Sunday, August 02, 2009

Buddhism in the Weekly World News

Funny stuff, via Shambhala Sun Space.

From The Worst Horse’s Mouth: Warning! This blogpost is “for entertainment purposes only”


If irreverence isn’t your thing, you might want to skip this look at coverage of Buddhism as “reported” by the once-ubiquitous tabloid, The Weekly World News. Otherwise, step right this way and meet the Chinese monk who can raise the dead! All you’ll need is a sense of humor. (A lousy one might even be an advantage.) Nothing heavy here — just some weekend silliness for those who want it.

Pop-culture stars and comedians used to say that you knew you’d “made it” when MAD magazine saw fit to parody you. (When I had a letter published in its pages at age 22, I immediately understood that I was then as famous as I’d ever be.) Likewise, if you somehow found yourself having a televised chat with Johnny Carson, that meant something — if you cared about such things. But one point of entry into pop-culture usually goes overlooked: The Weekly World News.

The resolutely black-and-white tabloid lived from 1979 until 2007, and probably saw its heyday in the 80s and 90s, having jumped from National Enquirer sister and sort-of competitor to full-on, unabashed purveyor of absurdity. Most of the stories were expertly matched with staged, doctored photos of an alternate Earth full of US senators who were actually aliens, still-living Elvises, and animal/human hybrids. It was bizarre and essentially full of lies (though batboylives-cover-wwnnear its end it began printing a disclaimer that “the reader should suspend disbelief for the sake of enjoyment.”). But it looked at and even contributed to pop-culture in a real, if highly skewed, way. If you made it into the WWN, you’d made it — at least to those readers who believed it all, and to those who didn’t but loved it anyway. (Basically, hipster doofuses like me.)

So when I recently saw Bat Boy Lives!, a WWN “best of” that came out before the tabloid’s death, I had to grab it. It was only $12.95 (Cheap!), but even as I was paying for it — because this is how my sad mind works — I wondered: would there be any Buddhism in it? It seems you can find references to Buddhism in the weirdest places if you look hard enough, and the Weekly World News remains just about the “weirdest place” I can think of.

I checked the index. “Buddhism” only had one entry listed. I flipped to page 135:


Okay, a frog guarding a relic of the historical Buddha. That’s sorta cute. (Though reading that the poor frog was being almost killed by people harassing it for winning lotto numbers was less cute.) But I was disappointed: too tame! Where was the craziness? (When I later googled “Buddha’s footprint” and “frog,” I was stunned to learn that the story seems to be corroborated by more legit sources!) But a little more flipping around delivered some craziness, to be sure.This 2005 story is found on page 138 of Bat Boy Lives! (next to “‘Make Howard Stern A Saint,’ Urges Priest!”).


It’s certainly more gutsy, and some surely found it offensive — just as others may be finding it now. But they say that comedy depends on exaggerations, and you could count on the WWN for that. I mean, just the idea of “the exiled Tibetan leader,” as we know him, making a run to a theater concession stand seems out of whack. But the rest of this is just plain nuts. It’s fun to imagine His Holiness somehow hearing of this story; would he laugh at the ridiculousness? Would he admit that moments of similar (but real) impatience did in fact occur to him? Would he realize that he’d been falsely exposed to more than a million people, half of whom had probably never heard of him before, and would almost certainly never realize that this story was a joky fake? Could he possibly care?

Then there’s the Reanimator Monk, who, though he supposedly hails from China, is pictured in front of what look to be Southeast Asian pagodas. (If someone can prove me wrong, please do.)


But the best part is that even though “beloved Buddhist monk Tsii Qi” can “return the dead to the world of the living,” he does some notable picking and choosing as to when not to employ his special power. A “journalist” is quoted as telling the WWN:

“He brings back only the worthy, only those he believes the Buddha has approved for resurrection.”

The report continues:

For instance, he has refused to bring back Steve Guttenberg’s career [...]. “It was one thing to do four Police Academy movies, but Cocoon: The Return and that terrible sequel to Three Men and a Baby… Brother Steve was just asking for it, I’m afraid,” Tsii is rumored to have said.

Ah, yes: good of the monk to keep himself from engaging too much in worldly affairs.

My hopes to find more bizarro-world Buddhism stories were just about dashed when I found this last crumb. The WWN’s handy “Typical Reincarnation Cycle” chart hasn’t anything to do with the dharma specifically – but it does seem to me a sort of inverted, perverted version of Buddhism’s famous Wheel of Life, which depicts (among many other things) the different realms into which beings might find themselves reincarnated. These, simplified, are: the worlds of Gods, Demons, Humans, animals, hungry ghosts, and the hell realms.

Alternatively, the WWN spiritual worldview holds that we live our lifetimes through the following reincarnations: dung beetle, space dust, human, kangaroo, and (most confoundingly) in the form of a La-Z-Boy recliner.


Why and how one leads to the other? That, the WWN leaves to the great masters. Or at least, to your imagination.

I’ve missed the WWN’s special brand of craziness, and am happy to hear that it might be relaunched. They do have a website, and a smaller edition is currently bound into another tabloid, The Sun, but it’s not quite the same.

In the meantime, I’ll be looking for more Buddhist/pop-culture mashups to write about here and on my website, If you have favorites, leave a comment. Happy hunting!

[A note about the image at the top of this article: it's a detail from the WWN's special section of personal ads placed by and for aliens. What's pictured here is one alien's "profile picture." Why is he meditating? No reason is suggested, but hey: it's the Weekly World News. That's probably reason enough.]


Anonymous said...


did you know you can read all WWNs online at Google Books?

Anyway, I came here looking for the person who wrote the crow article up on the Jung site to say I enjoyed it.

I'm going to link to Elegant Thorn Review on my Poetry Hut Blog next month.
Take care

william harryman said...

Hi Jilly,

I was the one who wrote the crow/raven article on the CG Jung site - glad you liked it.

And thanks for linking to ETR - much appreciated.