So they’ve finally killed-off the Weekly World News and the world is a duller place because of that. No more shall we stand in a supermarket checkout line and let our attention take in the shocking news that “Dick Cheney is a Robot”. (“Just Like a Stepford Wife!” The splash assures us.) This publication started out around the time that I first started to read the things around me...I mean really take in my surroundings. For a kid, sitting caged in one of those rolling metal death traps that are shopping carts, those magazines racks were right at eye level, and I took it all in, along with the candy and bubble gum right beside them.
Now, those supermarket rags, as I understand this, are holdovers from the 1950’s, that glorious Post-War era that seems to have just paved the Yellow Brick Road to Hell for Western Civilization. It was a time when women were expected to stay at home and do housework, which, of course, included the shopping. In between her doing the vacuuming (in heels and pearls, of course!) and using the latest technological advances of a modern kitchen to prepare delicious meals for her family, she would take time out and amuse herself with a variety of entertaining game shows, variety programming, and, of course, the “stories” on television, (many of them still brought to you courtesy of the very same brand name sponsors as back then.)
Of course, this relic, this model of the “Modern Wife” of that era would also find distraction(and some still do, I believe) at the checkout line, by browsing tabloids that told not only of the gossip of the Hollywood Stars and various pop celebrities but hyped also the fictional happenings and machinations of the various characters from their stories. But I digress. You see, as a kid, sitting there, in a supermarket, deciphering these cryptic headlines on my own, I made a serious and solid decision…I chose the one about Bigfoot and UFOS over the “Who Shot JR” ones.
I wasn’t intentionally exposed to such garbage, you understand. I mean, my mother taught English and expected better from me. She selected, and made sure I completed, a summer reading list every year, and would engage me in conversation (i.e. quiz me) on selected topics from the readings, and, once, she went to bat for me with the nuns when I got kicked out of fifth grade for reading Mark Twain during recess. How could I let her know that I would cunningly purchase and read any copy of that pulp rag that I could lay my hands on? Thanks to some skillful distribution of comic books and newspapers in my life, however no one ever caught on that I was reading the Weekly World News.
In high school I realized that, no matter how cool it was to believe that Debbie Gibson was pregnant with Elvis’ two headed love child, it was really not going to happen. But by that point I was also writing actively, and taking great pleasure in learning about it as a craft, an art, and a potential livelihood, and I looked at the Weekly World News as a fun guide to outlandish creativity.
You see, the headlines were always fun and clever: “Man Marries Computer & Becomes a GIGAMIST!”, “Imelda Marcos Skins Children for More Shoes!”, “Vegan Vampire Attacks Trees”. And they always pulled it off with just the right edge of suspicion and veracity to make one both chuckle and wonder. It helped me develop a healthy understanding of the relatively plausible, the plainly outlandish, and the just plain freaky. (Gotta love those Freaks!)
In later years, through college overseas, then coming back and living in a brand new kind of neo-post-modern hell, The Weekly World News offered only small portion of its former vigor. Batboy had become all the rage and they were putting out way too many headlines about him, and about Jesus, God, and the End of Days. But they still came through, every week, drawing readers into a style and place, where anything could, sometimes did, happen.
But, in the end it seems that The Paper was just past it’s time. Still published in glorious black and white, still hawking Elvis sightings, alien encounters, conspiracies within the government, and newly discovered prophecies, it was, after a point, doomed.
I once told a good friend that I believed that, if indeed, Signs of the End of the World were to be made manifest, and the Four Horsemen were to Ride, the Weekly World News would most likely report it first. Now, I’m pretty sure, it would be on the Drudge Report, or YouTube, or some such site long before it made it to print. (And would be followed for days by talking head commentary, analysis, and reaction.)
We are living, now, in an age where real world worries and horrors far outweigh the imagined ones of extra terrestrial rectal probes and Chinese organ stealing rings. These days nothing is shocking, nothing takes us by surprise, and not much makes us think, anymore. People openly accuse the government of the most ridiculous schemes and revile their elected leaders as the worst kind of diabolical cabal, and it passes for insightful mainstream political criticism.
Parent company, American Media, Inc. gave no public reason for their decision to close down the presses at the WWN, but one insider said that the reasons for shutting down don’t make any sense. Now, they say that the Website will remain and that it’s only the print edition that is defunct, but people seem to have long given up on Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster, Elvis, and Batboy. What people want now are sources, they expect hard facts, and as much of the illusion of accuracy that television or the internet can offer them. Why shell out for a black and white tabloid when you can log in and find any number of strange happenings, bizarre tales, and weird people. Mostly they’re a lousy bunch of loudmouth whack-jobs sounding off about their brand of insanity but, because of the way it’s delivered, people believe that it is “Now fortified with 10% more Truth!”
I’ve long since drifted away from reading tabloids, have only scanned a few stories while waiting in line at the stores, but losing the WWN a loss is to me because they were never afraid to take it one step too far, and they never took themselves too seriously, they did as much to inform as to entertain. Their twisted style of trashy strangeness, their unapologetic exploitation of Freaks, Geeks and Weirdos, it all appealed to sick bastards out there like me. Their lurid stories were like junk food for my brain, a kind of mental candy on which to chew, and I will miss the headlines at the checkout counter, about Elvis, and Bigfoot, and even Batboy…but you know...I believe that I will miss the Freaks most of all.