everything on our site is half-off, or even cheaper, for just a few more days — soon it’ll be too late to guarantee Christmas delivery, so now is the time.

Marketing is an essential tool for any literary enterprise that wants to make money. This doesn’t impose a judgement on what they do with that money, as it seems pretty obvious that it all (or most of it) feeds back into new projects like Wholphin, 826 and publishing new writers. What I’m interested in their emails for is how they construct their readership (or market?) through the language of their marketing materials. The ‘econopocalypse’ is a great term, but I don’t want to make a big thing out of it. It does immediately illustrate the kind of tone that is appropriate for McSweeney’s that would not be used elsewhere — Granta, Harper’s, or even The New Yorker are unlikely to use a portmanteau like this, I would suggest. It would be a bit too informal, and this kind of playful tone is something McSweeney’s have got a lot of mileage out of, and it’s something that its readership responds to (while simultaneously being the kind of feature that some would critique (n+1, anyone?)).

We’ve restocked the immediately beloved “What Happens in La Brea Tar Pits, Stays in La Brea Tar Pits” t-shirt, and we’ve piled high the stacks of Comedy by the Numbers for your insufficiently funny friends.

Was the ‘immediately beloved’ t-shirt (pictured left) indeed immediately beloved? I remember seeing it linked to a lot on various blogs, but a quick technorati search suggests not. Will research digg and delicious coverage later, when I’m back on my own computer and not filling time in a different office waiting for students to come collect their essays. The ‘immediately beloved’ phrase implies a direct connection between reader and creator, as if their interests were exactly matched. The creator of the shirt already knew what McSweeney’s fans wanted. It was inside them, because they are also a McSweeney’s fan? Because it fits into a postmodern trope that already exists in the McSweeney’s culture? I need to think more precisely about what kind of sign this is, how it creates meaning. The deconstruction of pun-related headlines in Issue 1 of McSweeney’s might be useful here.

Also thinking about ‘insufficiently funny’ – this kind of casual insult that both sides of writer/reader know is not meant to be offensive. The unstated assumption that they are always joking?



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