Were you one of those kids who subscribed to OMNI magazine? I was. I think I was slightly younger than their target audience – It was on my 12th birthday when I started subscribing – and I think about a third of it was over my head.
But it looked so different from the magazines my classmates were reading (Seventeen) and the magazines my parents had (Time, the National Geographic) and it felt so right. It was different in the same way I was different. It had stories from the authors that only I had heard of (Zelazny, John Crowley) and pictures of tech that only I had heard about (lasers!), and strange, sexy speculations (can you control your dreams? a generation of psychic children in China?). I wasn’t getting this kind of information anywhere else in 1980s suburbia.
Bob Guccione (of Penthouse fame), and his partner, Kathy Keeton, created this magazine. Talk about a power couple. Ms. Keeton had the idea for this magazine, so they went out and made it. These are the same people who were selling “used” underpants to their Penthouse subscribers. Boy, have I learned not to underestimate anyone. Guccione writes in 1983:
Have you ever looked up at the sky on a clear, star-filled night and wondered at the awesome magnitude of the universe… and asked yourself: who and what am I; where do I come from and where am I going? And have you ever considered the possibility that life—life in any form—may exist out there among the stars? If that thought stimulates your mind as well as your imagination—you may be interested in seeing a very unusual publication called OMNI, the newest and most original magazine in America today.
And here’s my magnificent find – all OMNI magazines are available for free on the internet archive. Of course it doesn’t feel the same as holding the magazine and inhaling that glossy ink – I can still feel those thick slick pages – but at least they exist somewhere other than just in my awkward adolescent memories.
I found the issue from my 12th birthday month, and it’s almost spooky looking through it – how familiar the illustrations are, how I recognize some of the text. I must have read and reread these magazines, or maybe I was just in that “sponge” stage. Some of the articles are meant to be “way out there” – topics that today seem mostly rather commonplace. For instance, there is an article about the breakthrough in corneal transplants (the first 250 patients) – just seven years later, I would do research on artificial lens implants, which have become so common in recent years, my own mum had one without a second thought. There is a speculative article about the possibility of infants and toddlers using sign language before they are able to speak, and recently I saw this in action – what has come to be a very common parenting technique – with one of my grad school classmates and her very young (pre-verbal) daughter signing for milk instead of wailing like we did. Another article talks hopefully about the use of electrophoresis to distinguish DNA samples in criminal cases – you can’t turn on a TV these days without watching some CSI show or other. As a molecular biologist, it’s hard for me to imagine that when I was 12, these techniques were still in the “hope we get to do this someday” stage.
I miss how hopeful OMNI made me feel. This was one of my true sources of inspiration growing up.
- Author Barbara Ehrenreich Revisits Her Omni 1987 Look At The Future Of Sex (gizmodo.com.au)
- Omni Magazine Tribute (omnimagazineonline.com)
- Omni Magazine Entire Backlog Online (The Cafe In the Woods)