National Geographic's Collectors Corner

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With great help from a list provided by Cathy Hunter and an addendum by Scott Shier, I have tried to create this compilation of various National Geographic references throughout our culture.  It is, and probably forever will be, a work in progress.

The National Geographic as a Cultural Fixture (Part 1)

The National Geographic has been around for a long time. It has been popular for a long time as well. This being the case it is not surprising that the National Geographic shows up in many aspects of our culture. I have decided to show a few examples from various, diverse cultural expressions.

I. Art:

In this case, Lithography: In the 1967 Lithopinion Vol. 2 # 4 issue 8 there is a beautiful, multi-layered lithograph of a National Geographic “Cover”. The artist, Al Parker, does more than a cover depiction; he captures the essence of the magazine. The subject matter is Spain and he uses a bull fight to encapsulate the spirit of the National Geographic.

The Matador and his cape are on a yellow field with the magazine “title” running down the left side. This represents the cover. The matador and cape are drawn as roads, rail lines, and towns so this “cover” also represents the map supplements that we love (and sorely miss).

The Bull is in red on a clear sheet of plastic. It can rest superimposed on the Matador as if engaged in battle, or it can lie on the preceding, all white page so the two are facing one another. The bull is not a solid object but comprised of several items representing the articles and photos in the magazine. A senorita and a guitarist represent Spain’s people, a castle its architecture, a religious procession its culture, and Goya’s “Naked Maja” its art [see attached image].


Another artist who created a tribute to the National Geographic is James Gurney of "Dinotopia" fame.  In honor of the magazine's centennial he painted this Norman Rockwell-esque scene.

His association with the National Geographic predates this painting.  Starting in 1983, he began work on over a dozen assignments for the magazine, including reconstruction of the ancient Moche, Kushite, and Etruscan civilizations, and the Jason and Ulysses voyages for Tim Severin.


While I have no credit for the artist, another piece of "attic" artwork is a number entitled "Nat Geo Attic Treasures".  Starting in 1996, this painting was the was on the main page of he National Geographic collector's portal.  This site was the immediate forerunner to the 'Corner we all know and love.  Interestingly, the colorful spots on the painting (like the stack of Nat Geos) were click points to links.


An artist who uses National Geographics as an art medium is Boci.  His method is akin to cutting up photos for collages but he uses solvents to "transform" the pages.  He sells digital art on the website Etsy.  Here is a description of one of them and the link to it:

"Golden Pond" has rich textures, vibrant colors of golden yellow, peach, blue and green.  It was created by using citrus based ink solvent on National Geographic pages. It was scanned at 300 dpi - 3268 x 3711 pixels. Actual size at 300 dpi is about 10.9" x 12.3"


Another artist who uses National Geographic magazines in his art is Cyprien Gaillard.  He was born in Paris and lives in London and New York.  He had an exhibition at the Gladstone Gallery in New York from November 9 to December 21, 2013 entitled "Today's Diggers, Tomorrows Dickens".  The first floor of the exhibit was comprised of excavator machine parts, while the second floor had displays containing opened National Geographics with folded pages.  Note: this item was identified by Hannes.


This is a strange piece of artwork I ran across.  I have no idea who created it, or whether it was made with the National Geographic in mind, but it does have the "Yellow Border".  It is reminiscent of some of the icons made by Abramo Russo here at the 'Corner.

I(b). Music:


In March 1968, the Beatles released the song "Lady Madonna" as a single.  In the March 2018 issue of the National Geographic Sir Paul McCartney is interviewed.  At the bottom of the page there is this photo and caption:

Apparently, the song was inspired by a photograph in the January 1965 issue of the National Geographic.  This information was first reported in The Guardian on November 1, 2017 as per this link:

II. Comic Books:

In the 1974 comic book: “Dennis the Menace What in the World ?!” the second of two stories entitled “Dennis Goes Exploring” has the Mitchells take Denise to Explorers Hall for a tour of the various displays and exhibits.

