Searching for laughs in the news

Posted April 03, 2009, at 6:32 p.m.

I don’t know if the juxtaposition of story and photo on the front page of the Thursday morning newspaper was accidental, or intentional on the part of some mischievous copy desk editor. But I am pretty sure it caught the attention, at least subliminally, of most readers.

“Obama, Brown predict action at G-20,” was the headline over a news story about the G-20 economic summit under way in London, and the assessment of it by President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Hard against the story was a color photo of a burly London cop warding off a punch by ramming his baton to the chin of a protester among the rent-a-mob of anarchists and America-haters rioting outside the Bank of England as the summit began. The protester’s head is snapped back as though on the receiving end of a Muhammad Ali rope-a-dope punch, and the cop appears to be shouting something at the protester — possibly an updated Brit version of Ali’s old fighting mantra, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”

I took a glance at the story and photo package upon retrieving my newspaper from my mailbox and said to another early-morning patron in the post office lobby, “Looks like they called that one right.” He agreed, and we had a good laugh before heading out to seize the day.

Turns out the dustup between the cops and the hell-raisers was not the kind of action that Obama and Brown had in mind. Their prediction had to do with the more pressing matter of a global deal to alleviate the deepening worldwide recession.

In these dismal economic times, one takes his daily dose of levity where he can find it in the morning paper. Sometimes, it can be discovered up front in the A Section and sometimes it lies buried deeper inside.

In newspapering’s good old days of hot lead and cold type, readers could look for entertainment in so-called “fillers” used to occupy the blank space between news copy and display ads when news stories came up a dite short. There, one could find nuggets of wisdom like “Just two days from now, tomorrow will be yesterday,” as well as fascinating factoids concerning the mating habits of the tsetse fly.

Technological advances in the business have erased the need for newspaper fillers — one of mankind’s major losses, in my book — and now we look elsewhere for chuckles.

The problem is that we too often find news items that, in their absurdity, make us laugh when we probably ought to cry. Tales of taxpayer-financed multi-billion-dollar bailouts to failing industries, and no one able to tell us where our money went. Horror stories about the government firing people in private industry and telling the private sector what it can and can’t pay its employees. Word of potential multi-trillion-dollar deficits. Articles about con men and their blatant thievery.

Sometimes the absurdities are on the sports pages. A story there Wednesday reported that the cheapest seat in the lower stands between the baselines at the new $1.5 billion Yankee Stadium is $350. The top ticket price for a seat in that same area is $2,625. (That’s no typo. The comma and the decimal point doing double duty as a period are in the correct locations.)

The math suggests that anyone numb enough to pay that much for a ticket to each of the New York Yankees 81 home baseball games would be $212,625 lighter in the wallet by season’s end. And that’s not counting the beer and hot dogs.

Recession, you say? What recession?

Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia, who will make $161 million over the next seven years if the Yankees stay in business that long without a government bailout, said he understands why fans are upset with the insane ticket prices in these tough times, but he hopes they’ll “still come out and support us.”

Sabathia may get part of his wish. The fans, mad as hell and not about to take it anymore, may still come out to the ballpark. But like in those old Frankenstein movies, the rabble may come bearing pitchforks and torches rather than any great groundswell of support for the home team on the day the laughter dies.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at olddawg@bangordailynews.net.

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