Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Weekly World News Is Alive and Well in Kalamazoo

The supermarket checkout counter might never be the same. With its August 27th issue, the Weekly World News. the outlandish tabloid that featured stories about aliens and Elvis, will cease publication. It will still be available online, but the Weekly World News will no longer haunt the supermarket checkout line.

The Weekly World News was founded by American Media, after the National Enquirer had changed to colour printing, as a means of keeping the Enquirer's old black and white press in use. The tabloid inherited more than the Enquirer's old printing press. Before 1969. when the National Enquirer shifted its focus to celebrity gossip and human interest stories, the National Enquirer basically two sorts of stories. The first, for which it was most famous, were lurid tales of mothers eating their own babies and madmen slicing up their dates and storing the remains in a freezer. The second were outlandish stories of alien beings, UFOs, and creatures such as Bigfoot. It was this second sort of story for which the National Enquirer had been known that the Weekly World News made wholly their own. While the mainstream media might focus on politics and government and other tabloids might focus on celebrity gossip, it was the outre that was the speciality of the Weekly World News.

Over the years the tabloid had featured a number of bizarre headlines. Aliens were a favourite with the Weekly World News. The paper reported that several U.S. Senators were, in truth, aliens. At various times it also reported various aliens visiting important dignitaries. Naturally there were the tales of alien abductions. But the Weekly World News covered more strange creatures than aliens from outer space. Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, the Abominable Snowman, vampires, and a variety of other odd critters got their due in the tabloid.

For the most part the Weekly World News eschewed the sort of stories other tabloids might report about the rich and famous. When it did cover famous individuals, the stories were clearly too far fetched to be believed. One issue from the Nineties reported that Hilary Clinton had adopted an alien baby. Another reported that Abraham Lincoln was really a woman. The Weekly World News perhaps got more mileage out of Elvis Presley than any other celebrity. Following his death in 1977, the tabloid would regularly proclaim that Elvis was not dead. In the Nineties, it would print the "news" of Elvis's "real" death, Of course, it must be kept in mind that, according to the Weekly World News, not only did Elvis live beyond the time that history tells us he died, but so did Adolph Hitler, Marilyn Monroe, and John F. Kennedy.

The Weekly World News also created its own recurring characters. Perhaps none gained as much fame as Bat Boy. Bat Boy was a half human, half bat creature discovered in a cave in West Virginia by Dr. Ron Dillon. Bat Boy first appeared in the pages of the Weekly World News in 1992. Over the years he has enrolled in college, been knighted by Queen Elizabeth, ran for governor of California, and endorsed Al Gore as president. Bat Boy proved so popular that an off Broadway musical based on the character, entitled Bat Boy, was produced in 1997.

Another regularly featured character was P'Lod. P'Lod is an alien from another world who seeks to advise politicians on Earth in order to insure our continued well being. Not only did P'Lod advise politicians, but he could apparently pick the winner of any presidential campaign. The Tabloid also reported that P'Lod had an affair with Hilary Rodham Clinton.

In its 28 years in existence, the Weekly World News became very much a part of American pop culture. In the movie Men in Black it is cited as having "the best damn investigative reporting on the planet"--the characters in the film actually use it for leads on their cases. On the TV series Supernatural the heroes not only impersonated reporters from the Weekly World News in one episode, but figured importantly in another episode (as publicity for the show, the Weekly World News even interviewed its fictional heroes). A short lived Sci-Fi Channel series, The Chronicle, about a tabloid that investigates strange stories (which also happen to be real) was obviously based on the Weekly World News.

Ultimately, it is difficult to say what caused the demise of the Weekly World News. It is possible that the paper suffered from competition with the World Wide Web. Let's face it, if one want to read about aliens these days, all he or she has to do is google it and he or she will have several different web sites to choose from. Indeed, I have no doubt that there are probably blogs out there that specialise in what was once the World Wide News's stock and trade.

I must admit that I have never had much use for supermarket tabloids. I have little interest in the private lives of celebrities and, even if I did, I would have little reason to believe the stories printed in the Enquirer or the Star. That having been said, I always loved the Weekly World News. While its stories were no more true than those of other tabloids, its stories were also so outlandish that they could not possibly be true. In some respects the Weekly World News was not so much a tabloid as it was a parody of a tabloid. I mean, who could not get a laugh out of the Bat Boy being hunted by the FBI or Elvis was living in Kalamazoo, Michigan or P'Lod having an affair with Hilary Rodham Clinton. The Weekly World News could be funnier than most sitcoms. I am guessing that is why the tabloid's demise is receiving so much coverage. And why I will miss it. People got a laugh out of the Weekly World News and loved them for it. Is it any wonder then that people are mourning its passing? I doubt the Enquirer or Star would be so mourned. No, the supermarket checkout counter won't be the same.

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