Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Bat Boy Retires to Florida
The print version of the Weekly World News has been abducted by aliens and will no longer be found in the checkout lane of your favorite grocery store. In reality, the sensationalist tabloid succumbed to overwhelming financial problems, but who cares about reality? Certainly not the writers and editors of WWN, who entertained millions of bored shoppers in check-out lines with stories of secret meetings between presidents and aliens, Elvis sightings, and, of course, the most widely recognized icon of trash tabloid news, Bat Boy, a pre-Photoshop masterpiece of image manipulation.
What can we learn (or unlearn) from the demise of WWN, which dubbed itself, “The World’s Only Reliable Newspaper”? Of course, like others, I’ve always wondered how many readers of WWN took it seriously. Nothing in its placement in the tabloid rack next to the National Enquirer, Cosmopolitan, and Better Homes and Gardens gave perusers a clue to the rags subversive nature. Sure, the headlines and photos were always over the top, but, like a Venus Fly Trap in a garden, it blended in with its environment extremely well.
You never saw MAD magazine or National Lampoon in the impulse aisle, but the tacky, design-challenged WWN was our checkout buddy for nearly thirty years, screaming apocalyptic warnings in the midst of Hollywood break ups and home improvement tips.
Is there a segment of the population out there who believes a 500-foot tall Jesus visited the U.N.? I wish it weren’t so (especially with an election year approaching), but the irony is, with more channels of communications and information than ever before in history, the lines between fact, fiction, news and opinion have been growing less and less distinguishable. Perhaps it’s not ironic but inevitable that we cling to an uncomplicated reality (or non-reality) in a sea of conflicting messages.
Don’t get me wrong. I love (and also write) satire and I think we need more publications like WWN, not fewer. I’m sorry to see the world’s only reliable newspaper fold. The one thing I wonder about is whether we were laughing at it or it was laughing at us. I’m sure it was probably a little of both.