Wednesday, February 06, 2008

CULTURE COMES TO COUNCIL BLUFFS, IOWA

Nearly 100 years ago, a farm boy stole a nude picture from this issue of International Studio Magazine in the public library of Council Bluffs, Iowa.



He left only the foot behind.



Council Bluffs was a small, old fashioned town where farmers stored grain on the way to market. The citizens followed strict social and religious rules. Their librarian must have hoped that a subscription to International Studio would bring the town some much needed culture.



There weren't many places in town where a young man could see what a naked lady looked like. Some farm boys would soon march off to die in World War I without ever experiencing the sight or touch of a female body.



I had to smile when I discovered the missing picture. The boy's heart must have pounded as he tore it out and smuggled it past the stern librarian. When he got home to his tiny unheated bedroom in a sparse Iowa farmhouse, the secret picture must have given him precious clues to a new world.

I love the smell of old magazines. New magazines are the braying of capitalism-- the latest fashions and trends clamor for reader attention in order to sell merchandise. But once the pageant of capitalism has moved on -- once a periodical has outlived its period-- it takes on an entirely different tone.  Outdated advertisements and faded styles seem humbled and mortal. Even the silliest magazine becomes worthy of profound reflection after 20 years.

Most of all, the aroma of old magazines reminds me that regardless of whatever timeless truths may be printed on them, magazine pages are inevitably returning to wood pulp on the forest floor.  The farm boy who risked everything to steal that picture is surely wood pulp too, or well on his way to becoming so.

Pictures enlighten us in many different ways. It's easy to revere large gilded paintings on Renaissance altars, but the revelations we receive from baser forms of art are sometimes harder to recognize.


The cold farmhouse bed where that boy pondered the mysteries of nature is an altar no less sacred (and no more profane) than the gilded church altar.  In fact, if you measure art by its impact on life, there's a good argument that the crumpled picture torn from the magazine had the greater impact.

26 Comments:

Blogger idle. said...

Thanks, David for this wonderful post. ^_^

2/07/2008 7:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agreed, you're a joy to read.

2/07/2008 10:01 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Thanks, idle and anonymous-- it's nice having you along on these little trips.

2/07/2008 11:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very moving post - many thanks. Michael

2/08/2008 7:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How do you know it was a boy?

2/08/2008 11:39 AM  
Blogger dfernetti said...

Another excellent post, David. And from me, who have defaced many a magazine in times past.

2/08/2008 3:40 PM  
Blogger Jack R said...

This post jogged a recent memory. At a bookstore a few weeks ago I spotted a boy no older than 12 surreptitiously thumbing through an "adult" book (something from Taschen, no doubt). But instead of tearing out the naughty bits he was snapping photos with his cell phone.

2/08/2008 11:23 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Michael, thank you, I appreciate the sentiment.

Anonymous-- probably for the same reasonsthat you know it was a boy. Besides, would a girl have left the foot behind?

dfernetti, I hope the statute of limitations has run on those childhood indiscretions!

Jack R, what an extraordinary story. It seems like there's hardly any risk or work involved in sinning any more.

2/09/2008 4:42 AM  
Blogger Kagan M. said...

Just checked out Bibliodyssey - what a great link. Thanks for steering me there, too.

That first anonymous coment was me, didn't sign in.
K

2/09/2008 2:48 PM  
Blogger constant drama said...

Hey stumbled upon your blog somehow, I think we listed the same interest in out Blogger profile and that's how I found you. Anyways, I love your blog. Its like a blend of everything that I like in art and I like your writing too.

And oh this line: "Even the silliest magazine becomes worthy of profound reflection after 20 years." One word- Gospel.

I used to read those trashy pop culture magazines back when I was a teenager and the other day I was cleaning up my room and found them and all the trashy gossips and pop bands that have gone by since then seem all very sentimental to me now.

It wont be back when it was new but now, its a treasure.

2/09/2008 11:59 PM  
Anonymous Thomas said...

Great read once again. Great to see your gaining a lot of new visitors.

