I'm not a gossip guy, which isn't to suggest that I consider myself intellectually above pinhead pursuits (anyone else dork out over Tom Gorzelanny's slightly lowered arm angle last night? I didn't think so). As entertaining in a karmic-retribution sense as the "news" that Paris Hilton will be heading to the pokey may be, I can get by without the mag's speculation about the reception she'll receive (a wild guess: sex-ay!). Similarly, a pleasant, successful afternoon isn't premised on my reception of updates on the status of Burt Reynolds' love life, Posh Spice's shopping jags and the former Miss Nevada's alleged whoredom. There are plenty of other things to read while waiting for a haircut, like the backs of Pantene bottles and religious-cult pamphlets.
And yet I kinda dig the Enquirer. Maybe that's the Percocet speaking -- I started to review a Lands' End catalog just now before realizing it wasn't a magazine -- but it seems to me that the Enquirer has refined its act over the years. Of all the gossip rags, it's the one that doesn't seem ashamed of what it is.
Hell, the mag practically basks in its low-mindedness, appending its most shocking declarations with a string of exclamation points and landing many an agenda-laden cheap shot (like an out-of-nowhere reference to Alec Baldwin as "Bozo McBoom-Boom"). The "secrets" the mag "exclusively" reveals are "tragic," "explosive" or some variation thereof. The Enquirer is not subtle in its approach, to put it mildly.
At the same time, outside of gossip grand dame People, few weekly titles can match the Enquirer's skillful presentation. I don't know how to describe it, other than to say that everything is precisely where it ought to be. Take the cover feature on "Plastic Surgery Shockers," which presents the before-and-after evidence in a way that's ideal for quick consumption. While I didn't need to see Courtney Love's shriveled stomach before breakfast, I was impressed (and more than a little embarrassed about being impressed) by the authority with which the mag made its cases.
The Enquirer also excels at making news out of nothing at all. To meet its Brad/Angelina and Lohan quotas, the mag takes a one-line premise (say, "Lindsay falls off the wagon") and somehow grows it into a 800-word feature replete with thematically on-point photos (Lindsay with her eyes looking like recessed blinds, etc.). It's a simple recipe, I suppose. You mix a few paragraphs of anonymously sourced dirt with a sprinkling of opinions from experts (who, the mag takes pains to point out, have not treated the subject they're weighing in on), and voilà: tabloid nirvana.
You've gotta wonder, actually, about the mag attributing almost every nugget to "a friend," "an insider," "an eyewitness" or "a source" ("Lindsay is also drinking alcohol. Her favorite is vodka. She pours it into a 16-oz. water bottle and drinks it straight or mixed with some soda. But she also drinks tequila and champagne," a "friend" tells us). On the other hand, the Enquirer rarely gets popped for libel -- the "truth" defense must be the magazine's get-out-of-jail-free card -- so I probably have no point here.
Slightly more diverting are the items in the May 21 issue that have nothing to do with celebrity. The mag doesn't merely convey what happened; it relates the "news" in a way that practically instructs readers how they should feel about it. Therefore we give a big thumbs-up to the dad jailed for 10 years after going all Dirty Harry on his daughter's drug dealer, and a huge razz to the sister who refuses to donate bone marrow to her ailing brother. In each instance, we're only treated to one side of the story, leaving me to wonder if most Enquirer fans realize how skillfully they're being manipulated.
Holy lord -- I just took the National Enquirer seriously. I'm going to go dunk my head in the sink now.
My favorite part of the May 21 issue could well be the trio of letters tucked away in the back, next to astrology and chat-line classifieds. I don't know why I find it so entertaining that an actual person would be motivated to send the Enquirer a missive that begins, "Why doesn't Eddie Murphy take a paternity test? That way he'll know whether he's the father of Melanie Brown's baby." But so help me, I do.
Perhaps it's the cash. The mag hands out $50 to the composer of its "Letter of the Week" and $25 for all other published submissions. Hence the note that I just zipped off to firstname.lastname@example.org: "Gary Coleman has some nerve shouting at a woman trying to get an autograph for her wheelchair-bound kid! He should remember that it's the fans who got him to where he is today! He is a very small person -- and I'm not just talking about his height!!!!!!!!!" Send the $50 straight to my endodontist, will you?