Thursday, April 10, 2003

Weekly World News (Review)

A frenzied couple of weeks as I try desperately to get everything done before end of term. But I wanted to comment on something here before it is off the shelves and too late:

I was in Safeway couple of days ago, standing in the checkout line when I spotted the Weekly World News headlines for the April 8, 2003 edition:

"WWN Uncovers

Top Secret North Korean Plan to INVADE AMERICA: Thousands already on West Coast posing as insurance salesmen!"

Followed by: U.S. Troops protecting Garden of Eden From Saddam!” and accompanied by "Is this the shrunken head of Osama Bin Laden?"

weekly world news cover april 8 2003

I often smirk at Weekly World News headlines and marvel, but this issue was so over the top that I erupted into uncontrollable laughter, attracting an embarrassing amount of attention from other customers. But it was soooo funny.

Or, not, depending on one's viewpoint. I was sorry that my students were out in their teaching practicums this week, because I wanted to take this paper into my classroom and throw it down at the feet of my Social Studies majors. That this paper sells any copies in Alberta is an indictment of every Social Studies teacher in the province. How dare we claim to be teaching critical thinking skills, or a knowledge of current events, or even of geography, if headlines like these continue to sell copies of the WWN It might please me to believe that everyone buying the WWN does so for the implicit satire, but I strongly suggest that most of those picking it up are taking it seriously. And…this is the scary part … many of these individuals have the right to vote, though thankfully, we can assume that anyone stupid enough to credit such a publication would be too stupid to actually find their polling station or be inclined to exercise their vote.

But really, one has to imagine the writers (one cannot call them reporters) for these publications sitting in their offices, bent over with laughter, brainstorming headlines. They at least must know that what they are writing is nonsense, so office conversation must surely revolve around how far one can push the credibility of its moronic readers before finally crossing over into the "nobody dumb enough to credit this" territory. Do they make bets with each other on how far they can push this line before the editor or the public balks?

I find their current event headlines the most annoying. It doesn't bother me so much when the WWN carries stories about Elvis or UFO sightings or, as this month, "Smelly co-worker can't be Fired" or "John Belushi's Ghost Terrorizes Frat House", but the 'political propaganda for idiots' is deeply offensive. Have moral reservations about the US invasion of Iraq? Well, turns out they were there to protect the Garden of Eden and other important biblical sites (p 11). Too stupid to think through the issues? Well, American troops protecting the bible, how much simpler do you need it? About the only way to top that one would be to show photos of Christ shaking Bush's hand, and the only reason they haven't gone there yet is the fear it might alienate some readers who figure they would be in front row for any second coming….

My previous favorite WWN headline was during the last Gulf War, which had a picture of Hitler standing in front of a ship with a caption to the effect that Hitler was coming out of retirement in South America to sail to Iraq so he could advise Saddam. Never mind the ludicrous suggestion that Hitler had been hiding out in Argentina all these years, or that he would be a 120 years old by now, or that he and Saddam are ideologically opposed on very issue, the thing is to equate Saddam and Hitler in the public mind, even when there is no possible connection.

On the other hand, how different is this than the mainstream American media's attempts to link Saddam with Osama Bin Laben? The fact that Saddam has persecuted religious minorities throughout his reign logically places him high on Bin Laben's hit llist, and vice versa, but somehow, they are suddenly all members of the same International Terroist Movement. Like they were both guest speakers at the ITM's annual convention or something.

At least the McCarthy era propagandists could sound bite actual communists giving lip service to Internationalism as the basis for its paranoia over International Communist Conspiracy, but what educated American could believe that Osama and Saddam have anything in common? (Well, aside from both being initially installed and funded by the Americans, I mean.) No one with an hour of reading on any topic related to Saddam or Bin Laben could possibly confuse the two. And yet….

I find watching or listening to any of the media cover over the war embarrassing, and have therefore started to avoid it altogether. Not so much a boycott as an act of self-preservation. One can only take in so much garbage before one can feel the neurons eroding….

Take for example this article on CNN coverage (as usual forwarded by UTOH editor John Herbert), or this depressing article by Robert Fisk (most respected journalist on the area) on the continuing coincidence of independent journalist dying from not so friendly fire.

It saddens me that I can feel our national IQ deteriorating as this constant barrage of American propaganda slops over the border.

So, might as well subscribe to Weekly World News and get the real measure of the American public.

I see, for example, on page 31 of the current issue is a picture of Saddam shaking hands with – wait for it! – Satan. Okay, apparently that whole Hitler thing was too subtle. Headline reads "Saddam breaks his pact with Satan!" "Sneaky Saddam will soon find that breaking a promise to the prince of lies has harsher consequences than doing so to the U.N." and "A spokesperson for the worlds' leading Satanist church claims that the double-dealing dictator reneged on a bargain he made with Lucifer to hand over the first 12 male children born in Baghdad in 2003 – in exchange for a guarantee of 'absolute victory' over the U.S. military in any military conflict." I have to stop, my brain is shrinking! Oh but, speaking of shrinking, how about the two page spread on "Osama's shrunken head found in south American"…. I wonder what these guys used to do before Photoshop software came along?

But all of this pales to insignificance compared to the main headline. Forget Hitler or Satan, linking North Korean invaders with insurance salesmen is clearly pushing the slander envelope! (I love the photo, if you can make it out here, that shows the Korean infiltrators dressed as insurance salesmen, but still wearing their Air Force hats!) And I love this paragraph: "Life in Korean-occupied Western America won't change completely. But expect some noticeable shifts right away if Kim Jong II's diabolical war plans succeed. 'Hollywood will continue to churn out movies for the world to enjoy, but you'll probably seen more of an Oriental flavor,' says a D.C.-based expert on North Korean affairs who was shown a copy of the plan."

Cigarette cartons carry the warning that if you smoke these your lungs will clog and you'll die a horrible death from lung cancer. Can't we slap the equivalent warnings on the WWN? "Warning: Reading this could lower your education" or "Warning: Reading this without laughing will cause those around you to believe you are an idiot"

But then, we'd have to put the same labels on CNN…and at least one can laugh at World Weekly News.