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What My Recent Subscription to ‘The New Yorker’ Will Tell Me About 2020 in the Future

Like everyone else in quarantine, I found myself bored and in need of new entertainment material. I realized it had been quite some time since I had bought a subscription to a magazine. Around Labor Day it just so happened that The New Yorker was offering a deal on their subscription offers. They also happened to be pairing the subscription with a free tote bag, so how could I say no? About six dollars and two weeks later, my first weekly issue of The New Yorker arrived in my mailbox, along with a crisply folded and packaged classic New Yorker tote. One by one a new issue arrived each week, and each one would go straight into a striped decorative storage box on top of my desk as soon as I finished it. Yet as the end of 2020 became (somehow) increasingly explosive and erratic, I found myself wondering how this time would play out in history. How would I look back on it? What personal experiences do I have to reflect on in relation to everything that’s been happening in our society?

Unfortunately, I haven’t found my way out of thinking like that yet, given that 2021 isn’t seeming to let up either (though I don’t normally set up expectations for a new year in general). But what I have come to realize is that this time of isolation has also been a time of collection and accumulation for me. Everything I have received, whether it’s a package from Barnard, my final assignment from my last day in high school, or my recent subscription to The New Yorker, has slowly been tucked away over the course of almost a year, one of the most tumultuous years in modern history. What makes my subscription stand out to me, in particular, is that each of these carefully illustrated covers depicts a specific time in the chaos of 2020, and I have wondered what these illustrations will mean to me in 10, 20, or 30 years, when all of this has *hopefully* become a part of a history textbook. 

In an attempt to decipher what that feeling of looking back on this time will be like, I’ll assess a few of the covers from my recent subscription to The New Yorker, one of the most influential publications in the world.

Sept. 21, 2020 – “Last Days” by Chris Ware

A family sits outside on their porch, all wearing masks, all social distancing, and all looking blankly at a fire pit. It carries the weight of boredom and exhaustion we all have harbored for some time since the emergence of COVID-19. This feeling carries even more weight as it was one of the issues that came forward towards the end of the year, a feeling of holding out hope for the incoming new year and the impatience of wishing 2020 would just be over already. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the feeling of longing for this time to end, mainly because it still hasn’t gone away, even in 2021.

Sept. 28, 2020 – “Open Offices” by Pascal Campion

An empty office. One man stands by a water dispenser with his paper cup. Perhaps the paper cup was something he and his co-workers took for granted. It was probably an annoyance for someone to have to refill the stack of paper cups every other day or so. But now it’s stacked high. And it’s probably been that way for days.

I remember the feeling of an empty high school when I walked back into it three months after it closed for a small and carefully curated graduation ceremony. I remember passing by the stairs and remembering how annoying it was when a couple would take up space on the staircase making out while I was running late to first period. Now it was empty. And it had been that way for months.

Oct. 5, 2020 – “Icons” by Bob Staake

The loss of RBG. An icon for many, especially women. Replaced soon after, almost with no thought to pause and reflect on her legacy. In 10, 20, or 30 years, I hope I’ll have accomplished something big enough to honor her memory in my own life.

Nov. 2, 2020 – “American Tumult” by Richard McGuire

A twisted American flag, published the day before Election Day. What a wild ride that was. It still is. In the future, hopefully I will get to look back at this cover and solidify this tumultuous time in our country as a thing of the past in a better and brighter America.

Nov. 16, 2020 – “Hope Again” by Pascal Campion

In this cover, notably published after Biden won the election, the Empire State Building shines brightly and brilliantly against the night sky. Though I’m not in New York at the moment, I could feel the energy of excitement and joy the city perpetrated when Biden was projected to be the President-elect. It’s a turning point in this country, as with any transition of power, and hopefully, it will be a transition for the better.

Nov. 23, 2020 – “Election Results” by Kadir Nelson

A young black girl carries a small American flag. I can’t speak for a young black girl now or in the future, her experience will always be different from my own. But perhaps, in the future, we will have done enough collective work to make American society a better place for her to live, a place with all of the promises of America fulfilled for her. In the future, I hope we find ourselves continuing to perpetuate a nurturing and safe environment for all black women, being more aware of what they’ve been telling the world for so long.

Nov. 30, 2020 – “New Traditions” by Barry Blitt

A family sits six-feet-apart gathered around a table outside under autumn leaves. Thanksgiving was certainly strange for many — hardly anyone could travel and everyone had to be extremely cautious about how they could go about a holiday season. It felt as though there was little to no holiday cheer this year. But maybe, in the future, this also becomes a distant and distinct memory and also a Thanksgiving that stands out as a time we had to truly be thankful for the little things.

Dec. 7, 2020 – “Love Life” by Adrian Tomine

A young woman sits in front of her laptop with what looks to be a Cosmopolitan drink, and although her upper half is clean and kempt, she sports basketball shorts and slippers underneath, and her entire floor is scattered with open Amazon boxes, worn masks, half-eaten Cheeto bags, and cats. Same.

This was the last issue that I received in my subscription, and it’s been extremely foreshadowing of my spring semester in my freshman year of college. Perhaps one day I’ll look back on this cover with a full pantsuit at a job I love. 

Perhaps one day I’ll look at all of these covers with a sigh of relief, thankful that it’s become history and something that made all of us stronger in the end.

Caroline Val

Columbia Barnard '24

Caroline is a first-year at Barnard hoping to major in Psychology and English with a concentration in Film Studies. When not advocating for mental health awareness, she's also extremely involved in all things theatre, film, and writing (especially poetry). She can be reached on Instagram @cxrol.v!
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