Planet of the Apes Gone Wild
Gonzo journalism is alive and well in the Bay area thanks to the Weekly Planet. Hunter S. Thompson would be proud – may he rest in peace, or pieces, as the case may be.
The best example of this journalistic genre is – what else? – WP’s recent “BEST OF THE BAY 2005” issue, a publication that should be rated PG-13 up-front and R (plus or minus) in back.
“Best ‘Best-Of’ Issue Since Last Year!” boasts WP’s Sept. 21-27 cover. No self-promotion there, aye?
TBM accepts WP doesn’t take itself too seriously. How else to explain the colorful, cut-and-paste, “running gag,” tabloid-'omage pages sprinkled through-out, the best of which displays a Terminator-style, cyber-borg Congresswoman Katherine Harris, with a close second featuring a slick, black-clad, St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker as Frank Zappa. (There are some lame visual gags as well, which will be mercifully ignored here.)
And yet, garbanzo gonzo as it is, a patient reader can dig amongst the more outlandish offerings and uncover some real gems, such as John F. Sugg’s thoughtful piece on former St. Petersburg Times columnist, Bill Maxwell (a TBM favorite before he left the Bay to teach at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa). That Maxwell left the Times because of what Sugg calls “the newspaper’s increasingly rightward tilt” seems extreme, but otherwise his column adds insight to the untimely exodus of Maxwell, a solid writer many loyal readers enjoyed, regardless of political leanings.
But, of course, WP isn’t perfect. (Why should it be?) One almost wearies from the unsubtle, left-leaning, lock-step, correctness framing its political worldview. (Yeah, we get it: “Bush bad; GOP evil.” Pass the Kool-aid; let’s move on.) Still, ya gotta love a publication that creates a “Best Job” category as a way to highlight Paul Wilborn’s luscious sweetheart of a deal as Creative Industries Manager for the City of Tampa. ($90,000-plus dollars? Whoa, Nelly! Gotta get me summa that.)
Besides, anybody can tell you about the Best Bagel (St. Pete Bagel Company) or Best Chain Pizza (Westshore Pizza) or Best Gyro (Athenian Garden). But who takes the time to point out the “Best Place to Slip on Vomit”? (Answer: Guavaween.)
That last category/answer sounds made-up – it isn’t. And therein TBM identifies the Kryptonite that ultimately reveals the Weekly’s weakness. Too many categories do sound made-up, which makes one wonder whether there was a sober adult (read "editor") in the room when the categories were created.
But, if advertisers don’t mind and readers (probably) don’t care, TBM suspects such comments will be met by WP staffers with a thud, a dud (a "dude!") or a “duh?". (One can only hope Weekly readers have other news sources when election season rolls around or somebody like Che Guevara will end up being Tampa’s mayor.)
WP’s “Best of the Bay 2005” boasts more than 100 pages (172 to be exact) with many of them full-page ads. The Trib’s Friday Extra and the Times’ Weekend would no doubt love those numbers. (One can almost hear the drools emanating from the ad managers’ offices.)
What does it all mean? TBM suspects it means there’s an import beer-swilling, tattoo-sporting, green-alien lovin', sub-sub culture that finds its outside-the-box entertainment needs met within WP’s hip, mind-teasingly colorful, (sometimes) humor-tainted, almost always information-filled, pages.
What happens when/if these readers grow up? Who knows . . . Maybe, by then, they’ll be reading AAWP. Stay tuned.