Trafficking Literature: Mobility and Middlebrow Modernity in BP Magazine

Victoria Kuttainen, Senior Lecturer
Department of English
James Cook University

Accounts of the transatlantic “moveable feast” of the Lost Generation in Paris tend to eclipse the myriad sorts of travel—and its uses—in the interwar imaginary. During the prohibition years when alcohol marketing was banned in America, travel took up all the flagship advertising space in new middlebrow magazines such as Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Esquire. Aspirational in taste with a mass market appeal, the writing and travel advertisements in these magazines targeted a class of reader whose self-image as a modern subject was fashioned on ideas about mobility, in its many forms. Overseas, travel became a major advertiser and topic in a host of periodicals modelled these American ones. In Australia, the new magazines The Home, Triad, and Man were awash in Pacific travel.

A unique convergence of the interwar middlebrow magazine and Pacific travel can be found in the case of Australia’s monthly BP (1928-1942). Capitalising on the burgeoning market for commercial tourism after World War One and these innovations in print culture, the Australian steamship company Burns Philp made a daring move to cut out the middleman of ad agency by launching their own publication designed to reach a wide yet discriminating market. This paper examines implications of the magazine’s strategic attempt to trade on the cachet of literature to sell its commodity—the Pacific tour.

Marketed as “Australia’s finest monthly” the magazine lays bare middlebrow tensions between literary aspiration and commodity culture, sophistication and escapism, edification and entertainment, and modernity and primitiveness. This paper also explores the spectacular slippage between these values on display in this magazine in terms of different kinds of mobility on offer to middlebrow moderns on this side of the Pacific.

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