The 1968 Exhibit: Argosy magazine, August 1968

Wrestling with sharks, joining the Foreign Legion, and . . .  buying elevator shoes?

Amidst all the social upheavals and political drama, most things in life in 1968 went on just as they had in 1967, or even 1957.  Take men's magazines, for example.  Not the skin mags (we've already been there in this blog), or the car mags (we're getting there soon), but rugged, he-man, adventure mags.   Anyone of the male persuasion who ever went to a barber shop in the 1950s or 1960s spent some time thumbing through copies of True, Field and Stream, and Argosy.  This was (and still is, somewhat, although the landscape has changed a good bit) a special corner of American journalism, populated by lots of dead things with antlers, large fish that put up a huge but ultimately futile fight, extreme adventures along treacherous rivers or freezing mountain passes, and rugged, independent Men with a capital M.  Women, clothed or unclothed, are nowhere in sight.  This is a Guys' World.

argosyUnlike some of the others, Argosy actually had quite a distinguished (?) pedigree, having begun publication in 1882 as what is now recognized as the first men's and boy's "pulp fiction" magazine.  For decades, Argosy turned out only fiction, but all that changed during World War II.  Apparently, fiction had a hard time holding its own against the gruesome facts of modern combat, and Argosy began to publish "true-life" adventures.  By 1968, the magazine was all true-life stuff, all the time.   Ironically, for a magazine that traded in stories drawn from the "here-and-now," there is in these pages not a whiff of the revolutionary goings-on of the larger culture of the 1960s, not even very much about the war in Southeast Asia.

Instead, there are predictable articles about sharks (as in the cover story here, "After the Man-Eaters with a Rope--and a Prayer"), hunting ("Getting the Drop on that Foxy Deer"), and being a soldier-of-fortune ("The World's Last Foreign Legion," in the Spanish [i.e., Western] Sahara).  This issue also has an interesting report about the booming prostitution trade in Alaska, following the pipeline workers.

What's most instructive, however, about any given issue of Argosy from this era is not the editorial content but the ads.  One can see fairly quickly that it did not seem to be directed to an audience of actual alligator-wrestlers, would-be Legionnaires, cross-oceanic one-man sailboat mavericks, or piranha-defying adventurers.  (Maybe there was another magazine for those guys.)  No, to judge by the ads, Argosy seemed aimed, to put it charitably, at armchair adventurers, many of whom seem to have been (again, charitably) underemployed and lacking in manly confidence, or at least had not figured out what they were going to do now that they were grown-ups.   In addition to ads for cigarettes, motor oil, and Turtle Wax, there are numerous smaller ads:  "You Can Be Taller Than She Is," with elevator shoes. A full-page ad for correspondence school.    "Learn Meat Cutting."  "Surveying Pays Big."  "Learn How to Be a Game Warden."  "Customize/Repair Auto Interiors."  A full-page color ad for metal detectors.  "Free! Powerful Muscles Fast!"  Classified ads offering "love-hungry gals" from Mexico, Japan, and other countries.  An ad headlined "Embarrassed?" that tells the reader how to avoid drugstore embarrassment by buying condoms by mail order.  (We have been here before, as loyal readers will recall:  in a post last year about action-hero comic books and their ads.)

"But wait! There's more!"  Yes, in the "New Product News" (barely-disguised ad placements) there is a blurb for Popeil's "Pocket Fisherman," a product beloved of late-night TV aficionados and the butt of countless jokes and parodies.   Operators are standing by.