Weekly World News, RIP

August 11, 2007

I’m madder than a Canadian who broke his hockey stick. I’m madder than a Hollywood actor who misplaced his gerbil. I’m madder than a terrorist who forgot his vest full of TNT hanging in the closet at home.

The Weekly World News has ceased publication.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I hadn’t read the thing in years, and I’m pretty much the target audience for the world’s foremost news source for alien abductions and miracle diets based on the exclusive consumption of cough syrup. Competition for scarce newsstand space is hard to justify, though, if the sales aren’t climbing. It’s difficult to sell papers about the lost Ten Commandments and flying saucers hovering above the Pentagon when there’s eight other magazines on the same rack with Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, or, more likely and more frighteningly, both staring back at you. Even had the Weekly World News tried some of the tired old gimmicks to sell papers—the radical idea of switching to color, for instance—they probably wouldn’t have stopped the fiscal bleeding enough unless they incorporated unflattering pictures of Oprah Winfrey or Kirstie Alley at the beach in decidedly awkward angles into every cover story.

And it’s not really ceasing publication, as such, since the web site will continue operations. Though it’s just not the same. Sitting at home in front of the computer looking at grainy Photoshopped pictures of crop circles that spell out next year’s Oscar picks isn’t very fun. Sitting in Starbucks and having everyone in the place know that you’re reading an article about how Bat Boy was pulling drivers out of the Minnesota bridge collapse is. Web sites don’t have those creepy, perpetually black-and-white, obviously altered photos that adorn every story from A Scientist claiming that radishes cure AIDS to the alien who won the Powerball.

The writers of the Weekly World News were obviously skilled at their craft. Creating news stories is one thing, but keeping it interesting and fresh year after year is an accomplishment in and of itself. (Of course, it’s possible they couldn’t, which is why circulation dropped. Balancing out stories about, say, the world’s largest man marrying the world’s hairiest girl can be difficult when they keep getting divorced and going to swingers parties with the world’s shortest midget and JFK.) But the greatest accomplishment was somehow getting a space alien to endorse Bill Clinton, George Bush, Sr., and Ross Perot in 1992 and somehow make it plausible.

Still, there’s an almost magical amount of nostalgia in the newspaper for me. When I was in my early teens, I used to read the Weekly World News religiously, mostly because I found it endlessly fascinating. There was also another, more important reason, and that was every issue seemed to have at least one story about how the woman with the world’s largest bust line was in some kind of trouble, whether it be dismissal from the Israeli army, ejected from a ball game for “distracting” the umpires, or kicked out of Bloomingdale’s for screwing up the security cameras. And these stories were always accompanied by copious photographs in various flattering angles that featured women that I was not 100% certain were the same individual, though it was hard to tell because I don’t think I ever looked at her face.

But there was a lot more to love about the Weekly World News, too. There was Dear Dotti, a particularly cranky advice columnist whose responses were generally confined to:

1. Grow up!
2. Get lost.
3. You’re an idiot.

The truly scary thing was that you just knew that people were legitimately writing into her for advice. I also remember at one point that some rube asked Dotti for a picture of her posing in a bikini, which she complied with after about six weeks of drawn-out teasing. After all the anticipation, I was underwhelmed when she finally posted the rather visibly cropped photograph. She didn’t even look like she ever served in the Israeli army.

Then, of course, there was Ed Anger, hands down the single greatest name ever created for a fictional opinion columnist. Ed’s solutions to all of society’s ills tended towards the creative yet violent, but thankfully he was also largely evenhanded in his targets. He wanted to beat up environmentalists and oil company executives with the same amount of force, which drifted towards the embarrassingly lethal.

There was also a weekly column about wrestling, which seemed to me to be halfway legit, which kind of scared me that the same people who follow professional wrestling were also in the market for stories about carrots shaped like the Virgin Mary being commercially produced in China.

The scariest thing about the Weekly World News was, for all its bravado about being a real news magazine and its subsequent blatant manufactory of news, everyone knew in the back of their minds some people in this world believe this stuff. The fact that the same ads for power crystals, self-help cassette box sets, and electrode weight loss kits appeared in both the Weekly World News and The Enquirer signaled that certain individuals weren’t able to discern the fine gray line between gossipy truth and complete and utter fiction. This, by the way, also explains the popularity of horoscopes and The O’Reilly Factor.

It will be a loss to journalism when the Weekly World News disappears from newsstands. While their ham-fisted attempts to entertain us fell to the ravages of the Internet, where anyone and their brother can take a story about, say, Bigfoot, and turn it into something that a million people actually now believe is to be true, it ceases to be funny. But at least the writers and editors taught us the one universal truth, and that’s how to make a boatload of money making shit up.

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