Friday, August 21, 2009

Bad Satire at The Onion

The Onion's "Our Dumb World" is an online map of the world on which users can scroll around and read satirical factoids located at various points on the map. When a country is "featured" for the week (or month, or whatever) the blurbs proliferate within its borders. The problem with "Our Dumb World" is similar to the problems with The Simpsons' "Africa" episode or Hostel's handling of its Slovakian setting: it tries to pass off the writers' ignorance of the subject matter as a satirical critique of America's ignorance of the rest of the world. This week's featured country is Romania, and the various jokes include a spooky castle, a spooky path, a picture of Nicolae Ceau┼čescu dressed as Count Chocula on a box of cereal, a used coffin dealership (bored with the vampire schtick yet?), a gymnast in a Bride of Frankenstein fright wig, and some 11 other jokes about mad scientists, werewolves, vampire bats and reanimated corpses. What is conspicuously absent is evidence of any research whatsoever concerning Romania past or present, despite an abundance of such information on websites an 8-year-old could use. The Ceau┼čescus, for example, were killed in their dotage by assault rifles on Christmas Day. Or a one-step Google search for "Romanian jokes" yields this communist-era gem:

Q: What's big, black, noisy, makes a lot of smoke and cuts carrots in five?
A: The Romanian machine for cutting carrots in four.

Good satire is supposed to critique ignorance and injustice, not celebrate them. The worst of it is, The Onion's writers (like too many other North Americans) aren't even "dumb"-- they're just too lazy and complacent to care.

(Image from


Troy Camplin said...

I would have done some fact checking to make sure all this is correct, but I am just too lazy and complacent to care . . . yawn! Wouldn't an onion be hard to write on? Oh, wait, isn't there something called onion paper? I'm sure there is. I would to look up what it is and all that but, well, you know . . . yawn!

So, the long and short of this is that this particular article was no Funyun?

John said...

No funyun, and no responsibilityun either.

randy said...

i don't think The Onion has ever remotely claimed to be critiquing injustice and ignorance.

and equating romania w/nothing but vampires and gymnasts is funny precisely BECAUSE doing so is stupid! i can't believe you need that explained to you...

John said...

Thanks for the comment, randy. Regardless of what you can or can't believe, I don't believe anything is ever funny "because it's stupid." The Onion is plainly intended to be satirical. Satire is characterized by its wit and its implicit morality, which is not always easy to see if a) the satire is bad; or b) the reader doesn't understand satire.

(I think I explained that in my post already.)