Bizarre Bazaar

  Jerome Shea       March 8, 2009      Weekend Wonk

In the pages of tabloids you can find everything to feed your head, albeit a crude diet.

The celebrity gossip, of course, the low-down on “Brangelina,” and “TomKat,” how Brad’s poor heartbroken ex, Jennifer, is holding up (or not), whether Oprah and Stedman really have a future, and so forth. And of course the reader is always on a first-name basis with these celebs. The fantasy is that if the stars (pardon the pun) were aligned just right, Oprah would love to hang out with you and let her hair down. You are, in fact—if she but knew—her only real friend. This is the vicarious life on steroids.

And then there is the weird stuff, fodder for the credulous. SHOPAHOLIC SPINSTER BURIED ALIVE UNDER MOUNTAIN OF MERCHANDISE and BOY, 9, DECAPITATED IN CAR CRASH—AND LIVES! Half of these stories have British datelines, but then you recall that Britain is the spiritual home of these sleaze mags. What that says about their national character, I won’t hazard. There is often an undercurrent of hope in these things. Not only did the young lad survive being decapitated (you can see him right there, smiling over his neck brace), but AL QAEDA CELL WIPED OUT BY THE PLAGUE! How fitting that Bin Ladin’s evil designs might be thwarted by something right out of the Middle Ages. There is always hope.

And there is always God. If, famously, there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no atheists reading these pages, either. God effects miracle cures in these pages, and a columnist in the National Examiner assures us that GOD SENDS MESSAGES THROUGH HIS ANGELS. Yes, there’s a downside. A famous cover photo some years ago showed Satan’s snarling, horned visage in towering storm clouds over Wichita or someplace. But God, being God, is certainly in charge. He gives hope to the hopeless and—the brass ring—if there is a God then there is surely a heaven, an afterlife.

There is hope of the secular variety, also. Spot eight differences between two seemingly identical cartoons, send in your answer, and you just might win two hundred bucks. If that’s too much of a challenge and too small a payoff, just send in a form and you might win five large in a reader appreciation raffle.

Yes, there are raffles and contests galore, but there are also those who are happy to relieve you of some of the loot. The Danbury Mint, the Bradford Exchange, the Hamilton Collection—they all weigh in. You can get two cuddly teddy bears cruising on a Harley (“Burnin’ Love”) for thirty bucks. You can get all sorts of commemoratives and jewelry. My favorite is a Tweety Bird pendant (remember Sylvester and Tweety?) “pave-set with 115 glittering Swarovski crystals” for only three payments of $41.50 per.

And of course there are the personals, the horoscopes, and the advice to the legions of the lovelorn. All good fun if you step back a bit. And humbling, too, if you recognize your own weaknesses and blind spots.

But I said last week that there was a place where things stopped being funny, and there is an awful example of it in the Globe. The cover trumpets WHAT OBAMA’S HIDING FROM AMERICA! Can you guess? These eight (count ‘em, eight!) secrets include such as the true location of his birth (is he really a US citizen?), whether he is in fact a clandestine Muslim, whether he was involved in a murder (!), when (or if) he stopped using drugs, whether he was unfaithful to Michelle with a man, and so forth. The source for the drug item and the homosexual item, by the way, is a ex-con named Larry Sinclair, who failed a lie detector test about his allegations of having sex and doing drugs with Obama back in 1999. But that didn’t stop the Globe or even slow it down.

This is sickening. We may be amused by much of the stuff in the tabloids’ pages, but we should never forget that they can be incubators of vicious lies, in this case some of the same crap that almost fatally poisoned the last presidential campaign. And this is the only president we’ve got, people.

I’m not laughing. I hope you aren’t either.

Postscript. In a recent wonk (“Don Marquis”) I not only played fast and loose with upper and lower case, as some readers patiently pointed out (in the actually titles of those books featuring Archy and Mehitabel, everything should be in lower case), but I then realized that I consistently and unforgivably spelled Archy’s name “ Archie”! I must have had Archie and Jughead and Veronica and all that gang in mind. Mea culpa, good readers. Believe you me, “mortified” doesn’t begin to cover it.

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