The story is followed by a feature in the comic book entitled “The Cookie Jar”. In it there is much more detail about the Society, its headquarters, and the exhibits.

All in all, it is a very positive promotional pitch for the Society in general and Explorers Hall specifically.


Another comic book that has a reference to the National Geographic is the  1992 Dark Horse Comics "Indiana Jones and the Shrine of the Sea Devil" (Republished 1994).


The longtime artist for the cartoon character "Donald Duck" was a National Geographic subscriber for over 60 years.  He routinely used the magazine as a source of information.  He is quoted as saying: "I used to rob from the Geographic.  It was my best reference."


II(b). Puzzles:

In the July 9, 2018 New York Times Crossword Puzzle which appeared in The Baltimore Sun, the clue for 68 Across reads: "National Geographic has a new one every month".

In the August 22, 2018 Catonsville Times crossword puzzle there is the following clue for 113-Down: "Nat ___ (America Inside Out) airer".  The answer is, of course, "Geo".

In the February 11, 2019 New York Times crossword puzzle appearing in The Baltimore Sun, the clue for 19 Across reads: Cable channel with many science shows, familiarly.  The answer: NATGEO

In the March 11, 2019 LA Time Crossword Puzzle appearing in The Baltimore Sun the clue to 22 Down is: Nat ___ Wild: cable channel.  The answer is GEO.

In the January 2, 2020 Syndicated New York Times crossword appearing in the Baltimore Sun the clue for 51 Across reads "Cable TV's Nat ___".  The answer is "Geo".

In the June 29, 2020 Syndicated New York Times Crossword Puzzle, question 23 across reads "Nat ___ (cable channel)".  The answer is "Geo".

In the March 15, 2021 LA Time Crossword Puzzle appearing in The Baltimore Sun the clue to 34 Down is: "Cable TV's Nat ___ Wild".  The answer is "GEO".

A Crossword-like Puzzle called "Arrow Words" from the August 7, 2021 Baltimore Sun.

Clue: "Magazine since 1888, for short".

Answer: "NATGEO".

In the March 14, 2022 Los Angeles Times Crossword puzzle appearing in the Baltimore Sun there is a question, 38 Across, that asks "Network with science shows, familiarly".  The answer is "NATGEO".

In the June 16, 2022 New York Times Crossword Puzzle appearing in the Baltimore Sun the question #5 Across reads "___ Geo".  The Answer is: "NAT".

In the March 1, 2023 Catonsville Times the Newsday Crossword has the following:

Q: #62 Nat ___ (cable channel)      A: GEO

III. Literature:

In his 1933 story "Homage to Switzerland"  Ernest Hemingway tells the tale of three men waiting for the Orient Express at three different train stations.  One of them, Mr. Harris, is approached by an old man who says: "I beg your pardon if I intrude... but it has just occurred to me that you might be a member of the National Geographic Society."  This short story first appears in the April 1933 issue of Scribner's Magazine.

During the following three pages of reminiscences about National Geographic articles Harris asks, "Do you remember the panorama of the Sahara Desert?"

The panorama that is being discussed is a photogravure from the April 1911 issue and is entitled "The Hour of Prayer in the Sahara Desert".  Photo courtesy of Philip Riviere.


There is a reference to National Geographic in the 1962 Philip K. Dick book "The Man in the High Castle".  On page 210, there is this:

"... he had that old-fashioned gold lettering on his door, and a waiting room like a dentist's office.  With National Geographics."


There is a reference to National Geographic in the 1982 Stephen King novella "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption".  On the bottom of page 49, the narrator tells of a fellow prisoner:

"Andy succeeded to Brooksie's job and he used the same force of will I'd seen him use on Byron Hadley to get what he wanted for the library, and I saw him gradually turn one small room... lined with Readers Digest Condensed Books and National Geographic into the best prison library in New England."


The following is an excerpt from a study guide for the 1983 book "Gorillas in the Mist".  It sets the context much better than I could.

