Just kidding. More likely The Onion will make you laugh, but that isn’t nearly as cool a title for a blogpost. Looking over this month’s posts got me wondering if I might be taking myself just a tad too seriously, so here’s some comic relief. My apologies to my international readers who may not find all of the American references quite as funny as I do.
So what is The Onion? It began humbly enough as a satiric newspaper with only local distribution in Madison, Wisconsin. Founded in 1988 by two University of Wisconsin students, it was distributed free and had cut-out coupons for local Madison eateries. From the beginning its genius was the send-up of the rich, famous and powerful with stories that were so funny that they were to good to be true, and, in fact they weren’t true. Think Jonathan Swift, Punch, early SNL, or the Colbert Report.
I know that in a recent post I quoted Marilynne’s Robinson’s displeasure at people getting their news from comics like Leno and Limbaugh, but the Onion is more than the arbiter of attitude about which she was speaking. The Onion uses humor to deflate big egos, point out injustices, and generally humble the exalted.
Not that The Onion isn’t cool. It is way cool, and that is why it spread beyond Madison. From the beginning it had a near cult following on college campuses, and its availability quickly widened to other university cities, mostly in the Midwest. Eventually it had a national distribution. The print addition is still distributed free in Madison and several other major cities, and is available by subscription and sold in bookstores.
The Onion added a website in 1996 and now has monster of a site that mimics such real news sites as CNN, ESPN, and C-Span with it ersatz replicas, namely ONN, O-Span, and OSN.
The Onion News Network (ONN) has video clips that look like real news stories. They have actors playing politicians in solemn assemblies. They have down the look and sound of some of the more soul-deadening congressional debates. Take a look at this send-up of Congress in the clip “Breaking News: Bat Loose in Congress.”
Or this one, in which a Congressional hearing has the girlfriends of America arguing the economic benefits of cohabitation: “Nations Girlfriends Unveil New economic Plan: “Let’s Move in TOGETHER.””
Or my favorite, the Food and Drug Administrations first approved depressant drug for the chronically upbeat: “FDA Approves Depressant Drug for the Annoyingly Cheerful.”
ONN also has a regularly scheduled show called Today Now that is a send-up of vacuous morning talk shows. It has two attractive, clueless hosts, John Haggerty (played by Brad Holbrook) and Tracy Gill. Brad Holbrook was actually a real anchorman on one of our local Albany TV stations for several years which gives Today Now an eerie believability. He’s definitely better at The Onion.
Check out the episode: “Facebook, Twitter Revolutionizing How Parents Stalk Their College-Aged Kids” where a mom talks about stalking her son on-line.