The Problem with Periodicals


Dear publishers of periodicals and heads of merchandise display and organisation, I have a bone to pick with you… (be warned: some disturbing words ahead)

In a break from what is my usual ramblings on linguistics in general or about the Ph.D process, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about something that has been nagging at me for a while. The nag returns every time I walk into a shop that sells magazines, meaning that they’ll inevitably stock magazines with a smiling, airbrushed, middle-aged woman on the cover, combined with a myriad of colours and a snappy title comprising of a phrase (“That’s life!”), an interjection (“OMG” and “OK!”) or even a command (“Look,” “Love it” and “Pick me up”): enter stage left, the “woman’s magazine.”


Admittedly the shelves look a little tidier than this

So what’s the problem? Well, although the above photo doesn’t show it, here are a few shots of my own from a few shops. See if you can tell me the answer… (apologies for the blurriness of a few of them!)


“Churchyard Attach: Rapist’s Twisted Demand. My night of pain and terror”


“What (did) Jimmy Savile Do To (Mum’s Dead Body)


“Bunny Boiler cut his throat. Kinky”


“Stabbed (…) Starved and Beaten: Killed by Mummy. She let him die in…”


“Abused by paedo policeman.”

We know that shock stories sell: people love to watch a fire burn. If you’re unsure of that, watch any 24-hour rolling news channel for an hour or two… but the language used on the very front covers of these magazine and those of many, MANY others is remarkably horrifying!

The bigger issue, perhaps, is also their placement. Here’s a photo from a little further out (it’s high-res, so click on it to look at more ‘interesting’ language!)


For most adults, this is below waist height… but for many young kids, this is directly in their field of vision. Not only that, but the striking colours (again, a selling and attention-grabbing technique) may be accentuated for children who are drawn to such active displays. Considering many children are inquisitive linguistic sponges… hopefully you can see the issue here.

So why does this happen? Why is it that anything deemed pornographic to be placed out of reach of prying small hands and often behind a solid cover, and there are countless arguments going on about how video games are promoting violence which have led to the repackaging, and even removal, of some games (cf. correlation =/= causation)… yet brightly coloured, bold magazines with words and phrases such as “starved,” “stabbed,” “cut his throat,” pain and terror” and “abused” are on full display and at kid-height?

…no, seriously. Why do you think this is? I would really like to hear your thoughts below!


One thought on “The Problem with Periodicals

  1. Your post made me think of the same problem here in Tokyo.

    In 7/11 (and other major convenience stores) actual pornography depicting women with brests out and everything are placed next to children’s comics in plain sight. It’s like… Hello Kitty next to Hello Titty. I am not even joking.

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