I was at library@orchard the other day, just hours after their media conference. I decided to borrow a magazine, so that I’d have something to browse over lunch.

One magazine cover caught my eye:

Issue #72; June – July 2007
Website: adbusters.org

It showed US soldiers bearing a stretcher. On the stretcher was a dead soldier (I presumed it was a soldier and not a civilian) with a flag of the USA covering the body from head to boots. The men were carrying the stretcher towards a waiting helicopter. The helicopter was just out of the picture but you could see a small part of the tail rotor and blurred lines of its spinning blades.

The downdraft, plus the forward movement of the stretcher-bearers, lifted part of the flag up just enough to show the white stars on blue — but not enough to uncover the corpse. One of the soldier (the chopper pilot, from his helmet design) reached out his had to stop the flag from flying off.

You get a sense of a repetitiveness to the whole scene. In the background, there’s another chopper pilot talk to a soldier dressed in desert camo. Even the stretcher bearers look calm, as if this was yet another day on the battle front.

Coupled with the title, “Adbusters”, it gave me an idea what the magazine was about. Probably this cover was to add a dissenting voice to mainstream messages about the glamorous side of war.

One could describe its content as “propaganda to bust propaganda”. A colleague said it’s a Left-wing voice against Right-wing institutions.

There are plenty of dissenting voices in the magazine. In fact, the magazine admits their dissenting role as much. For instance, one segment was a continuing discussion and update of their their difficulties in getting their “dissident message into mainstream corporate magazines” (about ads targeting pre-teen and teenage girls).

The content is primarily US-centric, but covering on media-related topics of relevance to its readers in Canada, UK and Australia.

What’s unique about the magazine is there are sections hat invites readers to comment on a print ad (a URL is given), on ways to improve it or even change the concept.

Interspersed with articles, you see some paid ads, though it looks like part of the magazine.

There’s poetry, short stories, snippets of comments (kinda like blog entries within the magazine). Most of these don’t fall into any theme. Flip a page and they suddenly hit you with the words or images or both.

Examples of the articles and content in the magazine:

  • An article titled “Text Me About Yourself” — mentions services like Twitter, Jaiku and Dodgeball, and discusses about its adoption and the phenomenon of detailing one’s almost-daily habits over such social networking platforms.
  • One titled “Taming the Watchdogs of Media Concentration” — reports on the trend of media consolidation, and increased risk of a media monopoly, and the failure of watchdogs to do anything effective about it.
  • “We are surrounded by phonies” — an article that hits out at US politicians; one photo has a caption of US president Bush along with the caption “Phony White House”.
  • An ad (or a discussion about an ad) that promotes eating at home and discouraging the consumption of processed foods. It explicitly urges people to reconsider going to Macdonalds, thought the way its presented is that its comparing two ads on which is a more effective way to get the message across (though the anti-MacDonald’s message is pretty clear to me).

The magazine is a colourful piece of work. Call it Left-wing or whatever. The articles are thoughtful, provocative, insightful. Though often with a strong bias towards the Left. To its credit, the magazine doesn’t try to hide its bias.

I call this the “thinking-person’s magazine”. For one, it does make you think and question. Two, you definitely have to think about its messages before “taking sides” (left or right). ‘cos whether one’s ideology is on the Left or Right, it’s a matter of perspectives.

How does the magazine sustain itself without advertising, I wonder? For a full-colour magazine like this, there is surprisingly very little paid ads as far as I can see. The so-called Mainstream ads are definitely not featured there.

It seems they go by sales from their online store to offset some of the cost. There’s an ad on one of the pages, urging readers to “help keep adbusters magazine affordable and ad-free as you declare your independence from corporate rule” by purchasing products from their online shop.

My only peeve about the magazine – no page numbering!

More details about this publication, available at Amazon.com

BTW, as of this post, this magazine is only available at the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library and library@orchard. Only copies from library@orchard can be loaned out. Since that library will be closed for about two years, you can always drop them a note to enquire about the status of this particular magazine.