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Theater of Cruelty, Carnival of Souls

Oct. 27 2008, Published 7:07 a.m. ET

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FANTASTIC The Sun The British tabs are different. American tabloids, like the New York Post and the Daily News, can be rough and raw, God knows, and they like to get their teeth into a celeb story ("Come clean about Heath, Mary-Kate!"). But they are newspapers and have hard news skills that sometimes leave the broadsheets in the dust. Okay, there's the National Enquirer, but how often do you see normal-looking citizenry reading the Enquirer on the subway or a bus the way the Brits publicly devour the tabs?

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British rags hardly pretend to be providing straightforward news. What they are doing is what used to be the job of popular fiction; namely, processing myth out of characters sucked in from real life. Right now the cast list includes such durable regulars as Kate Moss—with or without Pete Doherty—Princes Harry and Wills, Posh and Becks, and Kate and Gerry McCann, whose daughter Madeleine's kidnapping/disappearance in Portugal made them last year's headliners.

But a fresh year demands fresh blood, and January 5 showed real promise. The Daily Star had the nerve to run a story accusing the reality TV show Big Brother of condoning bullying. And the McCanns returned: "MADDIE'S MUM TO BE CHARGED." But the icing on the cake was certainly the front-pager "CRAZED BRITNEY TAKES BABIES HOSTAGE: Suicide watch on sectioned singer."

"Sectioned" means committed in UK-speak.

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