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Magazine / The Spectator

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The title of two British political magazines, one that ran from 1711 to 1712 and a second that started in 1828 and is still going. The second sometimes claims descent from the first but there is no direct connection other than the name.

The magazine has no relation to the 2024 TVB Series.

The Spectator (1711)

The first Spectator was a text publication that had a huge lasting impact on the British media scene despite only lasting a year or so. Supposedly written by the fictional 'Mr Spectator', it was in fact anonymously penned by the partnership of Joseph Addison and Dick Steele, with occasional contributions from Addison's cousin Eustace Budgell. Addison and Steele were an Odd Couple of good friends, with the Englishman Addison being highly educated and fond of high affairs of state dotted with classical references, while the Irishman Steele was more interested in Slice of Life everyday affairs. Addison was also borderline asexual while Steele was The Casanova. They first met as pupils at Charterhouse boarding school. They were both members of the Kit-Cat Club in London which was an influential part of the Whig Party at the time.

The Spectator's stated aim was to give a non-partisan look at British political affairs and daily life (hence the name, Mr Spectator being a neutral observer) but this was Blatant Lies as it was a mouthpiece for Addison and Steele's Kit-Cat Whig political thought, albeit handled rather more subtly than in most publications of the time. Sometimes referenced were the cast of Mr Spectator's fictional friends, who were mostly made up of stereotypes and Strawmen Politicals representing different strands of influence in British society at the time. After its end in 1712, the magazine was briefly revived in 1714 without Steele's involvement. It continued to have influence for years later due to, unusually, being re-issued as compilation books throughout the eighteenth century.

The Spectator (1828)

Founded by Robert Stephen Rintoul, the modern incarnation of The Spectator's political position has changed over time due to the tradition of the editor and proprietor being the same person. It was a radical liberal publication when first founded and remained such for many years, but in the 20th century shifted to the right and is now considered to be the mouthpiece of Conservative thought in the United Kingdom—though it retains columns and writers from outside that area. Boris Johnson first rose to prominence (and controversy) when he served as its editor from 1999 to 2005. The number of adultery scandals involving its writers in recent years has led to Private Eye dubbing it The Sextator.

Tropes associated with the 1711 incarnation include:

  • Author Filibuster: One very early segment is basically Addison's love letter to the British Constitution as seen in the form of an allegorical dream.
  • Bungling Inventor: Steele, and some advertising for his inventions sometimes shows up in The Spectator. The best-known one is probably a portable fish pond on wheels intended to deliver fresh fish to inland areas, this being before methods of preservation like refrigeration.
  • The Casanova: Steele in Real Life, and the character Will Honeycomb in the magazine, possibly in an Author Avatar fashion.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: Addison repeatedly criticises the fashion for Italian opera in London, pointing out that most of the people attending it don't speak the language anyway.
  • Gratuitous Special Effects: Invoked. Addison complains about this in opera in issue No. 5.
  • Perspective Flip: One segment is supposedly written by one of four Iroquois envoys who visited London in 1710, and is used to criticise negative aspects of 1710s British society through alien eyes—in particular vicious political partisanship and declining church attendance.
  • Strawman Political: The best-known example is Mr Spectator's friend "Sir Roger de Coverley" (punningly named after a popular dance of the time), a caricature of a Tory squire who was used to gently mock the Tories' policies as being old-fashioned.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: Addison-penned articles make use of many quotes from classical literature, sometimes in the original Greek. Of course, it was aimed at an educated audience.
  • Weird Trade Union: The fashion for proliferating clubs in the early eighteenth century was mocked, with clubs devoted to absolutely everything being referenced in the magazine. One that became a particular Running Gag was the 'Ugly Club of Oxford', with readers writing in keen to apply and boasting of their deformities.