An area man brooded for hours after he was unable to re-fold a map. In other news, a line of anger-powered cars may solve everything. And in a touching feature, a man talks about the burdens of his “stupid goddamn face you just want to punch.”
These are just a few of the top stories from the satirical newspaper, The Onion. On Tuesday, the “Onion News Network,” a television broadcast, came back on the air for its second season on IFC, the INdependent FIlm Channel. Self-proclaimed as “America’s Finest News Source,” the Onion has become a popular source for everyone’s poking-fun-at-journalism needs, especially since its website’s creation in 1996. From stories about everyday annoyances to larger commentary pieces (“’Layoffs are necessary if we want to keep the lights on,’ says CEO halfway through tasting menu”). The Onion interprets the “news” in its own way.
Though Onion stories often mention real people (“Obama not sure how to handle compliment”) and reference current events, creative writers are the masterminds behind this faux-news. Suzanne Sena, who plays Brooke Alvarez, the show’s anchor, said The Onion acts like a real news source — sort of.
“The Onion doesn’t refer to themselves as fake news at all, they consider themselves real news in an alternative reality,” Sena said. “Should you watch The Onion and think of it as legitimate news to find out what’s going on in the world? Probably not.”
But if this isn’t a legitimate news source, and there are hundreds of news stories waiting to be read online, why do students choose to spend their time with stories like “Study: Multiple stab wounds may be harmful to monkeys.” Even without the The Onion, there are plenty of other news-parody comedians, such as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, which also draw many college-aged fans.
Associate Professor Michael McDevitt, whose specialties include news-writing, research and media theory, said that students often want to appear knowledgeable about events, even though they don’t pay attention to the news.
“What ‘The Onion’ does is it allows for consideration of topical news in a way that’s fun and that’s hip,” McDevitt said. “I think it’s also beneficial to college students because in order to get some of the humor, you do have to pay attention at some level to what’s going on in the news, otherwise the jokes just pass you by.”
The appeal of The Onion’s fake news may go beyond sarcastic headlines and pop culture references. Sena, who was once an anchor for Fox News, plays Alvarez as a caricature of stoic newscasters. Her severe comments and icy looks exaggerate a persona that many viewers have come to expect from an anchor.
Sena said that “Onion News Network” tries to raise awareness about negative aspects of broadcast news.
“I think all of us have felt certain things are kind of ludicrous when it comes to certain news stations,” Sena said. “Just the way a cable news station might take one story and beat it to death for three days in a row, but they do it because they have 24 hours to fill with content. And so we make fun of some of that.”
McDevitt said that fake news sources like The Onion often use humor to make journalists more accountable to their audience.
“[Their purpose is] to shame corporate journalists into doing a better job,” McDevitt said. “It’s also to improve the media literacy of citizens so that, by getting the joke, they also see the limitations of journalists. The humor is a vehicle for them to realize that their frustrations are not misplaced, that other smart people are frustrated.”
No matter what the reason, audiences continue to enjoy the hilarious and offensive antics of The Onion. Sena said that the new season of “Onion News Network” will include more character development of their cast and heighten its courageous humor.
“It pushes the limit, it goes beyond the edge of what’s acceptable and what may not be,” Sena said. “If we were partially offensive last time, we’re majorly offensive this time, all in good fun.”
Contact CU Independent Entertainment Editor Stephanie Riesco at Stephanie.firstname.lastname@example.org.