So the biggest story coming out of the journalism arena the last couple weeks is the recent publication of “The 52 Funniest Things About The Upcoming Death of the Pope” (click for article), written by Matt Taibbi for the New York Press. Predictably, there’s been much handwringing about the irreverence of the Damned Liberal Media, about how there’s NOTHING funny about anybody about to die, about how the Pope is a holy and revered figure and blah blah blah…
Here’s the problem with the article. It’s not a bad piece because it’s blasphemous. It’s a bad piece because it’s just not funny.
Conan O’Brien once said that there’s nothing funnier than someone hurting themselves trying to be funny. And that’s exactly what Taibbi and the Press have done here. They published an article they KNEW would inflame people just by its title alone, and it cost the paper’s editor his job. (I couldn’t even read the piece for a week because interest in it crashed the New York Press’s website.) But like a bad porn movie, they came up with a great title and then didn’t deliver the goods. There’s no hint of decent satire here, just smug and blatant attempts to tweak red-state morality. Some samples:
50.Pope survives just long enough to be acquired by Isiah Thomas for Stephon Marbury, 2005 #1 pick and cash considerations. “We feel like we’ve made ourselves younger and more competitive,” Thomas says. (Funny, but at the Knicks’ expense. Could’ve substituted Reagan, Johnny Carson, or the pizza I ate last night and it’d be the same joke.)
46.Beetles eating Pope’s dead brains. (Not so much disrespectful as just second-grade-level stupid.)
32.Priest who administers last rites to Pope excitedly calls mother afterward to tell her how well it went. (Okay, that’s pretty funny. Point, Taibbi.)
27.We’ll never get to hear his hilarious post-tracheotomy rendition of “Come on Eileen.” (What the hell…? Nonsense for the sake of nonsense ain’t funny, not for Andy Kaufman and not here.)
23.Doctors examining the body discover that the Pope was not only a woman, but also Hitler. (…okay. And somebody wrote a check for this?)
I generally like Taibbi’s writing for Rolling Stone and other outlets (he’s got a great piece in this week’s issue about the pharmacy black market in Nogales, Mexico), though I do think he tries way too hard to be outrageous. Self-aware rebellion is really pretty pathetic, when you get down to it. However, as crappy as the Pope article was, I have to give the guy a ton of credit for the way he responded to it this week–he didn’t back down one goddamn inch. He offered a rationale behind the piece–that it was a response to the forthcoming marathon of media pablum that will surely accompany the Pope’s death–that was far more interesting than the article itself. And he offers this final shot: “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.”
Way to stand behind what you wrote, Taibbi. I admire that. Next time, just be more funny, huh?