Monday, February 22, 2016

In Memoriam - The Onion

     For as long as there has been the Internet, there has been The Onion. 

     I don't know if that's true, and I'm certainly not going to fact-check it, but damn it, that's how it feels to me. Before I hid people from my newsfeed, before I shuffled the positions of my Top 8, even before I changed my away messages, there was The Onion. In my formative years, I can remember piss-crying myself with laughter as my best friend and I read about a fictitious pudding factory that exploded, dooming the residents of the nearby town to a gooey, delicious demise. Later, I would come to enjoy the sporadic but always delightful op-eds by the almost certainly racist Herbert Kornfeld, including such gems as Accountz Reeceevin' Ain't For No Candy-Ass Temps, and Keep Your Fucking Shit Off My Desk. Though in recent years I may be guilty of simply chuckling at headlines instead of "giving the full click", I have continually delighted in the poignant literal irony of the articles I come across. One of these, Find The Thing You're Most Passionate About, Then Do It On Nights And Weekends For The Rest Of Your Life, remains my bedrock, no-question-about-it, favorite piece of satire I've ever read, and I'm proud to say that I am following its advice as I write these very words. 

     So last week, when I noticed that the Onion articles in my newsfeed started reading like unfunny, thinly-veiled puff pieces about Hillary Clinton, I started to wonder what was up. As it turns out, Univision, a company co-owned by one of the Clintons' biggest (read: richest) supporters recently purchased a 40 percent controlling share of the company. You can read all about it here (Ha Ha: Hillary Clinton’s Top Financial Supporter Now Controls “The Onion”) and here (Hillary’s Top Donor Just Bought The Onion — Started Publishing Propaganda Immediately) because let's face it, I'm not here to provide you with "facts". I'm here because this is bullshit. 

     It's always depressing when satire loses its edge, like The Simpsons after season 9, or Tom Sawyer Abroad. 


Yep, you saw that right. That's Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in a motherfucking hot air balloon. I haven't read this book since I was 11 years old, but as I recall, the lovable duo that singlehandedly set the bar for American literature fly around the world and make fun of Arabs or something. (That's probably why it hasn't been banned from American schools yet). Anyway, these sad works, dwelling in the shadows of former achievements, prove that even masters such as Ol' Langhorne can eventually lose their touch and end up jumping the shark. 

At least he got to go into space before he died.
    However, that's not what's going on here. The Onion writers didn't suddenly forget how to be funny after two decades, they got fucking co-opted. While an article like Female Presidential Candidate Who Was United States Senator, Secretary Of State Told To Be More Inspiring might seem at first glance to contain a glimmer of relevant satire, in reality, it is nothing more than an un-ironic listing of Clinton's previous political positions underneath a campaign-quality photo. Jesus Christ, next time just post the URL to her Linkedin page and save on staffing costs. At least for that one, however, I can take comfort in the fact that what is essentially a campaign advertisement is so unfunny and boring that nobody who has ever previously read an Onion story could possibly mistake it for the genuine article. Not so the case with Clinton Credits Nevada Victory To Inescapable, Pitch-Black Tide Of Fate. It's as if a think-tank full of stuffed suits in a nuke-proof bunker half a mile underneath of the Pentagon were paid time-and-a-half to read through the Onion archives and pantomime, to the best of their ability, some watered-down, off-brand, Payless Shoes version of the witty hyperbole that once made these articles fun to read. Don't fucking pretend that your agenda-driven, self-congratulating, politico-masturbatory garbage article is even remotely doing anything other than squelching any potential criticism of your darling candidate with the power of obscene amounts of money.  Don't you use phrases like "pitch-black tide of fate from which no man, woman, or child could ever hope to escape" to try to fool me into thinking that you're some hip, up-and-coming comedy writer who's got his or her finger on the pulse of the youth instead of a bought-and-paid-for PR/Poli-sci dual major straight out of Georgetown University. And way to hammer it home with a sentence like "At press time, Clinton was reminding supporters there was still plenty of work ahead to secure a win in South Carolina next week." I know you're trying to mimic contrast for comedic effect, but your stupid, transparent commercial at the end of the article basically came through my wifi, assumed human form, and put a bumper-sticker on my car. Its as if to say "All jokes aside, Hillary's really hard working!" Are you fucking serious? Is that my take-away here? I came to this website to laugh at the horror of the human condition, not register to vote in the Iowa Corn-Dog Straw Caucus or whatever happens next Tuesday, so give me a break. 

     Again, it begs the question, why even write articles? Why even go through the motions? Univision has clearly asserted the fact that they can buy off a large website and stifle unfavorable messages, so why not just own it, guys? Take down your pseudo-satirical, faux-meta-Machiavellian bandwagon bullshit and just link the front page of The Onion to the super-pac donation site. You've got a better chance that someone will accidentally enter their credit card information than that anyone will actually believe that this website is still contributing anything of value either comedically or intellectually. 

     I know its probably too late, but I want to make it clear that I'm not making a point about Hillary Clinton. However, I can understand why it seems that way, and I'm looking forward to hearing about how I am an anti-feminist, pro-rape, patriarchal chauvinist who not-so-secretly yearns for the social climate of the American Revolution. If my reservations about the puke-rich cohorts of the aristocracy buying and selling vessels of satirical commentary for their own gain make me some kind of suddenly counter-progressive "Bernie Bro", well so be it (I guess?). 

     My point is this: we need satire. We need Mark Twain, and we need H.L. Mencken. We need the Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Last Week Tonight, and The Simpsons. We live in a social climate where moneyed interests own nearly every news outlet (which includes the shows I just mentioned), We live in a time when the totality of your political views may well be a product of the op-ed pieces algorithmically placed into your Facebook newsfeed as a function of your clicks, likes, word-usage, and event attendance, virtually assuring that you will never accidentally read an opinion with which you disagree. Satire is the last bastion, the last domino to fall, because in the face of ever-increasing sums of money being spent to sell you a candidate, it critiques our environment in a way that actually requires some brainpower to decode and process. To silence that criticism is far more dangerous than the constant bombardment of attack ads and polarizing opinion pieces trying to buy your approval every election cycle. It is dangerous because satire urges us to laugh, not to hate. It reminds us that even though the issues we face are important, we can still have a sense of humor, and can maybe lighten the fuck up a little before we resort to calling a group of people fascists, racists, Nazis, or Anti-Christs.  

     And so with that, I bid a fond farewell to my constant companion, The Onion. Though your toothless, spineless ghost may forever continue to haunt the tubes of the World Wide Web, I will never forget the effect you had on me. You were loved by many, and you said what needed to be said. Until you became a billionaire's bitch. 

Well, there's always The Hard Times. (Please read my submission! Please?)