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So long, Weekly World News

John Booth

I’ll miss the Weekly World News.

I hadn’t bought a copy in years, so I’ll shoulder my share of the blame for its coming demise, but only if you admit that even if you never shelled out the cash to buy a copy or sheepishly thumbed through it in the checkout lane, you wanted to know, on some level, what was behind those pulpy covers.

I was surprised to learn this week that the Weekly World News only dated back to 1979, but it makes sense that the paper was at its height while I was growing up in the 1980s.

It was there when I was a curious elementary-schooler, hypnotized by Star Wars and aliens, when I was a wise-ass junior-high kid, paranoid about Russian nukes, and when I was a high-schooler who occasionally reveled in its unflinching bullshit. Where tabloids like Star and the National Enquirer had a kind of voyeuristic, tawdry aura, the Weekly World News’ sheer overt outlandishness somehow made it more palatable. I just didn’t see much fun in lurid, third-hand sex-and-drugs celebrity fodder. But Selenites watching us from their dark-side-of-the-moon city? Count me in.

That’s what made the WWN great: The absolute sincerity with which the paper used to ply its tales of JFK spottings, Bat Boy sightings, and the stunning appearance of Satan’s visage in any number of fires, erupting volcanoes, tanker truck explosions and steaming compost. The finger-staining newsprint, the sans-serif, all-caps headlines, the screaming -- even SHOCKING! -- sunburst cover splashes, all somehow lent the paper an air of, well, certainly not weight or truth or reality, but of understanding. An understanding that went something like, “Look -- we cared enough about this crap we created to put it in print, and you know you want to read it and have a laugh at how seriously you think we’re taking it, so let’s help each other out. Grab a beer.”

Somewhere in the new millennium, the paper stopped pretending to take itself seriously. That’s when the fun stopped. The physical edition can still kind of pull it off, mostly because the covers are still classics, I can’t say the same for the website. The same tall tales are there, but the newsprint doesn’t translate that well to pixels.

We’ve all just gotten so used to reading bizarre humor and clever satire and flat-out lies online that the Weekly World News doesn’t stand out from the rest anymore. It comes off like a pale Onion-wannabe.

There’s also the tabloid-porn factor: When you can get online and read all you want about conspiracy theories and UFO invasions and angel sightings, then why would you bother going to the store to buy your guilty pleasure? How bizarre is that? A publication built on lying for fun and profit, killed by the Internet.

I’d have been less surprised to find aliens running the CIA.

The Cigarette: A Political History (By the Book)

Sarah Milov's The Cigarette restores politics to its rightful place in the tale of tobacco's rise and fall, illustrating America's continuing battles over corporate influence, individual responsibility, collective choice, and the scope of governmental power. Enjoy this excerpt from Chapter 5. "Inventing the Nonsmoker".

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