Searching for the truth in satire

Steven Goodman – Opinions Editor

Most people receive their news from the major outlets: CNN, Fox, NBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Flyer News (obviously), etc. The news tends to be read or seen, responded to, and then mostly forgotten. It seems rare that the general population really takes to heart what is going on in the world, or even locally, unless it is some horrible tragedy (e.g. the school shooting in Oregon). When some heartbreaking piece of news is brought to light, everyone takes up arms, shouting that things need to change without offering any solution or actions for actual change.

More and more often, people are getting their news from satirical or comical sources: The Onion, The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, etc. The stories from these outlets tend to provoke more critical thought than traditional sources. Perhaps it’s because, as Stephen Colbert once said, a spoonful of comedy helps the truth go down.

The Onion, a satirical news website, almost constantly shows up on my Facebook and Twitter feeds and I find my friends bringing up stories from it more often than a non-satirical source. Maybe it’s because The Onion, especially in recent months, tends to hit the most controversial parts of a story rather than satirizing the story itself. After the shooting Oregon, for example, The Onion reposted (as they have after each mass shooting) an article with the headline: “‘No way to prevent this,’ says only nation where this regularly happens.”

To me, this type of story hits home better than raising a call for gun reform and background checks – it points out that there is a much deeper underlying issue than gun regulation.

The Onion especially, focuses on the deeper issues in society rather than the surface-level problems. It released a story with the headlines: “GOP promotes Carly Fiorina to male candidate after strong debate showing” (re: CNN Republican debate) and “Black man bids tearful goodbye to family before daily commute” (re: the shootings of black Americans by police officers). These topics are obviously dark, especially the latter. Yet, each one does its job of raising the question of the underlying issues of gender and racial inequality in this country.

Satirizing the shooting of African-Americans definitely does not elicit the same response from every reader, but it does a much better job of making its audience aware of racial inequality if they were not already.

This taking to heart of satirical news is not only limited to the U.S., it crosses boundaries and oceans. There have been multiple instances of comedy groups in the Middle East making fun of ISIS. An undertaking which seems incredibly dangerous, yet it lessens fear in countries so close to the violent group. To paraphrase Stephen Colbert again: Sometimes, it is extremely dark comedy that helps the truth go down.

So, perhaps it’s not a bad thing that we are internalizing satirical and comical news outlets more and more. After all, they tend to hit the truth of the underlying issues in a more effective manner than some “serious” news sources.