Theology of the snotty

nypress.jpgThe story thus far: On Tuesday, the Manhattan-based alt-weekly New York Press ran as a cover story an article by Matt Taibbi. The title? “The 52 Funniest Things About The Upcoming Death of The Pope.”

The first entry read:

“Pope pisses himself just before the end; gets all over nurse.”

The final entry:

“Throw a marble at the dead Pope’s head. Bonk!”

In between were such gems as:

“After beating for the last time, Pope’s heart sits there like a piece of hamburger.”


“Dead Pope, still with baboon face, wheeled through corridors of Gemelli Polyclinic in Rome, learns answer to Great Mystery.”

Taibbi has the haunted corpse of the pope complaining he can’t reach his penis and worrying that someone else is taking his job. He has the College of Cardinals burning “5000 back issues of Manscape and Hung Inches that had accumulated in the Vatican lobby” in the chimney to announce the election of the new pope. Taibbi included a lot of riffs that might appeal to a bunch of frat boys late Friday night/Saturday morning, after a kegger.

Outrage commenced.

In the New York Daily News, Lloyd Grove called the Press “a handout that is best used to line birdcages.” He wrote that the story was “shockingly offensive,” and solicited comments from fellow New Yorkers. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton, Mayor Bloomberg, and even Abraham Foxman lined up to denounce the alt-weekly. And Press editor Jeff Koyen, who is not normally in the business of backing down from a fight, refused to call Grove back.

The Catholic League got into the act, using the cover story as an opportunity to take a shot at what it believes is the reigning ethos of the Press. The press release “quoted” President William Donohue as saying that the alt-weekly’s “celebration of libertinism leaves it squarely at odds with the sexual reticence favored by Catholicism.” He continued:

It also leaves it squarely at odds with nature, which explains why attending funerals is not an uncommon experience for those who work there. But like a dopey dog who doesnÂ’t recognize his master, they plod along never learning from the wisdom the Catholic Church has to offer. And, of course, they hate the pope. Which makes sense: he is the one man whose commitment to the truth has literally driven them over the edge.

(I should break from narrator mode here to say that I don’t think I’ve ever seen Donohue land a more effective — or personal — shot.)

Drudge linked to the cover story, which briefly shut down the New York Press website. The blogs are still all over this. On her site Open Book, Amy Welborn called the story “pathological” and “insane” and wondered why Taibbi wasn’t locked up in a mental ward somewhere. Because of the difficulty that people were having getting through to the story, she reposted it in its entirety. She taunted, “Sue me NYPress, I really don’t care.”

At his Rightwing Film Geek blog, Victor Morton explained why he wouldn’t be reading the alt-weekly anymore. Morton wrote that his own “sense of humor is sufficiently sick that I could imagine myself, in principle, laughing at an article titled ’52 Reasons Person X’s Death is Funny.’”

Indeed, Morton would be willing to “excuse a LOT if I think it funny.” But he didn’t think this article was in any wise funny, and, given the length and stridency of the thing, he argued that it gave readers a window into a very black heart, “because keeping up that attitude for that length requires simple, pure, unvarnished, unredeemed hate.”

Morton further argued that there was good reason to stop reading the Press over this story. He explained, “[P]utting something on a professionally-produced publication’s cover says something about the kind of publication it is.” In this case, the Press chose to say something about itself that many readers should find distasteful and disqualifying.

Over at Demure Thoughts, Jennifer Somebody decided to mock the Press‘ slogan: “‘New York Press, New York’s [Premier] Alternative Newspaper.’ Alternative to what? This is just the shit the Times wishes it could print.”

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  • Terry Mattingly


    I have struggled with this one ever since the Drudge link went up. The Demure Thoughts shot at the Times is what lots of people are thinking but I am not even sure that it makes the right point.

    I keep asking: To whom was this supposed to be funny? Did they think they were taking one giant leap past Frank Rich? Past Michael Moore?

    So, what? This was for drunken frat boys who read Maxim and NYTs theater reviews and cheer for Howard Dean? Surely not.

    I understand that the NYPress is constantly pushing the envelope on racial humor. So it is past South Park?

