The Onion is Not Too Mean


The Onion came under fire in a phony outrage article posted by Salon yesterday. The article claims that the Onion has gotten "too mean." Perhaps it’s not that the Onion has gotten too harsh, but that Salon is getting too mushy — and their petty postings are played out. One thing is for sure: I can't wait to see how the Onion smokes Salon for this whiny rant.

Max Cannon, a former Onion contributor who worked on the paper's comic strip "Red Meat," argued that the paper’s supposed hardened humor is consistent with a changing culture.

"They might be pushing the boundaries more, but if you look at what's funny now, look at Daniel Tosh or Anthony Jeselnik. Humor goes through cycles and so does culture. We're on an escalating-savagery cultural cycle. I see a cultural cycle of this increasing savagery, and the boundaries are washing away," Cannon said.

He's spot on, too. While my grandma doesn't really find Daniel Tosh or Nathan Fielder funny, I think they're hilarious. Humor changes throughout generations. Remember Budweiser's "wassup" commercial? It was funny back in 1999. When I watch it now, it's still funny. And I've been waiting for a chance to slip that into an article, even if it doesn’t really connect to anything.

Getting back to the Onion … are they becoming too tough? I don't think so.The Onion is doing what they've been doing for 25 years (founded in 1988). Not to mention that the explosion of social media has yielded prevalence to stories that might have slipped under the radar prior to the social media frenzy; "I don’t perceive a shift, but maybe things have gotten more attention," said Cannon. The bottom line is that the Onion is an American news SATIRE organization. If you don't understand or appreciate satire, then you shouldn't be reading the Onion. As the saying goes … if you don't get the joke, you don't have to laugh, but do not try to silence the jokester. As Cannon mentions in the article, "you can still find outlets for quaint, feel-good humor."

The whole purpose of satire is to ridicule vices, follies, shortcomings, abuses, etc. with the intent of shaming individuals and sometimes society itself, into improvement. It's meant to make you laugh, but there's a deeper purpose to this unique genre of literature; through the power of wit, irony and sarcasm, satire is ultimately meant to constructively criticize society.

While browsing the Onion’s site, I was able to dig up a few articles that, while seemingly intolerant, violent, and/or immoral, actually espouse a moral or tolerant worldview. For example, consider this article about rapper and domestic abuse offender Chris Brown. The article is dripping in sarcasm and a graphic, detailed account of how Brown may have someday murdered former beau Rihanna.

For one, Chris Brown, for numerous reasons, deserves to be ruthlessly ridiculed. While at first glance, one could confound the piece as making fun of domestic violence, what it's actually doing is shaming a perpetrator of domestic violence; shame one, shame all. The truth hurts sometimes, and if this piece makes you cringe and shudder, it should. That's the point — to expose domestic violence and its perpetrators for what they are: degrading, disgusting, despicable.  Hanna Rosin at Slate agrees: "this item brings more attention to domestic violence that 100 earnest blog posts on the same subject ever could."

In another article, the Onion responds to its Twitter account being hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army by sympathizing with the hackers who, "simply wanted to have a little fun before soon dying at the hands of rebel forces." This article, for one, has been taken out of context by Salon. For several months before that article was published, the Onion regularly published articles about the conflict in Syria, using satirical imagery to practically beg the world to take notice of the atrocities going on there. It's clear that the Syrian conflict has become an important cause for the news outlet, and a cause that is sorely needed in the media. Behind the shocking sarcasm, the Onion is saying "what’s going on in Syria is so f*cked up, it’s not even funny."

The last piece I will cite is this article about BP CEO Bob Dudley losing $4.5 million in fines for the negligent actions of BP that led to an oil spill. "Reached for further comment, Dudley told reporters … he's just thankful it only amounts to 1% of the company's gross revenue for 2011." This is funny because it's all too real — how big corporations don't give a shit about anything but increasing their own wealth. I can actually picture an executive staff meeting where similar statements might have been made. We live in a world where protecting BP stock is viewed as the "prime directive," without any regard for the environmental and economic damage others experience in CEO's derange pursuit of for wealth. That's what the Onion is talking about.