first thought was-Why? I'd been on the road, hadn't had a
chance to look at the new issue online, so I could only imagine.
But clearly it must have been something terrible, if a goddamn
congressman was making noise about it in public.
called Jeff. We exchanged pleasantries. He had just come back
from the NY1 interview. I asked him about his pet fish, his
vacation plans. It was about four minutes into the phone call
before I realized the fuss was over my column, the one about
the Pope, which I had written in the waning hours of a Vicodin
haze the previous Saturday morning.
kidding," I said, laughing.
I'm definitely not kidding," he said. He wasn't laughing.
"It was linked on Matt Drudge this morning-something
about it being an outrage. Chuck Schumer said something about
how it was the most appalling thing he'd seen in 30 years."
hilarious!" I said, still not getting it.
well," Jeff said. "Congressman Weiner has issued
a press release calling for New Yorkers to throw our paper
in the trash."
I said. "That's illegal, isn't it?"
was about two full days before I realized that no one back
in the Press offices was laughing. I didn't take it seriously
at first, because the scale of the whole thing seemed so completely
unbelievable. For an off-the-cuff burlesque of Truly Tasteless
Jokes, designed mainly to give readers a light break between
what had lately been a long run of fulminating political essays
in my column space, the paper found itself denounced by Hillary
Clinton, Mike Bloomberg, Abe Foxman and pilloried on talk
radio stations all across the country. Then, thanks to Matt
Drudge, the Press was made into an exploding blog villain
across cyberspace practically overnight.
and acquaintances in the South and in the West and everyplace
else called to tell me that the Press, and I myself, were
being skewered at that very moment In Their Neighborhood.
In Dallas someone apparently called for me to be burned at
the stake, while in an unfortunate development some hot-blooded
Baltimore radio show alerted my already-estranged Irish Catholic
relatives to my misdeeds.
hate mail was a flood by Friday. A polite schoolteacher in
Ottawa gently implored me to shoot myself. Another writer,
who left his note unsigned, wrote simply: "Burn In Hell
You Fucking Dog." The typical Christian response usually
involved some combination of the phrases 1) "I believe
in the first Amendment as much as the next guy, but..."
and 2) "You will pay in the next world" and 3) "For
all that, the Pope forgives you." The order of the punishment
and the forgiveness varied, but they were usually both in
there, side by mutually reinforcing side.
back in New York, the Press website was so overloaded with
traffic that it was effectively shut down for almost a week.
The paper's offices were flooded with media interview requests
and advertiser complaints, and there was turmoil and indecision
within the office ranks, ultimately leading-as Press readers
have probably heard already-to the resignation of my good
friend Jeff Koyen, the editor-in-chief.
of the mail I received seethingly anticipated that either
I or the editors of the Press would turn around this week
and try to cast ourselves as free speech martyrs, once we
were either a) fired or b) boycotted or c) both. I'm going
to have to disappoint here. Nothing so noble as a real freedom-of-speech
conflict actually took place in this case. The only accurate
metaphor to describe what happened to the paper last week
was stepping in shit. The shit was there, and we stepped in
it of our own volition. It was a joint effort, between us,
and the shit.
we're all educated people. Even Anthony Weiner has a B.A.
from SUNY-Plattsburgh. And as educated people we all realize
that the "52 Funniest Things About the Upcoming Death
of the Pope" had almost nothing to do with the Pope or
Catholics whatsoever, and certainly wasn't hate speech.
there was hate in the piece, it was not for the Pope. It was
for the agonizing marathon of mechanized media grief and adulation
we so inevitably go through after the passing of each and
every hallowed leader or celebrity. It was for the transparently
fake unity of Democratic and Republican senators alike holding
hands, hanging their heads, and-live on Fox and MSNBC-shedding
a tear as good soldiers fold the flag at the passing of the
great man, Ronald Reagan.
not only funerals, but memorial services and various other
pagan rituals; we are all supposed to weep on the anniversary
of 9/11, and defer publicly to soldiers, and cheer for whichever
bland milquetoast cine-blob wins Best Picture.
some of us don't want to cheer for the little girl who gets
pulled out of the well, or get misty-eyed before the leader's
casket. In fact, some of us get physically ill, and angry,
during each and every one of these orgies of rote media emotion.
Funniest Things About the Death of the Pope" was way
over the top, but it was commensurate-to the 197 consecutive
fucking hours of Pope funeral coverage on cable we all know
is coming very soon, with every politician on earth with a
nose for Catholic votes lining up for a chance to blow into
his hanky at the podium. We saw a preview of that last week;
doubtless the Bloomberg, Clinton, Schumer and Weiner press
releases at the Pope's actual death will be of about the same
length, and sent with the same alacrity to the same newspapers,
as the ones released at his joke-death last week.
incidentally, is what the alternative media is supposed to
be for. While all across the major media landscape every public
figure-every politician and every NBA star and every superficially
grief-stricken plastic anchorman-will be "deeply saddened"
and hanging his head during the obligatory moment of silence,
there has to be someplace where the individual psychopath-loser,
i.e. me, can say "I don't care." And not necessarily
because it's right or wrong to think that way, but because
a mandatory opinion held by everybody is no opinion at all.
If we can't joke about the Pope, then the Pope, quite frankly,
is not very serious.
more thing about what happened with us last week. In situations
like this, when someone says or does something that outrages
not just the left or the right but everyone, we have this
habit of jumping on the offender with both feet and demanding
an apology. Whether it's Ward Churchill with his "little
Eichmanns," or that kid at UMass who called Pat Tillman
a "pendejo," or Trent Lott, or Shaq squinting and
talking about Yao in gibberish Chinese, we pile on until the
guy squeaks. Apparently we respect a person more if he wilts
under pressure and changes his opinions for the sake of convenience.
was crazy that that mechanism came into play here, and it
would be even crazier for us to actually apologize. This was
an extremely silly, trivial, stupid joke. If Senators have
time for this, they must not be busy enough.