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  • Shouldn't satire be kinda funny?

       September 10, 2010

    I hesitate to write this, because I love The Onion. It started at my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I've even been in The Onion. I still fondly remember how much my Dad giggled at their fake WWI coverage. But, this article in a few weeks ago really bothered me, but I couldn't articulate why. I think it's because it crosses the line from satire to straight up opinion:

    Gentries, 48, said he had absolutely no interest in exposing himself to further knowledge of Islamic civilization or putting his sweeping opinions into a broader context of any kind, and confirmed he was "perfectly happy" to make a handful of emotionally charged words the basis of his mistrust toward all members of the world's second-largest religion.

    "I learned all that really matters about the Muslim faith on 9/11," Gentries said in reference to the terrorist attacks on the United States undertaken by 19 of Islam's approximately 1.6 billion practitioners. "What more do I need to know to stigmatize Muslims everywhere as inherently violent radicals?"

    "And now they want to build a mosque at Ground Zero," continued Gentries, eliminating any distinction between the 9/11 hijackers and Muslims in general. "No, I won't examine the accuracy of that statement, but yes, I will allow myself to be outraged by it and use it as evidence of these people's universal callousness toward Americans who lost loved ones when the Twin Towers fell."

    "Even though I am not one of those people," he added.

    When told that the proposed "Ground Zero mosque" is actually a community center two blocks north of the site that would include, in addition to a public prayer space, a 500-seat auditorium, a restaurant, and athletic facilities, Gentries shook his head and said, "I know all I'm going to let myself know."

    Not only is that not at all funny, it's not really satire, is it? I'd expect more from The Onion than to parrot the opinions of mainstream news. I expect an original take on the issue.

    I went back to The Onion's acclaimed post 9/11 issue and again admired how they were able to cover 9/11 with an almost perfect blend of humor, anger & even seriousness.

    The article about the woman who didn't know what else to do other than bake an American flag-cake really did capture that feeling of helplessness so many of us felt:

    My friends Cassie and Patrick [Overstreet] invited me over to have dinner and just talk about, you know, everything," said Pearson, a Topeka legal secretary who has never visited and knows no one in either New York or Washington, D.C. "I thought I'd make something special or do something out of respect for all of the people who died. All those innocent people. All those rescue workers who lost their lives."

    Mixing the cake and placing it in the oven shortly after 3 p.m., Pearson sat at the kitchen table and stared at the oven door until the timer rang 50 minutes later.

    As the cake cooled, Pearson gathered materials to decorate it. She searched the spice cupboard for a half-used tube of blue food coloring, but could not find it. After frantically pulling all the cans and jars from the cupboard, she finally found the tube in the very back. Emitting a deep sigh of relief, she spread the coloring over the cake's upper-left-hand corner to create the flag's blue field.

    "I baked a cake," said Pearson, shrugging her shoulders and forcing a smile as she unveiled the dessert in the Overstreet household later that evening. "I made it into a flag."

    Pearson and the Overstreets stared at the cake in silence for nearly a minute, until Cassie hugged Pearson.

    "It's beautiful," Cassie said. "The cake is beautiful."

    There's truth in that ridiculousness. And really, I'm not just annoyed by the political opinions in the more recent Onion piece. They used to, I think, do a good bipartisan job of pointing out the ridiculous. From another post 9/11 article:

    Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the war against terrorism will be different from any previous model of modern warfare.

    "We were lucky enough at Pearl Harbor to be the victim of a craven sneak attack from an aggressor with the decency to attack military targets, use their own damn planes, and clearly mark those planes with their national insignia so that we knew who they were," Rumsfeld said. "Since the 21st-century breed of coward is not affording us any such luxury, we are forced to fritter away time searching hither and yon for him in the manner of a global easter-egg hunt."

    "America is up to that challenge," Rumsfeld added.

    On Monday, the House of Representatives voted 428-2 to form an intelligence-gathering task force dedicated to "rooting out every scrap of information that can possibly be gleaned" concerning the attackers.

