opinion |  What a few lame parodies say about the parody of the state of the media

opinion | What a few lame parodies say about the parody of the state of the media | Pro Club Bd

Newspaper history waddles with examples of editors and reporters making things up for laughs or cutting to the chase. In the 1800s, editors stuffed their pages with made-up tales of monsters, disasters, and fantastical nonsense to keep their readers busy. Great tales of man-eating trees, life on the moon, and cotton-picking monkeys, as reported by scholar Frank Luther Mott in his 1942 article Facetious News Writing, 1833-1883. The practice became so widespread in the early 20th century that the New York world set up an office to eliminate “counterfeits and counterfeiters”. As I have already written, HL Mencken wrote forgeries for the Baltimore newspapers. Ben Hecht did the same in Chicago. Walter Duranty won a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for his fake reporting on the Soviet Union. In this day and age, most journalistic fakes aren’t written to make a point or elicit a giggle, but because the writers didn’t get the real story and had to submit something. See for example Janet Cooke, Stephen Glass, Jack Kelley, Jayson Blair and Jay Forman.

This latest series of prank headlines reflects the parody editions of newspapers and magazines that the Harvard Lampoon (and then the National Lampoon) made popular in the 1960s and 1970s, and then similar efforts by the National Lampoon. In 1978 a fake edition of the New York Times Written by members of the journalistic literati, it sent up the nation’s leading newspaper in perfect imitation. In 2008 the Wall Street Journal got the treatment, and in 2019 it was the Washington Postit’s your turn. But unlike the new social media spoofs, spoof issues were obviously in jest and not meant to fool anyone.

The scammers currently spraying fake headlines on social media don’t seem to fit any of the taxonomic categories we’ve established over the years. Their jokes aren’t as fantastic as cotton-picking monkeys. They don’t make a sustained joke like that pamphlet-Type print parodists. They are not failed writers making up stories to accomplish tasks. And the worst thing is that they are not very funny. Compare their efforts with the day-to-day work of the New York Times Pitchbot on Twitter that decodes the Times, especially the opinion part, with great comic effect. (Example: “Opinion|Between Trump is impeached twice and Biden is covid twice, both sides seem to be repeating themselves,” by Frank Bruni.) A liberal speculation as to what motivates the imposters’ typographic comedy would describe them as social critics who Giving pleasure by snooping on the establishment press while simultaneously sending up a selection of political figures. A careless review would admit that they are trolls too lazy to attempt anything more ambitious than painting a mustache on an election poster.

There’s a reason April Fool’s Day is the funniest day of the publishing year. Making a point with parody is hard work and shouldn’t be attempted without careful thought. It might seem funny to put gum in a vending machine coin slot, but when it comes to quality jokes, putting a lit sack of dog poo on a suburban porch and ringing the doorbell is spot on. It’s just mischief in action, the cheapest joke there is.

Maybe that’s too harsh a judgement. The scammer or scammers may have more substantial motives behind their pranks. Perhaps they are genuine in their attempts to spread the stupidity of online headlines that often sensationalize the blah-blah copy they’re watching. Authority deserves every kick in the shin it gets, and that goes for them Atlanticthe New York Times, CNN and Fox News and the entire journalistic establishment. Perhaps they are demonstrating the credulity of web readers and trying to fool them. Maybe they designed their headlines to democratize parodies – to show that it’s not just Harvard graduates and mainstream journalists who can play this game!

As PJ O’Rourke, the greatest parodist of our time, once said, the two greatest pleasures in life are creating things and destroying things. Vandalism needs no greater validation than the destructive act itself. So, go ahead, hoaxers, and do your thing. Just understand that you are harmless.


What is your favorite O’Rourke piece? For personal reasons, mine is the piece originally called “Holiday in Lebanon” and later collected in book form. Send your favorite to [email protected]. New subscriptions for email alerts are not currently being accepted. my Twitter Feed is parody free. my RSS Feed is parody all the time.

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