Weekly World News, R.I.P.
posted by William McGeveran
Sad news from the supermarket checkout line the other day: Weekly World News is ceasing production. (Hat tip: Threat Level). Now that the National Enquirer and Star have moved slightly upmarket to reach the bottom rung of the celebrity gossip ladder, just below InTouch and Hello! (and not all that far from People and Us Weekly), WWN was the sole survivor of the old “supermarket tabloid” realm. It was also unique in its cheerful and utter fabrication of ridiculous stories (as opposed to the slightly surreptitious and partial fabrication at the other tabloids). A bizarrely comprehensive Wikipedia entry captures the full range of its odd topics, from Bat-Boy to UFOs. I also fondly remember the woman who was electrocuted by static cling.
There is a famous WWN story in my family: my little brother, aged 8 or 9, burst into the apartment after an errand to the grocery store. “Mom! Mom!” he shouted. “They’ve found mermaids off the Catalina coast!” Brief cross-examination uncovered the source of his news, and he was crestfallen and a little mystified when my mother explained the fuller media context. That story always makes me a little sad — a young boy’s loss of innocence. (This was not, I probably should add, the brother who became a newspaper editor.)
It was the internet that killed WWN, I assume. Why wait for a weekly dead-tree dose of weirdness when a tsunami of similar free content awaited at all times, and without all that smudgy ink to boot? WWN’s own web site launched too late and it no longer stood out in that vast ocean the way it did while you waited for the cashier to finish bagging groceries for the guy in front of you. Besides, over time tastes in fake news moved on from the WWN formula of [(John Waters x Bill O'Reilly) + The X Files] to detached, ironic, decidedly more left-leaning and upmarket venues such as the Onion and the Daily Show. The Weekly World News retained the air of a slightly disturbed old guy with a handshake buzzer and a fair amount of actual paranoia and credulousness. But still a really sweet guy. I love Jon Stewart, but you sure can’t say that about him.