Sleaze tabloids just give readers what they want

Mike Royko

January 31, 1992|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

A GROUP OF SCIENTISTS has made the amazing discovery that there is a direct relationship between the size of a man's sexual organ and the size of his nose.

For a long time, this was thought to be just folklore or the subject of locker room or barracks jokes.

But now, by using measuring devices on the noses and sexual organs of 15,000 men who volunteered for the study, the scientists have found that ...

Have you read this far? Sure you did. I can't be certain, but I suspect that the above three paragraphs had a bigger and more intense readership than anything I've ever written.

And not just by guys with big noses.

But don't be embarrassed. It is perfectly normal for you to read on when something is titillating and holds out the promise of being prurient or downright smutty.

However, I must confess with regret that there was no such scientific study. I made it up. Why? Because I wanted to know what it would be like to have 100 percent of the people who begin reading a column get beyond the third or fourth paragraph.

And the easiest way to do that is to toss off something that has to do with sex.

Of course, if you found the subject of sexual organs boring or offensive and didn't read those paragraphs, you can drop me a note and say so. But that will just prove you read far enough to accept my invitation to drop me a note. So you were interested, you scamp.

So what's my point? (My columns are supposed to make a point, although there are days when I can't find it.)

My point is that we shouldn't be so hard on the Star, the unspeakably vile supermarket tabloid that has been trying to dirty up Gov. Bill Clinton.

During the last few days, just about every reputable, responsible, thoughtful and fair columnist in America has condemned the Star for its unspeakably vile conduct.

And many have gone on to condemn the so-called mainstream media -- broadcast and print -- for writing about the Star's unspeakably vile conduct, thus engaging in unspeakably vile conduct themselves.

Of course, by writing about the unspeakably vile conduct of the Star and the go-along mainstream media, the columnists are helping pass the vile story on, which means they're engaging in unspeakably vile conduct themselves.

So I guess I am, too. But by now, everyone else has done it, so what's one more unspeakably vile column?

Besides, I'm not going to write about what the cheap floozie said she and Clinton did, or what Clinton said he and the cheap floozie didn't do. I doubt if they did anything that isn't on my cable movie channel. Besides, his wife says she believes him, and in such matters, hers is the only vote that counts.

But it is the reaction to the Star that I find interesting. Cheap, sleazy, rotten, beneath contempt. It's been called all that and more.

And you would think that if every paper and TV network ignored the Star, the Clinton story would have escaped notice by the American reading public.

Those who believe that must think that the Star is some mimeograph sheet put out in somebody's basement.

It isn't. The Star is one of the biggest-selling publications in this country with 3.5 million sales a week. That's close to its sleaze sister, the National Enquirer, which sells 3.8 million copies. They're owned by the same company and have a combined circulation of more than 7 million.

That's big-time trash. Only a few newspapers in America sell that many papers in a week. But they have to publish every day to do it.

And while other publishing companies are laying off help, cutting back on their news coverage, and scrambling for ad revenue and circulation, the Star and Enquirer are prospering. The Wall Street Journal just quoted a stock analyst as saying the "Enquirer/Star has more upside than any media stock we cover."

What does that tell us? What we already know: In this country, trash sells. Just look at the best-seller lists. Or listen to the hit records. Check out the most successful movies or the freak-show guests on the most popular TV talk shows.

So is the Star to be condemned for giving 3.5 million Americans the trash they crave? (More with the infamous Clinton issue. The Star says it sold an extra 500,000 copies. Who says Americans aren't interested in politics?)

We're a society with an appetite for trash. While fine small magazines struggle to survive, honorable newspapers fold, good books end up in the wholesale bin, and thoughtful TV shows get a .0001 rating, we gorge on sex and blood in movies, transom peeking on TV, and tell-all scandals in books and magazines.

Then, after indulging our taste for the unspeakably vile in one form or another, we sit back and cluck about how terrible it is and what this country is coming to. And the line forms down the block for an autograph from some aging bimbo who is selling a book about how many stars she bedded.

In the 19th century, Marshall Field launched Chicago's most successful department store with the motto: "Give the lady what she wants."

It may peddle sleaze, but the Star knows as much about today's buying public as Marshall Field did about the buyers of his day.

And looking at those circulation figures, I have to wonder -- just what is mainstream journalism?

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