It used to be said that photos never lie, back in those simpler, innocent days before Photoshop and Facetune made liars of us all. But as this week's tabloids show, photos can lie even when they are the unvarnished genuine article.
Richard Simmons, the fitness 'guru' whose celebrity seems to continue only in the minds of tabloid editors, is pictured on the National Enquirer's cover clad in fur-trimmed lingerie and black leggings, while wearing a long black wig, above a headline screaming: "He's now a woman!"
"Yes, this photo shoot is real!" adds an accompanying caption – a notation that is necessary because veteran Enquirer readers will know how many of its photos are doctored fakes.
Quoting an unnamed "pal," the Enquirer claims that Simmons has been out of the public eye for the past two years while he transitioned into a woman, having a "secret boob job" and researching "castration surgery."
Leaving aside for a moment the appalling intrusion into the private life of anyone going through the emotional rollercoaster of gender realignment, just as the Enquirer had previously brutally forced the outing of a transitioning Caitlyn Jenner, Simmons' photo was clearly taken in jest, just as the flamboyant self-publicist Simmons has dressed in women's attire many, many times before for the camera and on TV.
The fact that Simmons was photographed a week ago wearing a beard should be the first clue that there may be less to this story than appears. Add the fact that in March the New York Daily News reported that Simmons had been kidnapped by his maid, prompting Simmons to emerge from seclusion to assure the world he was fine, and you realize that the 'Sweatin' to the Oldies' star is the subject of frequently wild speculation.
If he wants to transition to a woman, that's great – but this unsubstantiated story and misleading photo don't suggest that's the case.
There's also less than appears in the Globe's "world exclusive' cover story "Patrick Swayze died a battered husband," accompanied by a photo of the 'Dirty Dancing' star with shocking black eye and bruised lip, allegedly beaten in his final months by his wife, Lisa. The supposed "tragic truth," exposed by an unnamed "friend," is brought to harrowing life by the image of a gaunt and beaten Swayze – if only it were real. Harder to find than Waldo, hidden away at the foot of the page in the smallest of print are the tell-tale words: "Photo dramatization."
There's no such caption on the Enquirer's photo of Hillary Clinton, however, showing the Democrat's presidential hopeful wearing an orange prison tunic and pants, her wrists shackled by a chain around her waist. "She should be jailed for compromising top U.S. secrets," says the fair and balanced Enquirer, which notes the result of its readers' general election poll, showing that 60 per cent support Donald Trump. You'd expect the other 40 per cent to support aliens or tabloid favorite Bat Boy, but no – they opt for Hillary Clinton.
Fortunately Us magazine's crack investigative team bring us the week's real news: Gabrielle Union wore it best (though I'd give her marks off for those sneakers), Nick Jonas likes sriracha-flavored popcorn and Cuban sandwiches, Jennifer Beals carries a Swiss Army knife, emery board and eye drops in her boho blue satchel, and the stars are just like us: they bike to work, hold hands in public, and eat ice cream (which I never knew, assuming that all celebrities were contractually barred from consuming ice cream.)
Muhammad Ali rightly takes the cover and ten pages inside People magazine, which might make Us mag wonder if its single paragraph – 34 words – might have underestimated his popularity and cultural significance. With his death on June 3 close to the mag's deadline, perhaps they debated throwing out their feature on the "Hottest Bachelorette Ever" or their "wedding season survival guide" to squeeze in a few words on Ali, but decided against it? Or maybe Us editors simply decided that Ali wasn't one of Us?
But finally, some news you can use from this week's tabloids: the National Examiner explains how you can tell a victim of demonic possession apart from someone with a mental disorder. The mental patient is holding a copy of the Examiner. No – I made that up. The "truth" is far better. According to a Vatican exorcist, you can tell the difference by noting the patient's reaction to prayer. "The way a victim reacts to prayer, says the Vatican expert, can hold clues to whether a demon is trying to take control of a person," the Examiner reports. Clues to watch out for: "Frightening facial expressions, threatening words or gestures, and other things, but especially blasphemies against God and our lady," the exorcist reportedly says. Holy mother of Christ! Who knew? By that reckoning, half of America must already be possessed by demons, but who am I to argue with an expert? I'm sure he has photographic proof.
Onwards and downwards . . .