Last week, I explained why Ted Cruz is a douche, not that it really needs explaining. In the course of that rant, I realized that you can’t really explain the total douchiness of anyone without help from the New York tabloids. You can watch Rachel Maddow explain, too.
Not everyone has a tabloid in their town. London, of course, has a very lively tabloid press. Other cities in the US do, too, but you can see by the chart that New York is rated far and away the most sensational (at least in the U.S.)
Think of a New York tabloid as having the gossip radar of a Kardashian, the subtle charm of “There’s Something About Mary”, the diplomacy chops of Donald Trump, and the ability of a Bronx truck driver to sum up a situation quickly (“hey you! Red-shirt hipster tree-hugging fat bastard! Move your goddam sleigh!”) Nothing says you’re living in NewYork City like sitting on the subway during rush hour and catching a glimpse of a New York tabloid paper headline. It’s a treasured part of the commuting experience.
We’ve had two tabloid papers here in NYC for decades: the New York Daily News and the New York Post. They’ve swapped owners and political viewpoints over the years – currently, you could plausibly call the Post “Republicans” and the News “Democrats”, but that wasn’t always the case.
Political differences are small potatoes compared to a tabloid’s true mission in life. What is a tabloid’s true mission in life? To sell advertising. That’s not very controversial, as selling your eyes and ears to advertisers has been the true mission of all media everywhere. The only reason Gutenberg didn’t sell ad space in the margins of his bible was because he didn’t think of it. If he had, we would have read “And Noah built the ark, and it rained for forty days and forty nights. Roof leaks got you down? Go see Johan, the best cooper, cobbler, and carpenter in town! Corner of cow path and the open sewer on Main Street.”
Tabloids sell their readers to advertisers in a very specific way. The headline makes you want to read more. This is not like the Times, which makes you read out of guilt and the desire to say “yes” when your neighbor asks “did you see that article in The Times about the plight of the neckless mud turtles in Williamsburg?” Or the Wall Street Journal, which makes you read because you want to make obscene piles of cash (full disclaimer – my pile of cash isn’t obscene enough to buy a subscription to the Wall Street Journal). Other media promise fun, amusement, and information. No. The New York tabloids grab you by the lapels and yell “YOU HAVE TO READ ME NOW”.
And you do, because the tabloids cater to basic human needs.
Need for Lurid Gossip It’s human nature to want to know who is doing what to whom. This matters because we’re primates, and we live in groups. Really, we’re not that different from those colonies of monkeys that scientists follow around with clipboards. If Gonzo is the head monkey, and he just made friends with Miss BooBoo in a special way, well, Miss BooBoo’s extended monkey family will benefit by being allowed to eat more tasty fruit and nuts from the tallest tree. All the other monkeys need to know this, so they can make nice to Miss BooBoo instead of biting her tail like they really want to do. Then, if Gonzo’s other best friend, Trixie-Pie, finds out about it and manages to throw Miss BooBoo off the top of the tallest nut tree…well, you’ll need to know about that, too.
Need for Reassurance You think you had a bad day? Maybe you accidentally belched in front of an important client at lunch? It could always be worse. Just ask former Congressman Anthony Weiner. Oh, right, you don’t have to ask him because you already know all about it, thanks to the tabloids.
Need to Know Tabloids boil down complex political and economic events into five easy-to-understand words: “Ford to City: Drop Dead”. I’m sure it was a bit more complicated than that, but what else did you need to know?
Need to Manage Risk Everyone wants to avoid problems, but how? The tabloids serve up parables that are easy to remember, so you can stay safe. Want to keep your head on? Stay out of topless bars.
Need for Justice Tabloids make it very clear that they’re on the side of decency, justice, rightness and goodness — just like you. They champion the weak and powerless against the strong and corrupt. They expose the sordid doings of a murky government. They call out the crybabies and the bullies. They support the virtuous married spouse who was wronged by the shameless tramp. They know who the angels and devils are, and they’ll show you.
Need to Keep It Real Tabloids live to deflate the pompous. If the emperor has no clothes, they’ll show you the picture. Never mind if their photographer ripped the emperor’s clothes off for the sake of the story…the tabloid still took him down a notch.
Need to Befriend a Smartass Tabloids won’t be cowed by authority (unless it’s their advertisers, of course). They’re the smartass kid in your class who started calling the scariest teacher in school “Chubba-Wubba”, and it stuck. From then on, that teacher wasn’t quite so scary any more.
Need to Maintain Perspective If you’re like every other American, you’re amazed by celebrity. So are the tabloids – until it’s time to move someone from “Sexy Star Clubhops in Tribeca till Sunup” to “Drunk Slut Closes Down Bar, Gets Thrown Out With Trash”. Easy come, easy go. That’s having perspective.
Need for Team Spirit Nothing makes us feel the warm and fuzzies like getting the inside joke. The Tabloids are preaching to the choir. If you read these headlines and don’t laugh, you’re not a true New Yorker.