Free speech, bad taste and the Pope.
March 16, 2005 10:07 AM   Subscribe

"The 52 funniest things about the upcoming death of the Pope," by New York Press columnist Matt Taibbi, generated controversy that spread from conservative blogs outward. The Press was denounced by legislators, one of whom suggested New Yorkers throw the paper away; it was slammed by gossip columnist Lloyd Grove, possibly in retaliation for Grove's being named No. 20 on this list. After refusing a suspension, Press editor Jeff Koyen resigned and bashed his bosses, calling one a "spineless alt-weekly weenie." The public back-and-forth between erstwhile editor and former boss continues, but Taibbi's response to the whole thing is probably the best after the fact summary.
posted by jeffmshaw (64 comments total)
And yes, Matt Taibbi is the same guy who threw a pie made from horse sperm in the face of a New York Times correspondent.
posted by jeffmshaw at 10:10 AM on March 16, 2005

Meh. I'm sure there could be funny things to be said about the Pope's upcoming death, but you sure won't find any of them in Taibbi's article... there's nothing in there that even comes close to approaching "witty".
posted by clevershark at 10:15 AM on March 16, 2005

Taibbi's response is spot on, but destined to fall on deaf ears. These (largely) fake public rituals are the closest thing this country has to a shared experience anymore. Says something, too, when these "shared experiences" have as much to do with PR and cynical politics as they do with actual emotion.
posted by kgasmart at 10:15 AM on March 16, 2005

How many of these links actually work?
posted by fleacircus at 10:15 AM on March 16, 2005

I won't miss this pope, and though I think most of the list is snarky, number 22 is telling:

22.Mankind scrambles to choose new leader of inflexible, sexually morbid institutional anachronism; heretofore anonymous bureaucrat will instantly be celebrated as world's holiest man as he travels to AIDS-stricken Africa to denounce the use of condoms.
posted by carlitos at 10:16 AM on March 16, 2005

I was deeply offended by how funny this wasn't. Come on MetaFilter, we can make better sport of a frail old man's death than this weenie.

72) "Man should not interfere in God's plan, no birth control for you. Now if you'll excuse me, I have extensive life extending medical procedures to get to"
posted by Capn at 10:16 AM on March 16, 2005

Looks like the original has been "MeFi'd" already. "alt-weekly weenie" indeed... real newspapers don't run on IIS.
posted by clevershark at 10:16 AM on March 16, 2005

i'm with clevershark, where are the funny punchlines?
posted by poppo at 10:17 AM on March 16, 2005

How many of these links actually work?

.cfm stands for cold fusion markup. how many do you expect to work?
posted by quonsar at 10:21 AM on March 16, 2005

Everyone's wrong; that was really funny.
posted by underer at 10:22 AM on March 16, 2005

All the links work for me, but here is Google cache of the original list of 52 and of Taibbi's response, the only.cfm links.
posted by jeffmshaw at 10:26 AM on March 16, 2005

This was possibly the least funny article that Taibbi has ever written for the NYP. As his friend in the exile Mark Ames comments:
The Pope-Dying piece in question was one of those ideas that are hilarious as a concept but wind up getting ruined in the transfer from idea to print, something our readers have grown accustomed to over the years due to our rigorous corporate culture which enforces shoddy work habits at the eXile. Organized types are brutally hazed and find they hit a glass ceiling at about the intern level: after all, we're geniuses, you know:
Ames however goes further to suggest that this is a clear case of a publisher yielding to political pressure and forcing the editor to resign. Thus it's the kind of censorship that the US has accused Putin of imposing.
posted by talos at 10:26 AM on March 16, 2005

this line in the final link sums it up best:

"If senators have time for this, they must not be busy enough."

How often does this come to mind when a media outrage erupts over anything?
posted by inthe80s at 10:29 AM on March 16, 2005

Number 50 might be funny to fans of ESPN's Sport's Guy.
posted by Cyrano at 10:31 AM on March 16, 2005

Taibbi doesn't get it, so hes out. He still doesn't get it. Good riddance.
posted by caddis at 10:33 AM on March 16, 2005

I'm trying to find a deadpool to bets on the Pope, but no-one will accept money on my claim that he died years ago and was replaced by a high-tech Henson-esque muppet.
posted by Shane at 10:34 AM on March 16, 2005

Monty Python's lesson: if you want to break people's balls, you'd better be funny. I read the NY Press piece the other day and it was desperately, desperately unfunny. maybe Bill Hicks could do a funny routine on the Pope's wasting away, or Richard Pryor. this NY Press guy (whose work I'm not familiar with) is not in that league.
posted by matteo at 10:36 AM on March 16, 2005

Get what, caddis? And what do you mean "he's out?"
posted by underer at 10:41 AM on March 16, 2005

OK, I got to it from the google cache, but didn't find any funny besides number 50, and that was still weak sauce.

