The Onion: Not Funny. (A #SlatePitches Special Report.)

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 3 2013 9:09 AM

The Onion: Not Funny. (A #SlatePitches Special Report.)

The Onion ain't what it used to be.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

It's getting awfully popular to salute the Onion, the long-lived parody news site, for what can best be called its advocacy for intervention in Syria. For months the Onion has published stories on the civil war in the country and the United States' toothless promises of intervention. BuzzFeed's Rosie Gray scooped us gawkers by actually talking to the Onion about this, and getting Editor-in-Chief Will Tracy to "admit" that "we want to support the rebels because of our own strong financial ties to the jihadist movement."

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Well, to an onlooker it seems that the Syria content (“ ‘Help Has To Be On The Way Now,’ Thinks Syrian Man Currently Being Gassed”“Obama Deeply Concerned After Syrians Gassed To Death On White House Lawn”“‘Syrians’ Lives Are Worthless,’ Obama Tells Daughters Before Kissing Them Goodnight”) spiked dramatically after the Syrian Electronic Army tried to hack the site. That's respectable! But how funny are these Syria pieces, really? Many are fairly crisp and blunt, and evident of a micro-Trend of ultra-shareable Onion pieces that just restate what a certain sort of liberal thinks. Take that " 'Syrians' Lives Are Worthless,' Obama Tells Daughters Before Kissing Them Goodnight" story.

"I love you two so much and Syrians are subhuman and don’t matter at all,” said the president, who is reported to have proudly smiled at his daughters while mentioning that the existences of all 22.5 million Syrian men, women, and children currently enduring a two-year-long civil war held no value or meaning whatsoever before shutting off the light in the girls’ bedroom.

Ha, ha, I guess, but does the joke even make sense? Obama's daughters are 15 and 12 years old. Who still tucks a 15-year old daughter into bed? (The author of the parody probably grokked this, as he/she omitted the daughters' ages.)

Again, the fact that the paper stepped this up after the SEA's attack is, in itself, hilarious—it's like a fraternity prank war, only with dead bodies. (To be clear, only one side of this war is murdering people.) In the broader Onion context, though, it adds to the pile of super-obvious stories. Take "Supreme Court On Gay Marriage: 'Sure, Who Cares,' " an insanely popular story that's been shared nearly a quarter of a million times on Facebook. In it, the members of the high court basically talk and think like liberals after work at the gastropub, offended at the very idea that "marriage equality" could be up for debate.

Before Roberts officially ended proceedings, sources confirmed that all nine justices were reportedly dumbfounded, asking why the case was even coming before them and wondering aloud if some sort of mistake had been made. Calling marriage equality a “no-brainer,” members of the High Court appeared not just confused but irritated when Proposition 8 defenders argued that gay marriage was not a national issue but a state matter.

It's a joke, but it's at the expense of a now-minority of Americans who think gay marriage should be illegal. Where's the fun in sticking up for an incredibly popular opinion? Well, here's the fun: It's really shareable on Facebook! Even more shareable (400,000 attaboys so far) was this "commentary" from CNN, about why it fronted a Miley Cyrus story on its website after her VMA performance.

As managing editor of, I want our readers to know this: All you are to us, and all you will ever be to us, are eyeballs. The more eyeballs on our content, the more cash we can ask for. Period. And if we’re able to get more eyeballs, that means I’ve done my job, which gets me congratulations from my bosses, which encourages me to put up even more stupid bullshit on the homepage.

Not much of a joke in that joke, right? I adore the Onion, and count on the AV Club to tell me what I like, so I beseech its writers: Please do not turn into a hivemind version of Andy Borowitz, telling liberals that what they already think is not only true but oh-so-arch.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 



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