On the last day of this year, outliving the universe by 10 days if the Mayan calendar was correct, the print edition of Newsweek will be no more, making the 80-year-old dentist’s waiting-room staple the latest in a long line of victims of changing reader habits, the high cost of print and a Darwinian newsstand.
In an interview with Michael Kinsley in the Nov. 26 issue of New York magazine, Newsweek editor in chief and magazine legend Tina Brown gave a big-picture reason for the magazine’s failure: “[E]very piece of the Zeitgeist was against Newsweek,” Brown told Kinsley, a quote so telling, New York’s editors even saw fit to tease it on the magazine’s cover, the word Zeitgeist framed by inverted commas.
It’s worth going back a bit to the origins of the word. “Zeitgeist,” a German coinage translatable to the “Spirit of the Times,” is often attributed to Georg Hegel as a kind of rebuke of Thomas Carlyle’s “Great Man theory.” The age makes the man, not the reverse; the ineluctable spirit of the people produces and is a product of its history and its art. Like “gestalt,” “moral majority,” “generation gap,” and “collective unconscious,” which all have their origins in philosophy, psychology, or other specialized branches of the humanities or social sciences, “Zeitgeist” is often tossed around in introductory courses on its way to being abused by marketers, editors, and trend-spotters who are either ignorant of or indifferent to the terms’ original meanings.