I'm really annoyed that it's my congress lackwit that went ballistic about this though. He definitely has more important things he could be doing.
posted by ursus_comiter at 10:47 AM on March 16, 2005

too bad that taibbi's getting all the attention for this because i generally think he's a pretty funny guy.
posted by nequalsone at 10:50 AM on March 16, 2005

I'll chime in and say that I found that to be distinctly unfunny. Weak sauce, indeed.
posted by Specklet at 10:56 AM on March 16, 2005

Well, count me as one of the people who thought this piece wasn't funny. But I did think it was... how to put this... touching, maybe? Moving? I mean, the guy's going to die, he's going to go into a box, and he's going to rot. That's sad.

Or look at #17. In his last days, the Pope was in tremendous pain. Sure, if that's a joke, it's a lousy one. But as the honest truth about how shitty death is, it works.

So my first reaction to the column was, "Wow. Taibbi isn't making fun of the pope's death at all. He's trying to get us to take it seriously, what with the worms and the coffin and the pain and whatnot."
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:02 AM on March 16, 2005

nequalsone: yeah, his luck... he gets all the publicity in the world for his worse piece ever. Although this stirred some reaction a few months ago...
posted by talos at 11:05 AM on March 16, 2005

When I read the piece on initial publication -- I pick up NY Press for my weekly fix of Cecil Adams -- I found the piece so unfunny as to be not offensive. It was just weak. The studied outrage of a bunch non-Catholic politicians is even more unimpressive.
posted by MattD at 11:05 AM on March 16, 2005

My mistake, Taibbi isn't out; he was never in. The editor is the one who quit. Taibbi doesn't get how unfunny and insulting his column was, even after the fact. I am not sure I am buying his explanation for the column in the response either. Reading the original column, it seems as if he really dislikes the Pope and in part uses the column to take out his anger and hatred in gross fashion. If meant as satire it fell flat. Tasteless jokes have to first be jokes otherwise they are merely tasteless. Taibbi couldn't get over the joke hurdle. Sure the Senators and such went a little overboard in their reaction, but the column was still an embarrassment.
posted by caddis at 11:06 AM on March 16, 2005

I wholeheartedly endorse Taibbi's attitude about the noxious media frenzy sure to accompany the Pope's death, but have to vent my contempt for the sophomoric logic of his rebuttal and his disingenous pretense that it didn't cultivate establishment outrage. I've liked his political writing in the past, but this just doesn't hold together. He argues that what he wrote was both a powerful indictment of our sanitized and fake culture of leader-worship and religious hypocrisy, and also "just a joke" (written in a "Vicodin haze" -- how punk rock!) which politicians shouldn't have deigned to respond to.

If it's a real critique -- made through humor or otherwise -- then the "just a joke" claim with which he concludes is a nonstarter. If it's a contentless farrago, only there to make us laugh at its absurdity, then the author should spare us the high-minded condemnation of our shallow Pope-love.

Mind you, I agree that the endless coverage and lockstep media praise-singing that accompanied the Reagan funeral was awful, and that the Pope's death is likely to inspire much of the same.

But however much it was informed by outrage over such absurd spectacle, it was clearly intended to whip up controversy, and manufacture those laughs that come along with "I can't believe they printed that!" This was a stunt, and it worked, more or less. I simply don't believe he and Koyen didn't predict -- even hope for -- the reaction from conservatives, Catholics, etc. Maybe it was more violent than they'd expected. But when you throw rocks at the Rottie next door, in the hopes of making him bark for the entertainment of your friends, and then discover that he isn't tied up, do you get to sue over the bite marks?

(That said, I agree that the political pile-on over this piece was also politically motivated and regrettable. But if Taibbi had just said in response "Ha! Made you look!" I'd have more respect for him. )
posted by BT at 11:15 AM on March 16, 2005

seems to me that, given the current pope, it's not offensive enough. the only real issue is deciding how to balance the pain and the pleasure - if he dies quickly, all the better, but if it's slow and agonising, well, maybe that's worth it too. it's a tricky call.
posted by andrew cooke at 11:20 AM on March 16, 2005

2.This is what happens when weird old men in dresses communicate with the world with doors and chimneys.

