Another article in Ong's series of works on media biases and the need for Americans to recognize these biases, in "Mr. Barnum and the 'Reader's Digest,'" Ong argues that Reader's Digest can be characterized as under the influence of Mr. Barnum (as in Barnum & Bailey) because it purports to be educational but is, in fact, just putting on the kind of side show one might find at the circus.  Ong's analysis of the magazine includes discussion of the title, which manages to combine an appeal to everyone through the word "Reader's" and a touch of elitism with the word "Digest;" the overt presence of superlatives in article titles, which creates a tone that reminds Ong of the circus; and the tendency of the magazine to run inspirational articles to make readers feel good about themselves.

Ong also discusses, at length, the notion that Reader's Digest is an educational tool:  he reveals the hypocrisy of this notion expecially well when he states that although the magazine produces various editions (a college edition and a school edition in addition to the regular adult version of the magazine), all three editions are essentially the same, providing the same information to "infants" as to "adults."  Reader's Digest's educational mission, Ong asserts, is not to pose the kinds of questions that make people intellectually active but to give people a sense of being smart and enjoying themselves as they increase their knowledge (evidenced by the heading on a Reader's Digest advertisement:  "Recreation and Education Combined").

Ong's objection to Reader's Digest, revealed in the course of this analysis, is that it presents itself as particularly intellectual when it obviously is not, and he fears that if foreign sales of the magazine continue to rise, Reader's Digest will become a symbol of American intellectualism.
 

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