Once and a while, when I've got nothing to read but crappy magazines. I love to look at those things like I would look at a 20-year old magazine.

2/10/2008 6:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was a kid, I used to check out all those kinds of magazines in the bookstore - Heavy Metal, Fritz the Cat, girlie graphic mags. My first girlfriend and I used to meet up at our neighborhood bookstore and page through them with wide eyes and growing excitement.

I found a bunch of them (that we'd pilfered) in my mom's attic recently. They bring back warm memories of my girlhood and my first crush. I guess that's why I asked about the boy.

2/10/2008 1:01 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kagan, isn't Bibliodyssey a treasure? I love that blog. There aren't enough hours in the day to cull through all that it offers.

Constant drama--thanks very much. I think at some point, the subject of those magazines subtly shifts from "trashy pop culture" to "the passage of time" and to us, when we were younger.

Thomas, thanks for writing. I appreciate it.

Anonymous (too many anonymouses-- it's hard to keep them all straight) I didn't mean to be dismissive of your question. There are about 487 reasons I feel pretty confident that a young man stole this picture. If this was a different kind of blog, it might be fun to write them out. Suffice it to say that many of the reasons are not terribly flattering to young men. But I take your point, and if you would like to spin an alternative scenario, please do. I would be most pleased to read it.

2/10/2008 2:54 PM  
Blogger il ratino said...

que harias si fueras un personaje de historietas y te faltan monedas para el bondi?

visita:
http://ilratino.blogspot.com

2/10/2008 3:39 PM  
Blogger dfernetti said...

David: I hardly believe that the Library Cop
http://www.sonypictures.com/tv/shows/seinfeld/episode_guide/?sl=episode&ep=304 would come after me, since I'm so cunning and stealthy.

2/10/2008 5:33 PM  
Blogger Tor Hershman said...

You have an extremely fine blog.

Stay on groovin’ safari,
Tor

)))((((((
(*)...(*)
....U....
..[___]..

2/10/2008 6:56 PM  
Blogger Jack R said...

The irony here is that International Studio was a serious art magazine. There were others: Art & Life, Artist's Models and such that were girly mags but International Studio was highbrow.

2/10/2008 10:20 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Thank you, Tor.

Jack R, I agree with you. International Studio had great articles and illustrations (which is why I enjoyed looking through dusty bound volumes of a magazine from the early 1900s). As "highbrow" as Studio was, anyone who has ever been an adolescent boy recognizes that it doesn't take much... an ad for corsets or stockings was enough to set you off on a wonderful journey.

2/12/2008 5:25 PM  
Blogger Jack R said...

Your comments makes me recall an interview I saw on PBS decades ago. John Updyke was talking to Bill Buckley and remarked on the "erotic mileage" that a bare ankle once provided. I may have been only 12 or 13 at the time but the phrase never left me.

2/12/2008 11:48 PM  
Blogger ces said...

By the way - not just boys look at pictures of nude women. Girls do too.

I just spent a wonderful hour perusing the Sports Illustrated 2008 Swimsuit issue. There were many pictures of young women wearing only the bottoms of a swimsuit, some of which barely deserved to be called a swimsuit bottom as there was hardly anything to them. Of course, their breasts were partially covered also by some strategically placed object.

I am female, and I enjoy looking at naked women as much as males, and naked men also. The human body is a beautiful thing.

2/13/2008 6:28 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

ces, I imagine you've received quite a bit of mail from my readers by now...

2/14/2008 11:34 PM  
Blogger ces said...

David, not a single piece . . .

2/15/2008 9:21 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

ces, for a brief moment you had me questioning my most fundamental beliefs about male nature. Then I checked and confirmed that your profile has no email address for people to contact. That should protect you for a while, but you may also want to consider going into a witness protection program just in case.

2/15/2008 10:19 PM  
Blogger ces said...

:-)

2/15/2008 11:23 PM  
Blogger alan said...

great post.

2/20/2008 4:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that was dumb. it was probably the librarian that ripped the picture out, or some prude who didn't want others to see it.

2/24/2008 1:20 AM  

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