9:48 am Jun. 7, 20122
Each day, the New York tabloids vie to sell readers at the newsstands on outrageous headlines, dramatic photography, and, occasionally, great reporting. Who is today's winner?
New York Post: Who is that lady on the cover of the Post today, in the royal purple satin negligee with a length of cotton clothesline draped over her shoulders, one end threaded through and dangling from her provocatively beckoning left hand, the grey limpid pools of her eyes winking out at us from under warm auburn tresses, her lips pursed in a pouty, devilish smile?
Because she is not, as such women on the cover of the Post usually are, just a woman who answers to the description of "seductive woman" in a search on a stock photo site: the credit for the photo is the Post's own shooter, Tamara Beckwith.
The model, who appears on the inside in a weird bustier-panties-garter belt combination (weird mostly because the black lace also features flesh-colored modesty panels, which make the thing look a bit like a Halloween costume) isn't identified. The slyly suggestive headline, in knockout-white type in a black field that wraps around the left side and top of the page, is "Knotty Secrets: Why NYC women are buying rope."
Actually it's not that sly: We already know this is going to be the Post's big Fifty Shades of Grey tie-in (sorry). The bestselling books detailing the erotic journey of Anastasia Steele (which just reminds me of the fake movie in Seinfeld Rochelle, Rochelle, billed as "a young woman's erotic journey from Milan to Minsk") have, the Post reports, produced such an awakening to the possibilities of submissive sex practices among New York women that stores like Toys in Babeland and Tarzian Hardware in Park Slope are selling gray silk ties, clothesline and leather cuffs like hotcakes.
This storm of women newly interested in bondage evokes, for me personally, the "Game of Thrones" plotline in which a bunch of scary people are about to break down a giant wall and come cascading over to obliterate civilization. I mean, this has already been a Katie Roiphe Newsweek cover story, for God's sake.
But I've been down this road before. When I was a kid, I think about 11 or 12, there was a crazy lady who lived on our hallway. I was standing outside my door in the corridor and she suddenly ran up to me and thrust a paperback book at me and scuttled away; it was Fear of Flying by Erica Jong. I read bits of it, and somehow knew that it was meant to be kept in the closet of my bedroom, but can honestly say I grew bored of it pretty quickly.
The target psychographic of erotic literature—middle-aged women, Village Voice critics of the '70s and '80s and horny teenage boys —is a hard one to crack. For years I would hear about how groundbreaking the book was, and how it had changed the culture. And on this, I'm with Jerry, Elaine and George, a little bit unable to restrain myself from hollering, as they do in the theater during Rochelle, Rochelle, "Isn't this all just crap?!?"
Somehow the lighthearted bondage story with the pretty model makes an odd pair with the main news story today. "LOVE'S GIFT" doesn't have anything to do with painless spankings or silk ties, but with a terrible kidney transplant story. "Anguish of a man whose sis died donating kidney," reads the dek.
There's a picture of Yolanda Medina, who bled to death at Montefiore Medical Center two weeks ago while undergoing surgery to donate a kidney to her ailing brother. She bled to death after her aorta was cut, and now there's an investigation. But meanwhile, her death means no live transplant for her brother, so he is still in danger, waiting for a new donor. And the hospital has suspended live transplants until they can figure out what went wrong and who's to blame. Lawyers are involved, and it's all very sad.
Daily News: I'd been yelling at the News to stop it with the stories of affairs between students and teachers on the front page until they have some news. And yet today comes a ripoff story from this Sunday's Times Magazine about Riverdale private school Horace Mann.
You really ought to read the original story, by Amos Kamil, in which he interviews scores of classmates, alumni, former teachers and administrators (and in which he documents somewhat failed attempts to reach current administrators, teachers and board members) about a long series of accusations of sexual abuse by teachers and coaches at the school.
There's nothing new in the News story over the Times piece published online yesterday, not even any apparent attempt to contact Horace Mann independently (not that that would have gotten the News very far).
But the firestorm on this story is just beginning, and both tabloids will be fronting elements of the fallout in the coming weeks, I predict. If you look in the comments section on the Horace Mann story, you'll see dozens of people saying that they were at one time or another sexually abused in schools like Horace Mann, mostly unnamed.
The school's reaction is puzzling in this post-Catholic Church sex-abuse era. I went to an all-boys Catholic school, and the procedure is so tight there that, when a teacher was exposed for having abused a student at a school upstate who once taught at my high school for a very short stint, an email went out to alumni and parents asking them to please come forward if they had anything to say about him during his tenure at our school.
I'm not at all saying that this means the church has fixed its problem with child sexual abuse and the handling of it, but just that at the very least the preliminary failures of the church are now transparently obvious. So to watch a private school in Riverdale stumble through those same mistakes seems incredible to me. It is a very, very big and important story.
And the News reminds us of its own groundbreaking work uncovering abuse at private Brooklyn school Poly Prep in an editorial today (as if to lay down a marker on this kind of story and remind us that they, too, have the chops to investigate private school sexual abuse scandals?). Here's a recent update from the News' man on that story, Michael O'Keeffe.
I've restrained myself these past several days, and really I can't imagine that it's not doing something for the business side, so maybe it's a wise fiscal decision to take up half the page with a picture of a family on a green dragon roller coaster with giant yellow letters that read "WIN FREE FAMILY FUN" and the Daily News PASSPORT FOR SUMMER FUN. It has been taking up space on the page to a greater or lesser degree all week. But I'm not here to judge the paper's business acumen; I'm here to judge the front page. And these kinds of things can ruin a front page's appeal.
Observations: Well it's definitely summer when all the cover stories are also-rans, ties and tie-ins. But I think I'm willing to say that the News cover's unoriginality is more than made up for by the actual importance of the story. Sometimes the news doesn't make itself. Sometimes a competing publication makes it. And then, you do have to pick up the threads. It's a lowly job, but it's the job. Is the presumed titillation provided by our beauty in purple enough to match or beat the story of the "PREP SCHOOL SHOCKER" ("Sex abuse scandal rocks alma mater of N.Y.'s rich & famous")? Does the green dragon roller coaster run roughshod over the News' dreams of victory? Is the sad and important kidney transplant tale just too depressing to move papers? Or too important to be missed? I may be jaundiced because I read and was wholly absorbed by the Times story yesterday, but I think I know the answer.
Winner: Daily News.