    For what constituency on the sideways of New York City was this supposed to be funny? This is the question I keep asking and I can’t come up with an answer.

    Which makes me wonder if this is news at all. Is it news that we have sunk to a level that no one wants to own it? I thought that was impossible.

  • Sakara

    One presumes that the staff of the Press, unless they are stunningly naïve, knew that this would cause widespread offense; it seems to be calculated to offend. I would be interested in finding out what exactly they were trying to accomplish here. What do you think was their goal in writing this at all, much less putting it on the front page. Surely no one puts something on the front page just for a laugh. Or perhaps I am the naïve one here.

  • Stephen A.

    Wait a minute – didn’t a mainstream commentator suggest that it’s time for the Pope to die a few weeks ago?

    This sounds like the logical extention and continuation of that lack of human decency, so why the shock?

    In a perfect world – or in our own world just a few years ago – this would never be considered for publication, let alone for a front page.

    I’m glad to see the condemnation. But let’s see if the level of condemnation of this act rises to the level it would if some paper had, say, used the “N-word” on the front page over and over again, and in the very racist, derogatory manner that enrages so many Americans (and justifiably so.)

    Both would be horrible, but for some reason, religious attacks often seem to be allowed a “pass” by the mainstream media, and the reactions to those attacks (as previously discussed) are often seen as attempts at “censorship.”

    Again, we’ll have to wait and see. A few blogs going nuts, and a verbal master like Donohue taking jabs are expected. When the NYT and Washington Post speak out, I’ll feel better about the mainstream national media’ sense of fairness – and decency.

  • Tom Breen

    I think William F. Buckley Jr. wrote a column saying maybe it’s better for the Pope to die, but I don’t think he was thinking along the same lines as the folks at the NY Press.

    It’s certainly appropriate for people (not just Catholics) to be offended by “journalism” this poor and obnoxious, but I’m worried about blowing it out of proportion.

    The comment about this being what the NY Times really thinks is what I’m worried about; the NY Press is not the mainstream media, and I think it’s a mistake to assume that views like this are particularly widespread.

  • Stephen A.

    I don’t want this blown out of proportion, but I want as much of a stir as when a conservative “gets out of line.”

    When a conservative misspeaks, or speaks unpopularly, we hear about it for weeks in various media and it usually has far-reaching reprecussions. So I expect the MSM to get very exorcised about this bald-faced hate speech coming from an anti-religion “alternative” rag.

    Had this simply been a column in bad taste, we could let it go with a shrug. This went beyond bad taste.

    My Buckley comment was refering to the blog posting here several days ago. His was obviously not as bad as the NYPress’ childish, immature outburst, but my point is that general disrespect – in Buckley’s case, for the Pope’s life – leads sometimes to severe examples of disrespect. In psychobabble: the existence of trash talking and demeaning of the Pope’s life gave “permission” to others to take it a step further.

    Is this paper’s stunt typical of the thought patterns of the mainstream media? Probably not, but I fear that dark thoughts of admiration flashed across the hearts of many reporters throughout the nation when they read this trashy taboid’s morbid list.

  • Tom Breen

    Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of reporters? The Shadow, maybe, but certainly not me. If I had to guess, though, I’d say there’d be more dark thoughts of admiration among the press corps if the piece had been better executed. As nearly everyone who’s read it, including dyed-in-the-wool pope-haters, has pointed out, the list simply isn’t funny, not even as black humor.

  • Stephen A.

    There’s such a thing as a “well-executed” article about how funny it would be if the pope died that could, or should, receive admiring nods for its, what, *cleverness*? Interesting.

    So is there a “well-executed” article that could be written describing how funny it would be if Bill Clinton died on the operating table? Or what about an article describing what a HOOT it would be if some famous actor, maybe Sean Penn, got AIDS?

    Of course both are unthinkable (and for good reason.)

    But there are limits as to what is tolerated in American society, but those limits don’t seem to include a specific subset of people. Religious people and their leaders are definitely in that group, and are held to a different standard.

    Most reporters know very well where the line is drawn, as do screenwriters, actors, comedians and politicians.

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