That was awesome. Best quote in an otherwise pretty mediocre-ish funny list.

The Controversy, eh. This is my problem with the classical idea of conservatism - sometimes, it can't take a joke because it wants to conserve these dogmatic "sacredisms", and I think anything should be fair game for ridicule. Catholics with a good sense of humor would make up a list of all the crap wrong with Luther and stick it in another opinion space. The whole pile-on, and his reaction, and all the kowtowing to propriety ruin debate and yucks for the rest of us. Whatevahs.

Other people and their stupid beliefs all suck.
posted by saysthis at 11:26 AM on March 16, 2005

What a pity, on several counts. The New York Press improved greatly after Jeff Koyen replaced that insufferable right-wing bonehead Russ Smith, and Matt Taibbi has written some excellent, stroppy, excrement-stirring articles. Sadly, this wasn't one of them. I believe Taibbi when he says he wrote it in a Vicodin haze because by Christ, it isn't even nearly funny.

The Pope deserves plenty of mockery and disrespect, but as others have observed, for Christ's sake do it well if you're going to do it at all.
posted by Decani at 11:28 AM on March 16, 2005

EXILE.RU! Love that, am so glad Taibbi got a job at the Post.
posted by By The Grace of God at 11:30 AM on March 16, 2005

Press, that is.
posted by By The Grace of God at 11:30 AM on March 16, 2005

From Jeff Koyen's Exit Interview:
"It’s been a great run, and I have nothing but respect for everyone in the editorial department I’ve just left behind. Chris Rohland and David Unger, however, are weak-willed and lackluster men who should not be in control of a newspaper, especially not in these times of editorial restriction by way of advertiser dick-sucking. They’re too vulnerable to the appeal of money."

Wow...look at the balls on that man...

by the way, i thought these were at least a little funny:

28.Bears everywhere shitting in woods.

16.NBC Nightly News intern pulls wrong tape from drawer full of long-ago archived video obits; world thinks Boris Yeltsin has died, wonders why Brian Williams is calling him an "inspirational spiritual leader."

15.Williams, after broadcast: "Who's Boris Yeltsin?"

14.Matt Lauer to Williams: "He wrote the Contract for America."

and i thought that these were hilarious:

9.Bush on the tragic event: "Our thoughts and prayers go out to this great man and all of his many children."

8.Bush continued: "He touched all of us in places no one else could reach."

But you know...i'm a sick bastard and obviously unfunny.
posted by schyler523 at 11:32 AM on March 16, 2005

Ironically, the NYP also snarked David Cross, who has the best anti-Catholic bit ever, in which he logically concludes that God fucks little boys.
posted by NickDouglas at 11:33 AM on March 16, 2005

How easy it is for columnists to stir up "controversy" using shock and the outrageous. Take a counter-cultural position, exploit it and its an instant attention-grabber. Was this calculated by Taibbi? Of course it was. But I don't think the piece (and he) deserve all the attention -- not only was it in bad taste; it was also not especially well-written. Beyond making a name for Taibbi, what does this column contribute in the end? Nothing.
posted by terrier319 at 11:37 AM on March 16, 2005

I was really looking forward to this piece when I clicked on it, but it's really stupid and unfunny. We MeFites could do better any day.
posted by orange swan at 12:00 PM on March 16, 2005

terrier319, this guy wasn't trying to stir up controversy or outrage. I don't know where you got that idea. Nobody who regularly reads the NYPress would actually be outraged by this which is, surprise, why the piece got printed without a second thought.

The reason this column generated so much outrage is because outrage is now a political weapoin in America. Indeed, it's probably the main one. Conservatives everywhere saw this silly "attack" on religion and, in perfect lockstep, turned on the outrage machine and began the massive appeal to people's emotions. The goal of this attack wasn't even to address the actual article so much as "get the base pumped up." What's amazing here is the 1) complete validation of outrage as a proper response--I'm reminded of that guy who said "I'm outraged at the outrage" 2) the pretty much complete ritualization of this process 3) the short amount of time involved.
posted by nixerman at 12:03 PM on March 16, 2005

....however, Taibbi's response column is great.

Sorry about that. Frigging link took minutes to load.
posted by orange swan at 12:05 PM on March 16, 2005

I read NY Press religiously and let me say, this is nothing. They print offensive stuff all the time, and that's what I like about it. It's like mixing an alt-weekly (which in most cities, let's face it, suck) with a punk zine or with Vice. It's got attitude, whether it swings conservative or liberal (usually both), and from New York, it damn well should.

