For a few years now, the New Yorker's website has been posting daily cartoons. A few weeks ago they started doing two a day. Here are two of the most recent New Yorker daily cartoons. They are [Italian guy voice] not-ah so good-ah.
It's a Stranger Things plot reference topped off with a joke about Donald Trump being a bad candidate. Here's something that's not a joke: Looking at that cartoon ruined my life.
The other one:
Why the f--- does he have a genie?
Meanwhile, the Most Read list at NewYorker.com is often occupied by the "satirical" work of Andy Borowitz, whose work is so tepid that people often share it without realizing it's supposed to be funny. Here's Borowitz's latest:
Get it? Gary Johnson finally came up with the name of a foreign leader, but it was Obi-Wan Kenobi—a fictional person. Here's something that's not fictional: Looking at that headline ruined everyone's life.
The New Yorker has also tweeted its next cover:
Trump talks about beauty pageants, but can you imagine if he was in a beauty pageant?
I'm not even going to talk about the Gene Wilder thing.
These jokes remind me of two things. One is Jay Leno. The other is the lower tier of NPR Humor. (There are good jokes on NPR; they just exist alongside many bad ones.) What Jay Leno "jokes" and bad NPR jokes have in common is that their primary effect is not to make you laugh, it's to remind you that you've heard of a thing, whether that be a story from pop culture or from the Serious News. The setup is the Thing That's Being Referenced (e.g. Paris Hilton or the presidential debate); the punchline is an allusion to the One Thing That Everyone Knows About the First Thing (Paris Hilton has had intercourse of a sexual nature with many male partners; Trump did bad in the debate). They're panders to specific demographics—red states, roughly, for Leno, and blue states for NPR.
That's why NewYorker.com's investment in younger-skewing and/or internet-friendly versions of NPR jokes is particularly disappointing. It's a reminder that the New Yorker is a business that can commodify and pander. We in the media would rather think of the publication as a floating journalism cloud city of dogged-but-fair investigative reporting, lyrical-but-unpretentious writing, and sophisticated-yet-accessible critical discourse. And it in fact is those things, but it's a for-profit operation, too. So when a certain type of easily replicable post is haulin' in social shares online, the New Yorker's website is going to replicate that type of post until lives are ruined. NewYorker.com is thus no different, in some ways, than a startup site mass-producing 37 Signs You're From [Place Name] listicles. No. 3: You've gotta have your [Regional Fast Food Chain's Signature Menu Item] fix!
That's life, of course, and we (the media) are all guilty of what I'm describing—but it's still disappointing to see the revered New Yorker clawing for web traffic under a bridge in the bad part of town. On the bright side, maybe this post I'm writing will get clicked and shared—and if it does, I'll probably write another post like it, and more after that. And they'll just get worse and worse.