R.I.P. Weekly World News your Stories will be Missed

MJMANDALAY

Registered User
Jan 26, 2005
13,145
1
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#1
While you aspire to your six-pack abs, your miracle diet, your glamorous life in rehab, my supermarket checkout time is spent in a world without pretense. It's a world where we good, simple men have to prepare for danger lurking from aliens, protect an Elvis who is reassuringly ALIVE! but still eating poorly, and be aware that Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein (also ALIVE!) are involved in a tumultuous, shaved-ape-adopting love affair in France. The Weekly World News fulfilled my reporter fantasies by ignoring the facts and my reader fantasies by doing it with very limited, large-point-size words.

The Weekly World News first appeared in 1979, when the National Enquirer went color and the only thing the publisher could think of doing with the black-and-white printing press was to run all the joke stories his editors came up with to entertain themselves. It has since become a cultural institution, spawning the award-winning Bat Boy: The Musical, driving the plot of Mike Myers' So I Married an Axe Murderer and appearing as a sly joke in Men in Black, when alien hunter Tommy Lee Jones cited it for delivering the "best damn investigative reporting on the planet." It presented a world so big anything could happen, not if we released too much carbon dioxide but if we made the more base error of cross-mating.

Now that world is about to disappear. The Aug. 27 issue will be the tabloid's last. So to eulogize the Weekly World News, I decided to take some of its writers out to dinner. This was partly because it was the right thing to do and partly because I'm hoping it starts a trend so that someone takes me out for a free meal in a few years. Freelance contributors Duncan Birmingham, a screenwriter, and Mark Miller, a former sitcom writer who provided so much copy he used 10 pseudonyms to make it look like more people worked there, did a fine job drinking to their former publication. Surprisingly, the only rule WWN writers have had to follow was that their stories had to be believable. Most of the readers, they believed, thought WWN stories were real, a perception encouraged by the editors who snuck a few real strange-but-true tales into every issue. In fact, the tabloid's slogan was NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH until 2004, when instead it began running the warning: "The reader should suspend disbelief for the sake of enjoyment."

That marked the end. Like the sideshow, the monster movie, the snake-oil barker and the highway attraction, the fabulists of Huck Finn's world are gone. "The Weekly World News is kind of corny. It's so screwball and off-the-wall it feels like we're too jaded for it anymore," says Birmingham.

He's right, but I can't help thinking that's a good thing. Though I mourn its passing, I'm glad that the Weekly World News has lost so much of its readership--from 1.2 million in the 1980s to 83,000 now. In fact, I feel incredibly old to have been alive at a time when people read a newspaper with a Bigfoot beat and watched Leonard Nimoy use science to go in search of the Loch Ness monster and Atlantis. It's almost like living in a time when people try to heal themselves with ginkgo biloba.

Let Latin America have its new, goat-bloodsucking chupacabra monster. I want to live in a place where information is so pervasive that people are too smart for tall tales and Photoshop tricks, where our fake headlines are metajokes in the Onion or skewering irony on The Daily Show. It's actually a sign of progress for a society to go from inventing gods and monsters to seeking catharsis in the real life of Paris Hilton. We no longer need to conflate fiction and nonfiction to explain our world. Our fabulists aren't celebrated; Stephen Glass, JT LeRoy and James Frey are quickly caught and shamed. We decided to stop suspending our disbelief for the sake of enjoyment.

The fakery of the Weekly World News was built on the fear that comes from ignorance: in its pages other countries were woefully backward, nature was dangerous, outer space terrifying, weird-looking people scary. If we have to sacrifice Bat Boy on the altar of knowledge, then he's a small offering. Besides, he's totally freaky looking.


By JOEL STEIN
for TimeMagazine
 

izzy izkowitz

Chris Hansen is my hero
May 23, 2007
1,369
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#3
what am I gonna do without my batboy and thousand pound baby at birth stories? how will I ever have a decent shit again?