To: The Heirs of William Randolph Hearst
Re: Consumered With Grief
‘Twas the month before Xmas and all through the paper,
ads screamed, “Buy This! Buy It Now and Buy Later!”
Dear Fourth Generation of the Fifth Estate:
It’s a good thing I have large dogs with strong teeth who are capable of tugging an eight-reindeer sleigh. Without their help, I’d never be able to get the paper indoors. Bloated since Thanksgiving (the newspaper, not me I’ve been retaining water since little Timmy made me eat a peanut in the third grade), the heft of the morning edition is stupefying. It’s not that your reporters are writing more stories it’s that you’ve got to get those advertising bucks, now. Television has sweeps weeks: the newspapers have sweeps season. And until the January white sales are over, ‘tis the time for ads infinitum.
To quote William Randolph himself, “Putting out a newspaper without promotion is like winking at a girl in the dark well-intentioned, but ineffective.”
Of course. You need to advertise or the paper doesn’t survive. This is big business, not charity. It’s not the print commercials I mind it’s their placement. A study of last Sunday’s newspapers included the following:
A full page ad of a leggy model in a knee-length fur coat, a belt strapped around her 15” waist, gleeful as her teeth would allow her to be, posing on a sidewalk in front of a store window (presumably, Saks, since it was sponsoring the ad). On the page opposite: A dead Iraqi citizen by the side of the road, with a soldier casually passing by, his four-foot-long weapon slung across his marine-issue khakis. Maybe if the Iraqi were wearing the fur, and maybe if the fur had hidden a Kevlar vest, he’d be alive today. Then he’d be the one gleefully posing on the road.
An article on the fatal bird flu that has killed 60 in Asia, now discovered in Romania, threatening a potential worldwide pandemic that might wipe out millions. The Chanel model with the pout posing directly below the piece was a picture of insouciance, posing in her $1,400 tweed and lambskin boots. I assume that since she was wearing Lamb Chop as opposed to Big Bird, she had nothing to worry about.
A picture of pallbearers at Arlington National Cemetery carrying a single coffin with the mixed remains of 12 troops. Aside from the usual diamond ads running next to it (one said “Drop Dead Gorgeous”), a pretty woman who had experienced mind-numbing weight loss proclaimed, “My Husband Can’t Keep His Hands Off Me!” Which would truly be something to report if he were reduced to a few unidentified bone fragments in the coffin pictured on the facing page.
We newspaper devotees get fed our “horrible” mixed with our “beautiful” every morning, right along with our eggbeaters. We get the juxtaposition of the poverty-stricken next to the reed-thin models well, at least they all have starvation in common.
Perhaps like that famous spoonful of sugar, the advertisers think that the eye candy will help the medicine go down. We want the news, but we can’t take the news. So when it gets too rough, you newspaper people are kind enough to provide us with supplemental pictures for our viewing pleasure. For our diversion.
But it’s a double-edged, multi-picture picture. We feel terrible when we read the article; we feel worse when we look at the ads. But like that proverbial car accident, we can’t help but stare. And realize that we’ll never be as pretty as those models. Most of us will never be that thin. Or that rich. Now it’s a double shot to our expanding stomachs.
Which begs the question: What makes us feel worse? Reading about motherless children, or knowing that we’ll never be as young as that Chanel model again? The homeless family without so much as a blanket to cover them, or the designer clothes that we’ll never be able to afford to just barely cover us?
And what happens when we run out to buy what the papers are all “ad-hawking?” What about the bills? “But it’s Christmas,” we say. “We deserve it.” No perhaps you, as the heirs of Mr. Hearst can afford it, but in this sketchy economy, keeping my head afloat while under a roof that is properly insured against the winter storms is challenge enough. The Jaguars, the Tiffany diamonds, the furs, and even the lambskin boots will have to wait.
Better I take what extra pennies I have and send them off to the victims of Katrina. Or Pakistan. Or whatever next befalls our international family. A family including even the Hearsts.
If any of you heirs of William Randolph Hearst are reading (including you, Patty, who know plenty about being smeared across the front page of the paper), I beg you: Please stop mixing the gorgeous with the grotesque at the breakfast table. I can barely stomach the decaf as it is.
Very truly yours,
A Woman Who Threw Her Back Out by Hefting Your Paper