"Fossey connects with a number of the members of the various groups over the years, some who tend to look to Fossey and the other human observers as sources of entertainment. Some of them find Fossey's possessions interesting, and Fossey once hands a gorilla a National Geographic magazine in an effort to keep the youngster entertained without touching her camera or camera lenses.  She is amazed that the youngster looks at the pictures but seems to hold a grudge for having been pacified with the magazine."

The book was adapted into a movie in 1988.


On a lighter note. In his 1986 book “You’re Only Old Once” Dr. Suess tells the tale of an elderly gentleman’s experience at the doctor’s office. He is probed and prodded in a myriad of tests by numerous “specialists”. The story starts out with the mansitting in the waiting room reading, you guessed it, a National Geographic.

The magazine goes on to describe an exotic land:

“In those green-pastured mountains of Fotta-fa-Zee

everybody feels fine at a hundred and three

‘cause the air that they breathe is potassium-free

and because they chew nuts from the Tutt-a-Tutt Tree.

This gives strength to their teeth, it gives length to their hair,

And they live without doctors, with nary a care.”


In his 1991 collection of short stories entitled "The State of the Art", Iain M. Banks includes this line in a short story entitled "Cleaning Up":

"Cesare Borges straightened his tie, put the edition of National Geographic away, and emptied the small box containing the names of the rest of the people sitting in the outer-outer office into the waste-bin.  Professor Feldman's slip of paper was marking Cesare's place in the magazine."


In his 1992 book "The Bridges of Madison County" Robert James Waller writes about a National Geographic photojournalist named Robert Kincaid who has an affair with a lonely housewife, Francesca Johnson, while he is creating a photo essay of covered bridges in Madison County, Iowa.

The book was adapted into a movie in 1995 and into a Tony Award winning musical in 2013.


In the 1999 novel "Cloud Nine" by Luanne Rice there are three mentions of National Geographic.

On page 238 there is this:

"Mike had plenty of dreams.  His grandfather subscribed to National Geographic, and Mike spent hours looking through back issues.  He learned that there was a profession called cultural anthropology, and it appealed to him."

And on page 248 there is this:

""Like your National Geographic grandpa... They're so interesting'.  'Glad to be of service,' George said. 'Go up in the attic and read them all you want.'"

And final on page 365 there is this:

"One day Mike went into his room, and there were all the National Geographics tied up in a bundle with a note: 'Bring these back when you get your diploma.'"


On page 6 of the 2002 book "How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found" by Sara Nickerson there is the following passage set in a laundromat:

"When the machines are subsiding and grinding, I settle down with my National Geographic magazine while Sophie carefully arranges completed chunks of THE HARDEST JIGSAW EVER MADE onto the laundry sorting table."

Then, on pages 29-30 there is this set on a porch:

"I could have stayed on that porch for days, digging through piles of twenty-year-old National Geographics and crinkly yellow newspapers with funny-looking ads."


The cover of the book of poetry "Fruitfly Geographic" is a homage to the modern National Geographic cover.  The book was published on March 19, 2004, and was written by Stephen Brockwell, a Canadian poet and tech consultant.


In the 2004 book "Lord of the Kill" by Theodore Taylor, sixteen year old Ben Jepson is in charge of Los Coyotes, the family's big cat preserve, while his parents are in India writing a story for the National Geographic on tiger conservation.

Ben's favorite tiger is kidnapped and a badly mauled body turns up in one of the cages.  And that's just the beginning of the mystery.


On page 35 of the Science Fiction book "The Prophet of Yonwood" by Jeanne DuPrau there is this paragraph:

Amanda took one of the National Geographic magazines and leafed through it.  "Oh, Lord, look at this," she said.  She held out the magazine, open to a picture of a volcano erupting, with flames and billows of black smoke.  "This is kind of like what the Prophet saw."


