Monday, December 10, 2012

What Funny about Funny

The Onion is a news satire organization. Though it was once strictly a satire newspaper, it now has a large website that features satire as well as the A.V Club which is about entertainment. Recently, The Onion’s article “Kim Jong-Ung Named The Onion’s Sexiest Man Alive For 2012” was accidently reported by the Chinese News paper People’s Daily. This is not the first time The Onion’s satire has been taken for actual reporting. Earlier this year, sports journalist Stephen A. Smith mistook the article “Stephen A. Smith Thinking Son Is Ready for the Sex Argument” as non-satirical reporting. 
While the above examples may seem outlandish, it is undeniable that actual and satirical writing- or in general creation- can often walk a grey line between what seems legitimate and what is outlandish. This said it is very likely that the majority of The Onion’s readers understand fully that they are watching or reading parody. Therefore, it seems that The Onion must make it a primary goal of partially concealing the parody- which might be done by adding an element of truth into its creation. Acknowledging this fact, The Onion often uses popular newspaper and media devices or creations to buttress a “legitimate feel” in both its visual media use, as well as its writing. An example of this is the section “American Voices” which is reminiscent of non-satirical reporters asking questions to people in a community.
In thinking about writing, The Onion uses some recognizable and even cliché forms of the newspaper and mass media in order to play into a myth that it also exists inside the “real” of America’s mass media. Though they may be found in many articles, the recently published article “42 Million Dead in the Bloodiest Black Friday Ever” uses some interesting rhetorical devices, which buttress’s an unspoken goal of this organization to conceal the fiction, and make what appears to be a true and legitimate form of mass information.
In the first paragraph of this particular article we read “According to emergency personnel, early estimates indicate that more than 42 million Americans were killed this past weekend in what is now believed to be the bloodiest Black Friday shopping event in history”. This statement plays into numerous cultural allusions which are reminiscent of horrible events that we associate with “Black Monday” (Including riots, economic collapses, and assassinations to name a view). Black Friday, for many Americans, besides being a time for shopping, also might conjure up memories of the yearly reports of aggression and violence which are, sometimes, over reported. The Onion is able to use this existing cultural idea and exploit it, as a half truth, half fictional hyperbole with unspoken criticisms of materialism.   
This article also uses a sort of artistic journalistic style, which is a technique used to put some emotion and color, what might be called pathos, into dull and objective “story telling”.  A very good example of this is “the bloodbath only escalated throughout the weekend as hordes of savage holiday shoppers began murdering customers at Wal-Mart, Sears, and JCPenney locations nationwide, leaving piles of dismembered and mutilated corpses in their wake”. These words, especially blood bath, dismembered, and hordes are some of the most loaded- or gruesome words that might be chosen. Here scesis onomaton is used to a ridiculous degree; however it stays faithful to what I identify as a common mass media device of artistic journalism. Furthermore, the writer(s) of this article use alliteration such as “hordes of savage holiday shopper”, which creates not only a nice sounding jingle and promotes ease in reading, but (in my opinion) creates a sentence that could be a mass head that is memorial. Such a technique is similar to how the phrase “Cold War” is not only well known, but began to develop very intricate and powerful meanings over time.
Furthermore, this article uses scope as a way to juxtapose ideas with very humorous results. One passage is “As the weekend of sales drew to a close, ambulances could be seen circling the now empty and completely ravaged shopping complexes”. In this sentence the use of a broad scope (prior to the comma) stands in very odd relation to the second half of the sentence. Here the writer uses meiosis where the first part of the sentence gives sort of a general statement, while the second half is almost downplayed by its sentential position. It seems that the writer directs our attention toward the fact that the shopping week closed and, as an afterthought, mentioned the results of a tragedy. It might be argued that the first and second parts of this particular sentence actually are written in a way to suggest a tautology, that is, shopping is commonly thought as a thing that sparks mass disaster. 
Another sort of journalistic standard is including witness accounts of events. We read in this article “The level of bloodshed this year was almost beyond imagination—no prior Black Friday could have prepared us for this, said National Guard commander Frank Grass”. This “witness account” underscores that cultural idea that Black Friday’s are a time of disorder and violence, but what this passage does to the article is shows us that there is the idea- an idea held for a person of high standing- that this chaos really is what Black Friday is all about. Not only does this serve to direct readers toward the half truth and half jest idea of an article, but such a confirmation of an idea is a sort of jest of “mass media” which, according to some, reinforces cultural norms. One might search into the fiction founder of The Onion T. Herman Zeibelt’s editorials, in which he tells the reader’s that his newspaper is only for selling ads, making money and keeping people ignorant.    
Very often when I read or watch a video clip created by The Onion I find myself actually not knowing what real world event they are referring to. For example, the article “Romney Locks Himself in the Oval Office” lead me to fact that our president invited Mr. Romney to the White House. In this way, I actually learn that something happened or something is occurring, which I would not otherwise know. While someone might tell me that this knowledge is inconsequential, I could respond that, even thought the particulars are fictional, all news reporting is an attempt to make meaning out of an event that (the writer) most likely had little involvement or understanding of (at least prior to the article). Therefore, The Onion not only makes us aware of what I call “event knowledge” but also tries to make sense out of the event. And while the actual and particular event knowledge might be purposefully misconstrued, what the writer creates and what a reader receives, I think, is a starting point for very engaged thinking.
On the other side, it might be said that The Onion, and other forms of commentary (which are not limited to satire) can destroys values, traditions, or what might be simply called good. Even for a reader who understands what satire is, it does seem very probable that this, and other articles, actually might influence their convictions in “bad ways” i.e. this article promotes the idea that many people are materialistic psychos. This influence might be unconscious. This influence is something that media understands quite well, and in a way what I have identified as journalistic techniques (personal testimonies, masthead lines, the use of in sentence emphasis to recall a few) are likely popular because they are found to be things which people remember, find amusing or like. For best or worse, The Onion like its vegetable form has (as Shrek once pointed out) many layers.
Lastly, I think it would be very interesting to know if the creator’s of The Onion’s articles and clips have a central goal when they write. The New York Time actually lets its viewers have access to their goals, procedures, scopes (and other consideration), and post their core purpose as “enhanc(ing) society by creating collecting and distributing high-quality news, information and entertainment”. What, I wonder, and if it exists, is The Onions? Destruction of society? Promotion of a unique way of thinking? Money and Power?

David A Stilin
Original Text,30517/
NYT Ethics and Goals page

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