Jeff Koyen quitting sucks ass (and by the way, he replaced John Strasbaugh, not Russ Smith). But I guess he said the right thing with his "fuck you" to the publishers. His mistake: putting this rather weak article on the front cover, in a town where the only people more self-righteous than Jews are Catholics.
posted by fungible at 12:06 PM on March 16, 2005

It IS possible for a talented writer to be offensive and funny. But that piece just isn't funny.

My favorite JP2 joke:
The Pope falls asleep and enters a trance in which he finds himself face to face with God. So God says "I have a couple of questions for you, John Paul." The Pope replies "Lord, please ask your servant, and he shall answer". "John Paul," God continues, "will there ever be women priests?" To which the Pope replies, "Not in my lifetime!". God then asks, "John Paul, will the Church ever accept contraceptive practices?" The Pope again says, "Not in my lifetime."

God then says, "that is all; is there something you would like to ask me?" The Pope asks, "Lord, will there be another Polish Pope?" To which God replies, "Not in my lifetime."
posted by clevershark at 12:09 PM on March 16, 2005

It is funny if one sees that the modern Catholic Church reeks of hypocrisy, mean-spiritedness, puerile dogmaticism, and knee-jerk adoration of its hierarchy. The pope isn't representative of the "jesus" of the gospels -- and never has been. The Pope is a dwindling reminder of the echo of a corrupt political machine from a bygone era.

It reads as funny to me -- course, I can't stand Mutha Teresa either.
posted by mooncrow at 12:19 PM on March 16, 2005

To paraphrase someone, the political man is an animal:

Rep. Wiener may have an involuntary point in the second link:
I am calling on people of good conscience in New York City to put the Press where it belongs: in the trash.

Just lose the "P" for a "p" and it may even do some good.

From the third link, Sen. Chuck Schumer called contributing editor Matt Taibbi's sick attempt at humor "the most disgusting thing I've seen in 30 years of public life."(bold mine)

Wherefrom we conclude the senator has had a very guarded public life, having missed a hundred wars, many famines, dozens epidemics, all daytime TV, Mike Tyson's career and a thousand other disgusting things that happened in the past thirty years.
posted by nkyad at 12:23 PM on March 16, 2005


I thought it was fucking hilarious.
posted by jbrjake at 12:25 PM on March 16, 2005

Taibbi - take a vacation man, get some fresh air and sunshine, find some happy people to hang with for a while, you know this vile teen-age world-hating thing doesn't work so well for a guy once you get past a certain age...

9.Bush on the tragic event: "Our thoughts and prayers go out to this great man and all of his many children."

Ok yeah not bad: Bush too dumb to know priests don't have kids, or too dumb to know the Pope is a priest, or too dumb to get the paedophile allusion, or maybe it's just hilarious to think of the pope getting some on the side, in general. Yup comedic gold.

8.Bush continued: "He touched all of us in places no one else could reach."

Unoriginal, sounds like something I heard in a Dean Martin roast, actually this is a good all-purpose insult, on par with 'a legend in his own mind', file it away for almost any tribute occasion.
posted by scheptech at 12:31 PM on March 16, 2005


That shit is witless trash.
posted by undule at 12:38 PM on March 16, 2005

I'm all for a little tasteless pope bashing but that shit was just painful. Had to be the vicodin talking.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:49 PM on March 16, 2005

I didn't have the allergic reaction to it of many - but I think it needed a good deal of work if it was to be called the funniest. I don't think the list format really worked for it. Still - I took the time to visit the paper's website and read his latest(?) piece on Saint Hunter of Colerado, and I liked it a lot.
posted by Sparx at 1:01 PM on March 16, 2005

Some of it funny, some of it not funny at all. Most of it incredibly tasteless. So the fuck what?

If you don't like it, don't read it. Since when is tastelessness a crime?

Jesus Christ, people, there are real things to worry about out there in the world. Real death and disaster. This is a joke, right?
posted by the_savage_mind at 1:06 PM on March 16, 2005

9.Bush on the tragic event: "Our thoughts and prayers go out to this great man and all of his many children."

Wait a minute, maybe this is funnier than I thought: Bush too dumb to know calling the pope 'Father' is not literal.

Hey that's pretty good actually.
posted by scheptech at 1:19 PM on March 16, 2005

Sad. I love Matt Taibbi. And yet, the offending article sucks. But his rebuttal is, indeed, quality.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 2:23 PM on March 16, 2005

If you don't like it, don't read it. Since when is tastelessness a crime?

