Riding Shotgun: Jesus Loses Bet To Elvis,
Best Newspaper Ever To Fold

Mourning the end of the Weekly World News.

Army suicides are at their highest rate in decades, Barbie dolls are causing cancer, and stock markets are quivering like bowls full of jelly. They’re the kind of headlines that can send a guy heading for a mountain cabin to stock up on shotgun shells and canned peaches. If there’s anything that’s safe to crack a smile at in the newspaper today, it must be buried deep, and a reader’s more likely to become the next Unibomber before stumbling across it.

Oh, wait — here we are: “Bat Boy Has Bat-Baby With Bat Babe”; “Bush Backed By Elvis’s Ghost”; “12 U.S. Senators Are Space Aliens.” The Weekly World News may not specialize in true stories, but it made for an excellent alternative when standing in check-out lines. Read The New York Times to find out how the Fed is blowing your savings, or glance through the Weekly World News and learn about Bigfoot’s historic meeting with the Loch Ness Monster. What kind of world is it when the fake news is better than the real thing?

Sadly, it’s our world. And even sadder, we’ll no longer have the Weekly World News to divert us while we’re standing in line to pay for our canned peaches. After 28 years of making up the weirdest shit imaginable, WWN is ceasing publication. Really, who can blame them. For print humor, the Web has become the 500-pound gorilla in the room beating the holy hell out of ink and paper. Sure, we might flip through it in check-out lines, but lay out money for it? Why bother when every other blogger with a sense of sarcasm can give the world a half-giggle headline? If they have Photoshop, they could even slap a bat head on a baby and become the next digital Barnum.

But there was something truly joyful about seeing those headlines in 30-point type, in actual ink, on newspaper racks. Something joyful in the sheer audacity of the endeavor, that somebody actually said, Not only will we fabricate the news, we will duplicate the mainstream method of delivery and sell it in newsstands right alongside the real newspapers, sandwiched between the Post and the Times.

We won’t see that happen again. Not now, when the Internet gives even the most hackneyed funnyman a level playing field. It probably helped that WWN came onto the scene just as the nation was looking down the barrel of the 1980s, a time that would sorely need an influx of humor. In a world where a peanut farmer was handing over the reigns of the most powerful nation to a man who once played silver screen second banana to a chimpanzee, the idea of high-profile alien abductions and mythical monsters playing poker with the ghosts of rock stars was … relieving.

I am one year older than the Weekly World News. For me, it’s one of the many cultural touchstones that made up the landscape of my life that will just sound ridiculous when I try to explain them to my future grandchildren.

“Ya see, kids, there used to be this newspaper that entirely made up the news.”

“You mean Fox News, grandpa?”

“No, less retarded than Fox, kids. It used to make up stories about Bigfoot and vampires, not Karl Rove.”

“But Karl Rove is a vampire.”

“We didn’t know that then, children. Now go unplug your grandmother; it’s time for our nutrition pellets.”

WWN still has a Web presence, but its site just seems like a pale reproduction of its print copy — a conspiracy-theorist’s Onion. And while it stood out like a brilliant black-and-white-and-batboy-covered star among the straight news magazines when it sat on shelves, it will quickly get lost in the vast landscape of the Net, adding nothing new to the already madman-glutted world of the Web, and leaving checkout lines sadly left with nothing but the real thing.

Article © 2007 by Steve Spotswood