Magazines: Satire Through a Cocked Eye

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Satire is what closes Saturday night.

—George S. Kaufman

Some months ago, during one of his periodic fund-raising drives for Monocle, a quarterly magazine of political satire, Editor Victor Navasky, 31, put the arm on Playwright George (The Seven Year Itch) Axelrod in Hollywood. Axelrod allowed that he could comfortably spare $12,000 for the cause, but he refused to part with anything but advice. "Satirists should starve," said he. In seven years of publishing Monocle, Editor Navasky has learned that starving is just about all contemporary satirists can do.

Only Navasky's conviction that the U.S. needs a political-satire magazine has sustained Monocle this long. But Navasky's faith appears to be ebulliently obstacle-proof. In 1962, with the magazine at death's door as usual, Navasky launched The Outsider's Newsletter, a weekly compendium of fanciful news items (POLICE DOG MADE HONORARY MISSISSIPPI CITIZEN) that loses more than its parent does. Just this week Monocle's editor announced a plan that should significantly enlarge the annual deficit. From now on, said Navasky, Monocle will reach its 20,000 paid readers every other month.

Beyond the Pages. As satire, Monocle falls somewhat short of Jonathan Swift —who may have been the last satirist to make a decent living. But Swift and Monocle chose the same targets: politics, pettifoggery and government. "I haven't checked these figures," began Monocle's Gettysburg Address as it might have been written by Dwight Eisenhower, "but 87 years ago, I think it was, a number of individuals organized a governmental setup here in this country. I don't like to appear to take sides."

"Mother cried at the wedding," read a Monocle entry in "The Diary of Happy Rockefeller." "A man in the back pew sobbed too. I found out later he was Thruston Morton." When Astronaut John Glenn announced for the U.S. Senate, Monocle proposed "the John Glenn Foundation, devoted to subsidizing needy amateurs who want to start at the top in an unfamiliar profession." Now and then a Monocle crusade moves beyond the pages of the magazine. In New Hampshire's presidential primary this week, Republicans may choose, if they like, Monocle Staffer Marvin Kitman, who managed to get on the ballot. One of Kitman's campaign statements: "I am twice as Jewish as Goldwater."

Practical Education. Navasky was a Yale law student in 1957, when Monocle was born. The first issue sold briskly on campus, encouraging the fledgling editor to abandon the law and move to New York. Since then, Navasky has had a practical education in the hazards of publishing. One prospectus, he says, was printed on paper stolen from another magazine. Monocle has gone begging three times, with growing effect. Last year it raised $75,000 from such unlikely sources as a Manhattan banker, a provident Harvard professor and Mrs. Marshall Field.

Monocle's near-total dependence on philanthropy deters neither Editor Navasky nor his underpaid editorial staff of four. "We're only losing money according to schedule," said Navasky cheerfully last week. "Some people say contemporary life is too grim to satirize. Others say it is too absurd to satirize. I say it is too grim and absurd not to try."