Jenny McCarthy and the Fall of Books

The book industry seems to be collapsing, at least that hallowed old paper-and-glue industry that promoted serious ideas. Even talk-radio and TV hosts are spending less time with authors. There are exceptions – but they won’t make you feel optimistic about books.

Exhibit A of today’s kind of author: Jenny McCarthy, the former Playboy centerfold who’s parlayed her nudie shots into a long list of TV gigs and six best-selling “humor”/advice books (which absolutely no one might guess were written by someone else). Her latest must be her lamest. It’s called “Bad Habits: Confessions of a Recovering Catholic.” She’s wearing a nun’s habit on the cover. Original, huh?

She wrote a note to potential readers promising the book is “sinfully hilarious” and “always outlandish.” She insists Catholicism “has pervaded my life since birth and confused the f--k out of me for about the same time,” to the point where “I had to give up giving s--t up for Lent.”

McCarthy is the kind of author TV bookers can handle. She’s not going to get serious about theology like some boring old archbishop, and unlike most authors, viewers can always ignore what she’s blabbing about and picture her in the raw. The discussion doesn’t get much deeper than CNN’s sneering Piers Morgan did: “Most Catholics are in recovery, aren't they?”

ABC granted three interviews to the 1993 Playmate of the Year, including “The View” and a feature on “Nightline,” where reporter/publicist Juju Chang walked with McCarthy through her old neighborhood on the south side of Chicago and helped her reprise slogans from the book like “Jesus was my [Justin] Bieber,” as if God the Son was a silly pre-teen idol everyone outgrows.

Religion wasn’t really much of a topic. It’s just a schtick. As they talked about her new Playboy centerfold spread this year at age 39, “Good Morning America” co-host Elizabeth Vargas replied, “Hey, amen.”

The closest ABC came to an orthodox point of view came from the man who plays an idiot conservative on television, Stephen Colbert, playing “guest host.” He asked McCarthy is she still goes to church, and she said no. “Okay, you know you're going to Hell, right?...There's only one true bride of Christ. And it is the Catholic Church. I don't mean to bring you down at the end, and it was a lovely segment, but you are going to Hell.” To which McCarthy played along: “Why don't we break some commandments together? I can teach you.”

There’s a reason ABC granted all this publicity: her Catholic-bashing book is published by Hyperion, part of the oh-so-wholesome Disney Publishing group. Hyperion made a very lame promotional video for their website, complete with fake nuns (including one that was obviously a male) who invited Jenny to their “reading group” with the secret goal of “saving her soul.” Then they refused to shake her hand and one threw a book at her head. You are forgiven if none of this sounds like a laugh riot.

McCarthy plays dumb in the video and refers to God as “He, she, it” or whatever, and concludes, “If there’s a Hell, there’s no doubt I’m going. Might as well have a blast and party on down all the way to Hell.”

McCarthy’s weighty tome starts in a somber Mass from when she was six, in which “Father Colin” can’t seem to utter the words of the Eucharistic Prayer because there’s a persistent squeaking noise. We’re told the priest grew frustrated and yelled “What is that noise?” McCarthy’s family and their neighbors/enemies the Baruchs angrily blame each other with fake smiles “through clenched teeth.” McCarthy remembered the hubbub disturbed “Dad’s usual nap time,” and a few other sleepyheads. “I think some parishioners were actually drooling.”

The punch line at the end of this tale, if you believe any of this? Little Jenny came to church without any underwear and loved the squeaking noise of her bare buttocks on the wooden pew. Then she stood up and twirled her dress and showed everyone her naughty bits.

If you believe any of this, you’ll also believe that when she discovered she couldn’t be both a nun and a mother, “I wore a Wonder Woman costume for the next eight years.” You’ll probably also believe the saucy tale of her being naked and whacked out on pills with a pile of other Playmates in Hawaii, where they started to make out with each other. “Holding up drugs in front of a group of Playmates was like holding up an arm to a cannibal tribe.”

This is what publishers kill trees for these days. This is how low we go to create “popular culture,” and this is how badly we define “comedy.” It is art Americana.