Heh. One would assume that in order to be of the opinion of not liking it one would have to read it first. People are expressing their opinions here. Deal with it.
posted by Stauf at 2:38 PM on March 16, 2005

I thought it was pretty funny. So what if it's not genius. It's an alt-press rag! Here in Seattle there is throwaway stuff like this every week in the Stranger, some good, some bad. Maybe I read it, maybe I don't, who cares?

While these idiots were denouncing this column, a thousand children died horribly of Malaria in Subsaharan Africa.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 2:58 PM on March 16, 2005

Man writes unfunny article he knows will offend people. Man then complains when people are offended.

I love when people desperate for public attention complain once they receive it.
posted by pmurray63 at 3:03 PM on March 16, 2005

I took the time to visit the paper's website and read his latest(?) piece on Saint Hunter of Colerado, and I liked it a lot.

I didn't. But I did notice a certain irony. As several people have pointed out in this thread, the original controversy was manufactured by people who ought to know they'll be offended by things in the Press, who are (gasp!) outraged by something they find in the Press.

In the column Sparx links, Taibbi is (gasp!) outraged by the response of William F. Buckley and other conservative commentators to the death of Hunter S. Thompson.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:08 PM on March 16, 2005

Hmmm. I suspect Taibbi just thinks the guy is a dork who's greatest contribution to literature is a Mary-Sue and who is, in the matter of HST's work's merit, demonstrably wrong. Risible, rather than outrageous(!). That was kind of why I liked it - more things should be ridiculed, generally - it breeds a healthy skepticism.
posted by Sparx at 3:47 PM on March 16, 2005

Jesus Christ, people, there are real things to worry about out there in the world. Real death and disaster. This is a joke, right?

And yet you took time off from solving the world's problems to comment on this article?

While these idiots were denouncing this column, a thousand children died horribly of Malaria in Subsaharan Africa.

See above.
posted by clevershark at 4:03 PM on March 16, 2005

Taibbi is (gasp!) outraged by the response of William F. Buckley and other conservative commentators to the death of Hunter S. Thompson

I recommend that people read Taibbi's article on the death of Hunter Thompson themselves, and judge Taibbi's column themselves. I thought the article made a lot of good points, and was well written; "outrage" is hardly the first thing that came to my mind when reading it. Nor do I agree that it is "ironic" that Taibbi disagrees with the assessments of other people about what Thompson's death means, and also disagrees with their assessment of the worth of Thompson's writings.
posted by WestCoaster at 4:08 PM on March 16, 2005

Someone really needs to make a funnier list than Taibbi's. When your premise involves a hilarious list of 50 things, you know you're on the wrong track. 25 is the absolute maximum amount of funny things that can be colected in one article. It's a law of science.
posted by nomad at 5:16 PM on March 16, 2005

Feh . . . not funny.
posted by Toecutter at 5:31 PM on March 16, 2005

Seriously, why didn't he just say what he said in the response piece in the first place?

Instead of "Throw a marble at the dead Pope's head. Bonk!" which I can't imagine even the most cynical atheist finding funny, why not just criticize the coming media flurry before it happens? Frankly, the editor should have been forced to resign on the grounds of "not having the balls to tell the idiot to write a funny piece."
posted by shmegegge at 6:16 PM on March 16, 2005

although I've got to agree. Who gets all in a flurry over a bad joke? People tell them all the time, and in public, too.
posted by shmegegge at 6:17 PM on March 16, 2005

Hook, line, sinker: The feature is purposely offensive, people were (rightfully) offended, and a few staff at NY Press are now looking for work. Unfortunately, the feature isn't nearly as funny or clever as it should have been.

Oh well— on to the next "shock" feature.
posted by Down10 at 9:03 PM on March 16, 2005

Clevershark - I'm not a U.S. Senator, or an ex-president, or a pundit with a million people listening to me. I can express my outrage here. Like Jon Stewart told the Crossfire guys - they have the power, and they have the responsibility to do the things we can't. I elected some of these people in the hope that they would act on my behalf on the issues I think are important.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:51 PM on March 16, 2005

And this is one of those issues for which you need an elected official?

posted by yellowcandy at 11:32 PM on March 17, 2005

Hi. I just ended up here while looking for something else and felt to compelled to respond to yellowcandy.


P.S. That's exactly what BLF was saying. You missed his/her point.
posted by underer at 6:44 PM on April 4, 2005

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