The Atlantic Monthly celebrated its 150th anniversary at the University’s downtown Gleacher Center on Saturday with a day of high-profile speakers, current-events colloquia, pressed suits, and Perrier water.
The event was the third of six stops on a nationwide tour celebrating The Atlantic’s sesquicentennial. Each event is meant to be a “day of ideas” in the spirit of the magazine, which was founded in 1857. A clique of New England luminaries formed the magazine to project the “American Idea” upon a nation approaching fracture. That clique included Emerson and Longfellow, and the early Atlantic was known primarily as a literary magazine.
Although it continues to run popular book reviews and short stories, the magazine has adopted a more cultural and political bent in recent years.
Chicago’s program was open to the public and marked by a list of honorary hosts that included Mayor Richard M. Daley, Senators Richard Durbin and Barack Obama, and billionaire U.S. News & World Report editor-in-chief Mortimer Zuckerman.
A highlight of the event was a conversation between Ben Schwarz, The Atlantic’s literary editor, and Christopher Buckley, the satirical author of Thank You for Smoking and son of National Review founder William F. Buckley.
Schwarz asked Buckley about the book-to-movie process, America’s current satirical atmosphere, and his plans for upcoming work. Buckley said his script about a reviled tobacco lobbyist was rejected by Mel Gibson, and joked that the result might have been different “if it had been about Jesus giving up smoking.”
Buckley called the contemporary political world a “target-rich environment” for satire. He said humorists such as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are “organic outgrowths of a corrupt bureaucracy,” and that Chicago’s Onion is the “brilliant” epicenter of satire in America.
When Buckley, a former speechwriter for George H. W. Bush, was asked whether his work attacking political rhetoric stemmed from any pangs of remorse, he answered no. He said his only regret was once referring to Thucydides in a speech, whose name the president failed to pronounce during a high-tension Cold War address.
“Next time, I’ll just say Plato,” Buckley said.
Buckley finished with a plug for his upcoming book, Boomsday, about a blogger who makes the modest proposal that the government should offer incentives for baby-boomer suicide.
The event also included talks on America’s competitiveness in the global marketplace, China’s swelling influence, the history of Chicago, the war in Iraq, and a behind-the-scenes look at Antiques Roadshow.