The Subjectivity of Comedic Boundaries

The Onion
BREAKING: Capitol building being evacuated. 12 children held hostage by group of armed congressmen. #CongressHostage

Stepping out of it’s traditional output of write-and-post news satire, The Onion came under fire on Thursday for “breaking” the “news” that congressmen had taken children hostage in the Capitol. Nearly 20 “live” tweets posted on Twitter played out the fictional situation that prompted a very real statement from Capitol Police, forcing them to explain that everything was fine at the Capitol.

The tweets evolved and ended with jabs at the inability of politicians to come to a bipartisan compromise over how to handle the situation.

It was all in good humor, right?

The Onion
Arlington gun shop confirms Rep. @EricCantor bought 6 semi-automatic handguns, 3 rifles & 600 clips of ammo last month #CongressHostage

The Onion is constantly pushing the comedic boundaries to shine a false light on pop culture figures; it’s sort of what they do.

The Onion is not a news source, it just acts as one. (Think Fox News. They’re both funny, but for very different reasons.) But the folks behind literallyunbelieveable.org have discovered that is not always the interpretation. And they had a fun time with the Twitter universe’s response to the posts.

Protection

The Onion doesn’t “break” news. It has never even attempted to be a go-to source for news. It’s satire. Nothing more. And, with that, what The Onion did was perfectly fine in the realm of its fictional world.

Had The Onion even once attempted to keep up with a “real” news story, it would create too much of a grey area of what it considers to be real news worthy of coverage.

Case in point: The Onion did a lot with 9/11. None of it included following the live events as they unfolded.

If The Onion attempted – even once – to blur the lines between its satirical news and a real-time current event, it would be stripped of its identity. There is not one iota of flexibility for The Onion, and that makes it a pretty interesting case study.

No harm done

No children were harmed in the making of this joke. That could have been the tagline for this stunt. (And I use the word “stunt” without negative connotation.)

There was never a threat to national security that spawned from the story. There was a mild inconvenience, but never a threat.

The only harm that was done was to the American psyche. Congress can do some fucked up shit, and that has become ever apparent the last four years. But kidnapping children and taking them hostage? People fell for this? How stupid are we?

It wasn’t funny

Then what is? Has humor in America been limited to a grown man with his hand up puppets’ asses making funny voices? (No, I’m not talking about Joey Gladstone.)

It seems, from my point of view, that the darker the societal time, the darker the humor produced by said society. This type of humor offends prudes and the humorless, but provides a philosophy championed by comedian Lewis Black. To paraphrase, Black said in order to move on from national tragedy (he was referencing 9/11 and the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan), we must be able to joke about it, not only with ourselves, but with others. To become a humorless society would be to become the enemy.

His tangent is poignant and sadly relevant.

Today, depending who you associate yourself with, political humor is borderline treason. Joking about America’s issues (or just bringing them up) means you’re not “patriotic.” (One of today’s most manipulative words)

This is a shame because today’s political landscape provides for great humor. (See: Chris Christie)

Humor is subjective. It always has been. It seems like natural logic that a more sensitive society would be the side effect of edgier comedic tastes.

But I’ll side with Black on this one. If you silence the humor, you are the enemy.

The complete Onion story: “Congress Takes Group Of Schoolchildren Hostage.”

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