With the sale of news parody website The Onion this week, Jordan King-Lacroix explains why the joke is now on us.
Earlier this week, it was announced that satire and news parody website The Onion is worth $200 million, which is more than some actual and real news outlets.
I’m sorry, I mean that a 40 percent stake in the company is worth $200 million, which is how much Univision Communications paid for the chunk.
This values The Onion at around $500 million dollars, approximately.
That’s more than every Australian news outlet. More than the Washington Post.
Now, of course, there are plenty of companies that are worth more than news outlets. Plenty of companies are worth more than all the news outlets combined. But this thing about The Onion is interesting because they publish fake news, for free, on the internet. Sure, it could be bolstered by the fact that they are partnered with places like Clickhole and The AV Club, but really, it’s because of what they are and what they do.
They say what needs to be said.
They are not afraid.
In response to mass shootings in their home nation of the USA? “No way to prevent this,” says only nation where this regularly happens. Oh, my. What about the way in which we live and work in our day to day lives? Health experts recommend standing up at desk, leaving office, never coming back.
They talk about the way we feel, the way we think when we live our lives and, especially, about the way we view the news and current events.
These days, satirists are seen as being more trustworthy than newsreaders. Why? People believe that the news networks and papers are owned by someone with an agenda. (And some of them are, without naming names.) People also believe the news will say anything to get people to pay attention to the news. This, in a way, is also true. The news, like any other business, needs money to continue. It cannot be government funded for fear of government intervention in what the news can and cannot say. They need to be independent and if people don’t support them, they will die off. We’ll be left with a cadre of half-cocked “journalists” who scream the loudest about the wrong thing. Again, I won’t name names, but you know who they are.
This is why someone like Jon Stewart was considered the most trusted man in news. Not only did he thoroughly fact check with team upon team of journalists who insist they are not journalists, much like his angry British cousin John Oliver, doing so not only made him funny, but also informative.
The key to satire is that everyone understands the thing you’re lampooning. Sometimes it can be done so well that people believe it’s real, as often happens with The Onion. The aim of satire is to point the sharpest stick at the fleshiest part of something ridiculous, or something that makes us angry, or something that needs to be talked about more. The key to getting people to laugh is not swearing or the ridiculousness of the thing, it’s in the context of people understanding the thing. Hopefully you all laughed at my article last year about how the Government’s bold new move for combating climate change was to stick their heads in the sand.
“Oh, Jordan,” surely none of you cried. “What an amusing image! Tee-hee!”
The humour in that piece, at least for me, comes from the grim truth that in the actual real world we live in, that was (and remains) basically what our government is doing. We campaign, we yell, scientists show graph after infographic after report, and still the buffoons in government shrug and say, “Can’t all be that bad. It’s a bit chilly today, isn’t it?”
Satire must take place in a grim universe, in a place of darkness. Satire is rarely funny if the setting for it is not, in itself, grim. Just look at those Onion articles above. They are grim. My very first satire for The Big Smoke was about weaponising Bill Shorten’s blandness. The premise, admittedly, is ridiculous, but for those who are interested in politics, they (again, hopefully) sensed my genuine fear that Shorten could only barely bat Abbott back in an election. Now, I fear, he stands no chance against Turnbull’s Upgraded Charm Unit.
Satire comes from a dark place, but it seems almost a darker place when a satire website that writes freely on the Internet, is worth more than real news outlets.
You all laughed at me, but look at where we are now.