Reality Show Thrills for the NYT Mag Set

I don't ususally spend a lot of time thinking about the visual presentation and illustration of magazine articles (although now that my job is as editor of a magazine i probably should). But there was something really weird and disturbing about the pictures and captions that went along with the piece by Joan Didion in the NYT Mag on Sunday.

About the piece itself, I don't have much to say other than that i initially resisted reading it since it felt like too much death on a Sunday morning and i didn't know if i could cope. But then I did and it was fine, although not that compelling since her patented Didion prose style, when applied to personal things rather than political or social ones, just feels kind of vague and imprecise.

Anyhoo. Whether you liked it or not, this was a piece about the experience of having your husband die. But the photos and their captions made it seem like the point was that readers were getting some kind of intimate peek into the home life of a famous person. Check out these two pictures, especially the one with the pen. I mean what the fuck? Is that supposed to generate some kind of frisson of excitement, knowing that Joan Didion and her now dead husband keep pens and notepads around their house as "idea catchers"? It's like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous or whatever.

I get that a certain amount of scene-setting detail can help make these people seem real, and so make the piece more powerful. Maybe even showing the armchair where the guy used to sit. But the thing with the pens isn't on that level at all. It's about using a piece of writing on just about the most personal subject there is to create some cheap reality-show-style thrill for readers.

Did you have that reaction?