Depressed about the state of the world? Imagine how much worse it is for us journalists. Newsrooms tend to be caldrons of despair, since they traffic in crime, disaster and tragedy. (For that reason, newsrooms are famous for their dark, gallows humor, featuring jokes so disgusting, so absent of any trace of compassion, so violative of accepted norms of civilized behavior, that you'd have to conclude we journalists are despicable monsters if not for the obvious fact that it's all just a coping device, owing to our extreme sensitivity and humanitarianism.)
All the misery does eventually get to us, though. And that's why, when I am really melancholic, I daydream about someday working for Parade magazine. At Parade, bad things seldom happen -- but when they do, it is always for an inspiring reason. Sometimes, it is to create a hero; other times, it is to prove you can recover from bad things and be even happier than ever before. Parade also covers celebrities, many of whom have survived bad things, and are happier than ever before.
Now, critics may charge that Parade is thin and negligible and revoltingly sweet. To these critics I say: Hey, so are those Listerine breath strips, but they do the job, too. Why do you think Parade boasts the highest circulation of any general-interest magazine in the country?
Okay, maybe it is because Parade is virtually given away to any newspaper willing to distribute it. But that's betraying the sort of cynicism that has no place in any discussion of Parade, a magazine that does not know the meaning of the word cynicism. Of course, it doesn't know the meaning of any word of four or more syllables. But that, my friends, is the very secret of its greatness.
See, Parade is not just in newspapers like The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. It is also in newspapers with names like the Pokey (Okla.) Okie-Dokey. That means that the magazine must strive to be accessible not just to the president of the World Bank, but to the president of the ladies' auxiliary of the Pokey (Okla.) chapter of the National Beer, Firearms and Forklift Rodeo Association. So the contents of the magazine can't be too complicated or sophisticated, nor can they be depressing, because Sharleen Mae Dumpfluxter -- she's the president -- doesn't go in for that sort of stuff.
So, negativity is out, because everybody must love a Parade. That's why Parade loves everyone and everything. A recent issue featured a story by a guy who went to Iran, and loved it. Sure, there were signs all over calling America "the great Satan," and women were wearing burqas, but they were peeking their heads out from time to time. This article raised hope for religious freedom in Iran, by pointing out that Iran has known religious freedom before, so why not again? The earlier case involved a tolerant king named Cyrus. Cyrus ruled in 529 BC.
This same issue of Parade contained recipes. One was for macaroni and cheese. Another was for a grilled cheese sandwich.
Not that Parade has no intellectual content. It features a weekly column by Marilyn vos Savant, who has billed herself as the smartest person in the world. This allows her to answer questions such as this recent one: Why are actors held in greater esteem than inventors or composers? Her answer: Because actors are better-looking and richer and more famous. (Don't try this at home; Marilyn is said to have an IQ of 230.)
Her column also features a word puzzle, which seems to be written for the entertainment of the entire Dumpfluxter family. The puzzles are all sort of like this:
Q: What do these words have in common? Failure, gasp, brown and corn?
A: If you turn the page upside down, you can't read them as easily.
And, lastly, there is the cover story. In the issue I am looking at, the cover story is about cancer. Well, not really. It is about how Olivia Newton-John survived cancer, and is stronger and happier for having done so. The entire cover story is five paragraphs long, and in it Olivia reveals exclusively to Parade that she feels "very, very lucky." She is not asked about the fact that her longtime lover had recently disappeared during a fishing trip and is presumed dead.
Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is email@example.com.
Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon at www.washingtonpost.com.