On page 51 of the 2007 book "Laughing Mad: Thr Black Persona in Post-Soul America" by Bambi Haggins there is this excerpt:

After the Berkeley years the plethora of voices began to coalesce in (Richard) Pryor's comic persona.  However, as early as 1968 the seeds of the burgeoning persona could be seen on his self-titled first comedy album - as was indicated by the cover.  Emblazoned with the image of Pryor gone 'native' (almost naked in a parody of National Geographic photographs of African tribesmen), the album, like the cover art, offered a contentiously hilarious picture and routines...


In her 2010 book "Trash Course", Penny Drake's heroine, Terry Faye, investigates two elderly recluses who happen to be hoarders.  Here is a description of something she finds:

"Dusty golden colored magazines were stacked against the walls all the way to the ceiling.  National Geographic, thousand of them."

Later in the book there is this paragraph:

"Dusty magazine covers criss-crossed with rotting twine kept shouting for my attention.  The McCarthy hearings made the cover of Life.  John F. Kennedy's picture graced Time.  National Geographic visited Africa yet again."

IV. Movies:

The next time Christmas comes around be sure to watch the 1946 movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Part of what make GeorgeBailey tick is his desire to leave Bedford Falls and go explore the world and see exotic lands. And what was his inspiration to do that you ask? None other than our beloved National Geographic Magazine that’s what. When you watch pay close attention to the early part of the movie when George Bailey is a young boy working at the pharmacy.

After Mary (his future wife) says that she does not like coconuts he goes on to say, “You don’t like coconuts? Say, brainless, don’t you know where coconuts come from? Look it here… from Tahiti, Fiji Islands, the Coral Sea!”

Mary then says, “A new magazine! I never saw it before.”

George replies as he grabs the National Geographic from her and holds it up for her to see but not touch, “Of course you never. Only us explorers can get it. I’ve been nominated for membership in the National Geographic Society.”

After she whispers sweet nothings into his deaf ear he continues, “I’m going out exploring one day, you watch. And I’m going to have a couple of harems, and maybe three or four wives. Wait and see.”


In the 1953 classic comedy "Gentlemen Prefer Blonds" there is this exchange:

"It seems a python can grab a goat and kill it by squeezing it to death."

"Get to the point."

"That's all."

"What's incriminating about that?"

"Well Piggie was being the python, and I was the goat."

"Oh, Lorelei!  Don't worry!  Piggie won't tell tell anyone"

"He won't have to.  When Piggie was squeezing the goat,  Mr. Malone was taking pictures through the porthole."

"Whatever for?  The National Geographic Magazine?"

"Wake up honey.  Mr. Malone has foxed us."


In the 1958 WWII love triangle "Kings Go Forth" (Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood) there is this line:

"Only what I've read in the National Geographic".


In the 1961 comedy "All in a Night's Work" there is this question:

"Threatened to expose him to the National Geographic?"


In the 1964 comedy "Kiss Me, Stupid" there is this bit of chastising:

"The truth is you don't give a damn about me... because if you did, you'd be jealous.  You'd fight for me.  It's the most primitive emotion there is.  You take the Watusis.  I read all about it in the National Geographic... in Dr. Sheldrake's office.  If a Watusi wife catches another woman... with a Watusi husband, you know what she does?  She buries her in sand up to her neck... and smears honey all over her head... and lets the red ants loose on her."


There is a "cameo" by a National Geographic Magazine in the 1968 movie "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" but there is an anachronism in that appearance.

When the car, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, is first hauled back to the Potts' farm, Grandpa Potts, played by Lionel Jeffries, is reading a National Geographic with a color cover.  National Geographic's had text-only covers in 1910, the year the movie was set.


In the 1968 movie "Rachel, Rachel" there is this complaint:

"Your father always smelled of formaldehyde.  Stuck to his clothes, it clung to everything he touched.  Just like those nasty wolverines I read about in National Geographic.  They leave their stench on everything they catch so that nothing else will eat it

These are the many cultural references I could find the National Geographic Society and its magazine in Art, Comic Books, and Literature; and some of the Movies. I’m sure there are a lot more.

Go To Part 2:

Go To Part 3:

Tom Wilson

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