'Not the Chicago Tribune': spoofs surge in hard times

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The mock ad shows Lee Ioccoca in a sombrero. Having bailed out his debt-ridden auto company, the Chrysler Corporation chairman is now bailing out Mexico. ''If you can find a better country,'' he is saying, ''move there. If you can find better water, drink it.''

On the news pages, there are stories (some by ''the Disocciated Press'') on the pending merger of Bechtel Corporation and the United States of America.

An international story looks at an amendment to President Reagan's Middle East policy - a plan allowing Israel to control the West Bank on the odd-numbered days and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on the even-numbered ones.

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And that story ties in with one on the sports page announcing that the PLO is joining the US Football League.

It's all part of a newspaper parody called (depending on where you live) ''Not the Los Angeles Times,'' ''Not the Boston Globe,'' or ''not'' the Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Philadelphia Inquirer, or Minneapolis Star and Minneapolis Tribune - 24-page spoofs scheduled for newsstand distribution Dec. 2 in those six cities.

These $2 joke editions are part of what scholars and publishers contacted by the Monitor agree is a nationwide resurgence of parody.

In the past year, ''The Preppie Handbook'' and ''Miss Piggy's Guide to Life'' have both been top sellers. And Avon is just releasing an 83-page parody of the well-known L. L. Bean catalog - filled with items for hunters and campers like Inflatable Cheese Slices, Tofu Inner Soles, and Dress Waders (''a serviceable pant for formal wear in swamps, bogs, and streams'').

''We're doing the same thing that a political cartoonist is doing,'' says Joseph D. Bretagna, editor of the ''Not The'' series. Last year, as director of sports information at Harvard, he and some friends assembled the first ''Not the Boston Globe.''

The one-shot publication caught the eye of Larry Durocher - a former publisher of Rolling Stone magazine, whose credits also include publishing ''Not the New York Times'' in 1978 and, more recently, an issue of the ''Off the Wall Street Journal.'' Mr. Durocher hired Mr. Bretagna to edit the six new city editions, each of which includes roughly one-third ''local copy'' spoofing hot community issues and parodying well-known local columnists.

The purpose, says Durocher, is to throw ''a good-natured, well-placed couple of rocks at the local statues.''

Why this upswing in parody?

Parody is ''quite common during times of stress,'' says Prof. Joseph Boskin, a historian of humor at Boston University. Linking its resurgence to the depressed economy, he notes that in the 1930s there was ''a similar upsurge of all kinds of humor, particularly parody and satire.''

Fred Graver, an editor of the 12-year-old National Lampoon magazine, agrees. He also notes that most humor books are fairly inexpensive, ''impulse items'' that appeal to slender pocketbooks.

Much of the humor nowadays, says Dr. Reinhold Aman of Waukesha, Wis., is designed to mock authority. Dr. Aman, who publishes Maledicta, a journal specializing in scholarly studies of verbal abuse, sees some value in the milder forms of parody, noting that ''it is always good to be skeptical about authority.''

And these days, says Dr. Lawrence E. Mintz, a specialist in humor at the University of Maryland, there is plenty to poke fun at. He notes that there have been ''a lot of public failures'' in the past couple of decades, with some of the great social causes proving less successful than they had promised. ''This is a quiet time as far as grand causes go,'' he says, ''which is always a good time for humor.''

But Sean Kelly, another co-editor at National Lampoon, cautions that people will not laugh at issues they still regard as wholly serious. He cites the relative lack of success of a recent publication titled The Nuclear War Fun Book (parodying a child's activity book) and of Meet Mr. Bomb (a burlesque of a civil defense pamphlet, published by Durocher), both of which hit a little too close to home for reader approval.

Where will the market go? Durocher, who is gearing up for a new series of ''Not The. . .'' papers next spring in eight cities (including Baltimore, Cleveland, Dallas, and Milwaukee), plans once-a-year parodies of the papers he selects. On Jan. 3 he will distribute 2 million copies of ''The Irrational Enquirer,'' spoofing the tabloid found at supermarket checkout lanes.

Why do it? ''The real news gets more and more bizarre each year,'' says Bretagna, adding that readers thank him for remedying what they see as a lack of humor in the daily news. ''We want to be mischievous and poke fun at people,'' he says, ''but we don't want to harm anyone.''

In fact, he's very much opposed to harmful weapons. His forthcoming newspapers call for ''hand-bun control.'' They will feature pictures of an assailant holding a ''deadly croissant'' known as the Saturday Morning Special.

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