IT SEEMS LIKE A HUNDRED YEARS AGO. Technically, it was the previous century. Way back in the nineteen-nineties, before Wars on Terror, Great Recessions, and rabid non-debates on Gun Control, Immigration, Race, Religion, the Climate, the Kardashians and other grave topics, the world actually had a sense of humor. Back then, it was socially acceptable to laugh at the absurdities of life and poke fun at people and institutions that took themselves too seriously. The term “politically correct” was still more of a guideline than a rule. College campuses didn’t require Crying Closets® and Safe Zones. Apology Tours were unheard-of and unnecessary.
In short, people could Take a Joke.
And there was plenty of source material to work with. The Clintons, Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich, O.J. Simpson, Rush Limbaugh, Martha Stewart, Congress, Dr. Kevorkian, Dr. Laura, Dead Elvis, Paris Hilton, Joe Camel, Wilson the Volleyball, Dennis Rodman… a cast of real and fictional characters ripe for the ridiculing. Back then, Roseanne Barr was fat and liberal. Alec Baldwin was thin… and liberal. Ross Perot was still a household name. “Household names” was still a common phrase.
In that climate of cooler heads and, well, cooler everything, where common sense still had a fighting chance, we launched “The National Fish Rapper.” Just for laughs. The Fish Rapper was conceived as a parody publication that poked fun at the fishing and hunting industries as well as at the world at large. It was mainly a way for us to blow off steam and exercise creative muscles not usually needed for covering the outdoors. It also gave us a clever way to raise funds for a scholarship fund tied to our FFA programs—by selling parody ads and selling copies on newsstands.
Photoshop was a new toy and we went a little overboard with it, creating bizarre images and photos. In the first issue, we put Bill Dance’s face on Mount Rushmore. In later issues, we put a jockey on a whitetail buck running in the Kentucky Derby and a Cadillac pulling a bass boat in a NASCAR race. We had a 900-foot-tall Ray Scott (the founder of Bassmaster) wading across the harbor in front of the Statue of Liberty, and the Soviet-era MIR space station bouncing off the U.S. Capitol Dome as Newt Gingrich and Ted Kennedy fled into the foreground. Typical stories were “Militant Bassers Occupy Lake Palestine’s West Bank” featuring a Photoshopped image of LPLO leader “Yessir Whatabass” holding a lunker, and “Gingrich Works Off Dole Debt” with the recently dethroned Speaker of the House mowing Bob Dole’s lawn (as Dole supervised in his undershorts) to pay off a loan Dole had actually made to Gingrich to cover legal debts.
We published six annual issues in all, from 1995 to 2001.
Why did we stop? September 11, 2001.
In the 2001 issue, our Photoshop antics got the better of us. In the most eerie coincidence of our lives, we created an image for the cover that—keep in mind, this was printed in June 2001—depicted two (yes, two) airline planes flying circles around the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The silly story accompanying the image had pilots of Trump Airlines (of all things) going rogue and “buzzing” the towers, alá Tom Cruise in “Top Gun.” Needless to say, when 9/11 happened, we were stunned by this unbelievable coincidence and we immediately had all the copies of the issue removed from newsstands.
Despite the issue recall, it still prompted hundreds of calls from confused and angry subscribers, some of whom saw the issue and thought it had been freshly printed and that we were making fun of the attacks. We were even contacted by the FBI, who questioned the timing of the issue’s printing. We think they were satisfied with our explanation that it was all just a bizarre coincidence, but you never know.
So that was the last Fish Rapper. We haven’t had the heart to resume publishing it since 9/11.
But we miss it. Who knows? Maybe it’s been long enough now. For the moment, we have digitized some of the original issues and you can view them at FishGame.com/fishrapper.