Friday, August 8, 2008

In praise of The Onion

I don't visit The Onion as often as I should. The venerated fake news site isn't always laugh out loud funny, but it's always worth a smile. Sometimes, the joke is entirely in the headline and the rest of the story is just mopping up, but that's to be expected given the stylistic confines they set for themselves. For those of you who have never visited, The Onion has two styles of stories, completely made up big news that isn't true, and small human interest stories that aren't interesting. The big headline this week is that China will not be sending a delegation to the Beijing Olympics. The top human interest stories are "Dinner Theater Reworked To Push Chicken Special" and "Local Idiot to Post Comment on Internet".

I think one of the reasons I don't visit as often as I used to is my feeling that I saw them hit their biggest home run, and that everything will be anti-climatic from now on. Think about the job of making silly jokes about the meaninglessness of news coverage on a deadline just after September 11, 2001. It's late in September, or maybe early October. The country is nursing a still open wound. Be funny about that.

Here is what The Onion did. They did a fake story about people who couldn't get up the gumption to care about VH-1's Behind the Music anymore. People who wanted to go back to a summer filled with shark attacks and overage Little Leaguers and Britney Spears and whoever the hell Tom Cruise was dating. (Back then, it was Penelope Cruz.) The underlying theme was that America has to pay rapt attention to meaningless crap or the terrorists win.

Well, it's 2008, and I can assure you the terrorists have lost.

Our news is still filled with meaningless crap. We have so little imagination that Tom Cruise and Britney Spears are still major stars of the meaningless crap parade seven years later. She hasn't put out any good songs and he hasn't put out any good movies and that is completely beside the point. In 1976, Paddy Chayefsky warned us what news would look like if it became nothing but a profit center in the movie Network. Sorry, Paddy, we weren't listening. The news had a report on the Miss Buffalo Chip beauty pageant and we kind of hoped someone in editing would screw up and we might see a good looking naked breast for a split second.

The news isn't about telling us what is happening in the world that might effect us anymore. It's about keeping our eyeballs glued. TV has a much better kind of eyeball glue than newspapers have, so newspapers will probably have to die if all we care about is profit center. Think about the protests that happen around the world, and how few of them happen in the United States. Is it because we don't think they will do any good, or we are just too busy? Or is it a combination of busy and cynical and scared and bored and distracted by meaningless bullshit? Whatever it is, it's working very well. In the 21st Century, The Land of the Free is the largest and most pliable herd of human sheep God has ever seen grazing on his footstool, and when it looked like everything in our world would change and nothing would ever be the same again, The Onion got the story 100% right. Things really haven't changed. The thieves are still in charge and we are distracted by shiny objects.


I almost hate to say it, but Friday means Random 10. As a small protest to my addition to the meaningless distractions, this ten will be posted without comment.

All the Things You Are Helen Forrest
13 Steps Lead Down Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Something to Sing About Sarah Michelle Gellar
They Can’t Take That Away From Me Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong
Suite For Orchestra #1 in C (J.S. Bach) Neues Bachishes Collegum Musicum
Ad Zadji Zadji Jasno Sonce 3 Mustaphas 3
Hoochie Coochie Man Eric Clapton
Panic On Madder Rose
Waiting in Vain Bob Marley & The Wailers
Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing Buffalo Springfield


Jess Wundrun said...

Great post, matty, that reminded me of two totally unrelated things:

1. On Terry Gross' Fresh Air program about six months after 9/11 or so, she interviewed the editors of the Onion, asking them about trying to write after the attack. They said they did have to toss out some really bad tasting material. "Name one", Terry asked. "We considered the headline 'Pentagon renamed the Quadragon'" they told her.

2. Newspapers typically show a great profit. Usually about 15 to 20%. But many get sold or go under because profit doesn't matter on Wall Street, growth is all that matters.

have a great friday.

Matty Boy said...

Thanks for the extra 'splainin', Jess.

dguzman said...

I know just how you feel, MattyBoy.

Thanks for the link to Buffy on the youtoobs. I've been listening to entire soundtrack, plus a few other faves. I love the youtoobs.

Anonymous said...

Dear sir,

I would have read your entry, and I'm fairly certain I would have enjoyed it, but I was distracted by the image of Britney Spears collaged onto that rubble and standing "next" to comparatively small buildings soon to join it. I'm not a fan of Britney, but I couldn't help thinking that would be a nice height. I'd skip the snake, though. Too Blade Runner.



P.S. I don't make a habit of ever reading anything about celebrities, unless they die. I'll miss Bernie Mac.

Matty Boy said...

Hi, Magpie. I can understand your feelings about celebrities, and I'm not surprised that one of My People would make the leap and consider the work of the Onion to be a giantess collage.

Bernie Mac was a surprise. Only 50 years old. Damn.