Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sophisticated Traveler

There are seemingly few things more incongruous than the work of illustrator Edward Gorey and a magazine called the Sophisticated Traveler, filled with advertisements of escapism for the elite upper class of the 1980's. So, imagine my surprise upon finding just that in Rauner Special Collections.

"Being Brave Abroad" and "Back Home" by Edward Gorey feature four captioned cartoons each. The pictures show snapshot moments of white elites navigating the world around them. In "Being Brave Abroad," under the caption, "Ordering the spécialité de maison without even asking what it is," one image shows a man and woman in a sea-side restaurant being served a plate of black sludge with red tentacles creeping out of it. Gorey's mockery becomes evident when one notices the small shelf of human skulls behind the couple. The joke takes on two forms: one that a member of the upper class would laud themselves for simply trying something new without asking what it is; and the other, that maybe this couple should have asked, in case the skulls are a product of the dish.

Flipping through the pages of the magazine can give a taste of the very world that Gorey pushed against in these illustrations. The advertisements feature smiling, predominately white couples boasting about their escape to the "exotic" places pictured. One of my favorites ads declares "How to feel on top of the world while travelling around it," and offers the simple solution of Black and Decker's travel hairdryer set. I had no idea it was that easy!

Time gives us a lens to see the absurdity and deeply problematic delusion of the upper class "living the fine life," and Gorey's illustrations provide that same lens. The ability to compare Gorey's perspective positioned within the pages of the magazine, and ours, outside of the magazine and the time that bore it, can allow us to better understand how we can push against the pictures of perfection in our own magazines. Or, simply enjoy wondering what the editors were thinking in including cartoons that mock their own magazine.

To become a Sophisticated Traveler yourself--or to enjoy mocking one--ask for Illus G675bei and Illus G675bac.

Posted for Lucy Morris '14

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