Sunday, December 15, 2013

"I Watched a Wild Hog Eat My Baby!"

2001, possibly first edition, from Prometheus
Bill Sloan
"I Watched a Wild Hog Eat My Baby!": A Colorful History of Tabloids and Their Cultural Impact
Original price unknown, purchase price $12.50
Hardcover in good condition

Sometimes I ask myself, "Will I regret it more if I buy this or I don't buy it?"  (This applies to other things than purchases of course.)  In the case of this book, I was on the fence and didn't buy it when it was relatively new, and regretted it.  Luckily, I found it used years later.  It's a fun, although sometimes serious, read about "the tabs" by a journalist who got to know many of the key players in the golden years of the late '60s through late '80s.  Generoso Pope (real name) and the other publishers were almost as strange as the people and creatures who appeared in their magazines/newspapers.  My favorite chapter was about the likes of Weekly World News, where nearly everything was made up and bizarre.  I was never a big tabloid reader, except during my early teens, and even then it was mostly so my best friend and I could make fun of them.  

Sloan argues convincingly that everything changed in the 1990s, due to factors that included corporate consolidation, the Internet, the Lewinsky scandal (when daily newspapers could wallow more easily and more deeply than the tabs), and the aging of the prime audience, the housewife readers of the glory days.  Of course, the story begins back in the 1890s, with Hearst and Pulitzer, but Sloan moves quickly to the '50s when The Enquirer and its less successful competitors began with violence and sometimes smut, later cleaning up their acts as newspaper/magazine purchasing shifted from news-stands (think of the Bellini family in The Cricket in Times Square in 1960) to supermarkets.  I went to two different supermarkets this past weekend and noticed that one didn't seem to have any tabloids, while the other had a few at the less used checkstands.  I can still remember laughing at headlines while waiting in grocery lines in the '90s, but Sloan is right that the tabs were in a long, slow decline throughout that decade.  On the other hand, I just looked, and has news of Peter O'Toole's death, so tabs are still out there in some form.

The book could be criticized as too short to cover all it sets out to cover, but I found it an enjoyable read for what it was.  And, yes, it's got one of the more eye-catching titles in my book collection.

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