I’d been feeling rather empty in my visits to the grocery store of late. It wasn’t anything I could put my finger on, just a kind of odd sense that something might be missing, a feeling that someone or something I’d been accustomed to seeing in the store was no longer there. Then it hit me: it was Bat Boy.
To give you an idea of how astute I am, Weekly World News, which first broke the story of Bat Boy, ceased its print publication in 2007. That’s probably right around the time my visits to the supermarket stopped seeming so fulfilling. But I didn’t connect the dots until now.
What the hey?
And c’est la vie.
It’s never easy
After a brief interlude of despondence over the sobering realization that the grocery-checkout experience had been rendered culturally bereft, I rallied. And with a little sleuthing, I managed to track down Bat Boy at his new home online. It’s not a bad place. But it doesn’t have the same charm or tactile intimacy as the old tabloid. There’s a comfort in flipping through those over-sized pages that increases in proportion with the cheesiness of the content. To fill that particular void at the grocery store, I’d have to carry my laptop through the checkout line. With my luck, I’d manage to drop the vinegar, or the eggs, or the ketchup while I was juggling. (See poem above.) Call me stodgy, risk-averse, or lacking some fundamental sense of adventure; but some chances just aren’t worth taking.
Then, following the initial rushes of discovery and familiarity inspired by discovering Weekly World News online, I had another pang of dissatisfaction, of hollowness, this one all the more disconcerting for its occurring in the context of a void ostensibly filled. What could it have been? I’d found just what I was looking for. How, after finding Bat Boy, could I possibly want for more? And were I to concede those senses of neediness and longing were so profound, to what could the void possibly be attributable? And then, the epiphany.
The haunting wave was followed by the realization that the writers for the site no longer are more morbidly imaginative than the folks who make the real news. You have to be sympathetic. How is a fantasist supposed to compete:
- When a cat killer in America is making news in the UK?
- When a woman in Oregon has transfomed herself into the Jeffrey Dahmer of rabbit-dom?
- When a man can impersonate his mother – deceased since 2003 – to the tune of $117K?
- When NASA will spend $583 million to look for hidden ice on the moon? (How much would it cost to just scoop up the ice that’s not hiding?)
- When we’ll allow our President to lie less convincingly than most toupees, but we won’t let him swat a fly?
If everything’s important, nothing’s important; therefore, the fact that the news becomes weirder than deliberately bizarre fiction makes a perverse kind of sense. The Age of Instant Information doesn’t prioritize, it merely provides. It feeds. We filter … or not. If not, we get just what we’re fed – and we deserve it.
Mark Twain said, “Of course truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction, after all, has to make sense.” At a time in which print and broadcast outlets had to filter content to conform to limited allocations of time and space, they had no choice but to prioritize and filter. They were compelled by the constraints of their respective media to judge, to discern, to think, to contemplate value, to imbue sense and meaning, to compete, to make sense – to report. Today, a time in which the Internet and 24-hour cable news have to filter nothing because they can accommodate everything, those media need not judge, discern, think, contemplate value, imbue sense and meaning, compete, make sense – or make traditional editorial decisions about reporting. They simply sustain the flow. The work of deriving sense (if there is any) is up to us.
So, benumbed by sensation at the expense of sense, we’re consigned to less enjoyable visits to the supermarket. Weekly World News has gone the way of our imaginations – inundated, overwhelmed, overcome by information that leaves no room for fanciful meandering. Bat Boy has gone the way of the dinosaur – unable to derive sustenance from its environment, thereby exhausting its vitality and relinquishing its place in the food chain.
We should miss Bat Boy as much as we miss the news. The former made the latter meaningful. Without both, we’re left shopping – without joy or enterainment – for a relative scale.