I developed the habit of reading the newspaper every day back when I was in high school. In my neck of the woods, though, my daily paper was unfortunately the glorified internet comment section known as The Buffalo News, which is pathetically the only game in the city. Be that as it may, I got into the habit of reading the local paper every time I travel.
It was Chicago the introduced me to the worst newspaper publication on the planet, RedEye. It’s pretty bad that, in spite of growing up reading The Buffalo News, I can say that about ANY newspaper. RedEye is a free daily published by the Chicago Tribune which started in 2002 and shot itself at millennials. It’s wedged into the aesthetics of The Windy City these days, and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere soon. RedEye is powering along, though the only two reasons why make the magazine’s popularity more of a pragmatism issue than a quality issue; RedEye is available totally for free, and its dispensers are conveniently located at almost every el stop and a ton of bus stops. The places without immediate access to a RedEye dispenser usually aren’t far walks from places with them.
I’ve attacked Chicago endlessly for its inability to live up to its own projection as a tough city. And before you mention the crime rates, crimes rates don’t play a role in making a city tough. (And even if they did, Buffalo is slugging pound for pound these days for the title.) Tough is an issue of pride, the ability to shrug off assaults on everything you hold to your soul, the ability to do what’s necessary to keep your head high in the face of adversity, and the ability to find an identity and hold onto it no matter what. Tough is taking a punch, be it a physical or metaphorical punch. Tough is also something Chicago lacks in every possible way. I have to bring that up because nothing else represents Chicago’s self-image like RedEye. It’s the seeing eye for those interested in the way Chicago views itself and everything wrong about that viewpoint.
RedEye is a tabloid rag too stupid to realize it’s a tabloid rag. Hard-hitting news items are there only as token bullet points while what little exists of any kind of cover spread will be an issue of which celebrity’s ass are the writers going to suction themselves to today. The real news covers maybe one and a half pages, starting around page ten or so. Half the time, cover boy won’t even have a Chicago connection. This wouldn’t be such a big problem for me if RedEye wasn’t trying to peddle itself as a news magazine, but between celebrity covers, it does manage to get big stories onto its cover. The first issue of RedEye I ever picked up, back in December of 2005, had a story about people using the internet for sex on the cover. Usually, though, the lead story is a two-page spread, which might not sound so bad, and wouldn’t be if the spread wasn’t about 70 percent photographs. Today’s front cover is a summer music preview. Go figure.
There are regular weekly columns, all impressive in their vapidity. The most use you can get from one is the regular CTA column, written on Tuesdays by Tracy Swartz. The way some of these poor columnists improvise and imagine their material is incredible, because there’s not a wealth of it in and of itself. Today, Swartz’s column is actually asking a truly pertinent question about how often public officials ride public transit themselves. I asked that question frequently myself during my time in Chicago, and I’m asking it almost daily back here in Buffalo, where the public transit might as well be nonexistent, especially south of the Buffalo River. Unfortunately, columns like this don’t come along very often. RedEye’s last CTA columnist, Kyra Kyles, once wasted a column on the movie 300. Also, there was space wasted once a week on a love column and a sex column. A love column will have its uses, a sex column…. Not nearly as much as you would think, especially seeing as how RedEye regularly brought in womanizers to write them. Understand that by that, I’m not writing about men in committed relationships who just happened to enjoy sex, but men for whom women were nothing more than bedpost notches. One of them actually wrote about the stigma attached to the title “walk of shame,” while the other bitched about not getting a one night stand in a month. With columns like that, it’s a wonder there are women employed by the Trib at all.
The sports section will do both the cover issue thing and the bullet story thing, and it’s here that Chicago’s image facade begins to emerge. What Chicago team is doing well, and which good opponent is in the city for a big match? Time for a city showdown, obviously! You already know all of these things are relentlessly stacked in favor of Chicago, and while they’re in there only as entertainment – part of the problem when they’re supposed to be writing a sports story – it speaks fairly ill of RedEye that they even exist at all. Sports provide plenty of stories, but yet RedEye chooses to constantly thumb Chicago’s noses at some other city. Folks, meet the Chicago Inferiority Complex, that self-congratulatory disease which inflicts itself on all Chicago media and politics. RedEye is the most obvious manifestation of it. No matter what city, RedEye will always go out of its way to mock and slander it. Somehow, though, it usually manages to draw the line at Los Angeles, and it ALWAYS draws the line at New York City. That makes perfect sense, because the attitude of the typical Chicagoan toward New York City is as follows:
“WE’LL NEVER BE A WORLD-CLASS CITY LIKE NEW YORK CITY!!! WWWAAAAHHHHHH!!!!”
The Chicago Inferiority Complex also pops up in the part of RedEye which is a true tabloid: The celebrity gossip section on the back pages! This is where RedEye is completely within its element, and where it acts like every other, more important celebrity gossip rag on the newsstands. As you would expect, most of the sightings are Chicago-centric, but even so, ReedEye’s attitude toward them is bewilderment that big name star X would come to hang out in little, backward Chicago. That’s strange, because there are plenty of stars who chose to make Chicago their homes. It’s like a 21st-century megalopolis of 2.7 million people might have something to offer them. RedEye is also the first to celebrate every new movie or TV show which uses the area as a backdrop, as if the thousands of movies, shows, and songs glorifying The Windy City before them were aberrational phenomena.
Last year, RedEye finally received a short beatdown it had coming from critical theorists for years when a murder story it published expounded on the details of the murders of two white people while only using a single paragraph at the end of the story to quickly rattle off the names of a half dozen blacks who were also killed that same night. This says a few bad things about RedEye, yes, because that story pretty much sums up its attitude toward a lot of local and relevant news stories. It also says several bad things about critical theorists when you start to wonder what the hell took them so long to get on RedEye’s back.
I mentioned previously that some years ago, I had a friend who gave a speech at a religious conference, and brought a newspaper to use as a prop. She grabbed the Friday’s RedEye, not being a regular reader of it and therefore not knowing anything about it. After getting a laugh from the audience for a remark about George Clooney – who happened to be on the cover – she then commented about how she proceeded to read that magazine, hoping to find something substantial on the inside. No one at the conference got a bigger laugh than her wondering if RedEye had anything substantial. And that really sums up everything you’ll want to know about RedEye.
Once again, I’ll emphasize that I grew up reading The Buffalo News, and I’m criticizing RedEye. Let that one sink in.