    "When this task force's investigation is complete, America will know this guy's mother's favorite flavor of ice cream," U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX) said. "We will also know who he is."

    Gramm said that the U.S. has already learned a great deal about the details of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and that a rough psychological profile of its mastermind has been constructed.

    "For example, we know that the mastermind has the approximate personality of a terrorist," Gramm said. "Also, he is senseless. New data is emerging all the time."

    Standing in opposition to Bush and Congress is a small but growing anti-war movement. During the president's speech Tuesday, two dozen demonstrators gathered outside the White House, chanting and waving placards bearing such slogans as "U.S. Out Of Somewhere" and "No Blood For Whatever These Murderous Animals Hope To Acquire."

    It's funny because it's true. Still true. Hmmm, okay, maybe it's really not that funny anymore. Whatever it is, at least it's not lazy, which is what The Onion is now. I mean, how much original thought does it take to make fun of people you think are ignorant for being ignorant? Isn't that the lowest form of comedy, just ahead of "Man Fall Down". And really, at least "Man Fall Down" is hilarious. If you're going to be stupid & lazy, at least make me laugh.

    Posted by kris at September 10, 2010 07:32 AM

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    #  September 10th, 2010 8:27 AM      kris
    I wrote most of this yesterday, before The Onion redeemed itself in my eyes a bit by continually posting anti-Viking comments on Facebook during the game last night. The best part was that they tagged the Viking fan page in their posts so they all also showed up on the Vikings page. Heh.  
    #  September 10th, 2010 8:44 AM      james
    the onion isn't funny. but the article that you're so upset about is dead-on. anti-mosque people are real-life walking charactertures. stephen colbert eat your heart out.  
    #  September 10th, 2010 8:57 AM      kris
    I don't know - I feel like opposition is more complicated than you're giving it credit for.  
    #  September 10th, 2010 9:25 AM      james
    Those opposed to interracial marriage probably think that their position is more complicated that I give them credit for, too. Of course these positions are complicated - you really have to twist things around to justify a hateful or bigoted belief system.  
    #  September 10th, 2010 9:53 AM      kris
    I don't care if someone builds a mosque right next door to me as long as they mow their lawn. Really.

    However, I can certainly understand why someone might feel that this particular mosque in this particular location is being built to be provocative and that you can be upset that ground zero is used to provoke. Obviously, this isn't the first time it's been used for other purposes, I know that, but you can still be pissed about this without being a bigot or hateful or whatever.  
    #  September 10th, 2010 10:34 AM      james
    I just don't agree that an educated person can be opposed to this mosque without bigotry or hatred playing a role. It takes either a blissful or a willful ignorance of the facts. Maybe those who are blissfully ignorant get a pass, in the same way we give our grandparents a pass for their racism because they "grew up in a different time." We do that because we'd like to believe that if they grew up in the same age we did, if they knew the same things we did, they'd hold a different view. But that's an excuse, not a justification. It doesn't mean that their beliefs aren't rooted in bigotry.

    And what do we do in that case? We just discount their opinions altogether. "Oh, grandma just hates all black people, the lovable old kook. Don't mind her." We certainly don't seek out their counsel. We don't say "oh, she's not racist," we say "yeah, she's a racist, but she just grew up in another time, so..."
    #  September 10th, 2010 10:40 AM      kris
    Of course hatred is playing a role. If you believe that the folks behind this mosque are building it to provoke people and as an anti-American statement, of course you hate that.

    Maybe that's a mistaken belief, but I do think it's important to realize that you can believe that and feel the hatred about it without being racist, can't you? I mean, you're hating the act of these particular people - not Muslims in general then.  
    #  September 10th, 2010 10:46 AM      james
    Kinda like "I don't hate black people, I just think they should keep to themselves?"
    #  September 10th, 2010 10:49 AM      kris
    Yeah, I just don't agree with you that you're racist if you don't want the mosque there.  



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