Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Onion Goes Meta

The Onion - America's Finest News Source is a weekly treat - a parody of current news and cultural trends. But it is clearly a measure of our times when the Onion's parodies inadvertently turn out to be true. Last week's issue covered the rise of the "home churching" movement among conservative Christians, in which families take their kids "out of church" and do church themselves. The article is really funny, except for the fact that some Christians are actually doing this.

More famously, the Onion hilariously (tragically?) anticipated the course of President's Bush's administration. In an issue published shortly after his first inauguration, they had the President declare: "...our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is over". The President goes on:

"My fellow Americans," Bush said, "at long last, we have reached the end of the dark period in American history that will come to be known as the Clinton Era, eight long years characterized by unprecedented economic expansion, a sharp decrease in crime, and sustained peace overseas. The time has come to put all of that behind us."

Bush swore to do "everything in [his] power" to undo the damage wrought by Clinton's two terms in office, including selling off the national parks to developers, going into massive debt to develop expensive and impractical weapons technologies, and passing sweeping budget cuts that drive the mentally ill out of hospitals and onto the street.

During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years.

"You better believe we're going to mix it up with somebody at some point during my administration," said Bush, who plans a 250 percent boost in military spending. "Unlike my predecessor, I am fully committed to putting soldiers in battle situations. Otherwise, what is the point of even having a military?"

This met with great approval from House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who said:

"Under Bush, we can all look forward to military aggression, deregulation of dangerous, greedy industries, and the defunding of vital domestic social-service programs upon which millions depend. Mercifully, we can now say goodbye to the awful nightmare that was Clinton's America."

Well, there you go. Some kind of world we have where outrageous jokes become daily realities.

And it seems that the creators fo the Onion realieze this. This week's issue, perhaps referencing the January, 2001 speech, "covers" the successful passage of Virginia Senator George Allen's bill to turn Yellowstone National Park into a giant golf resort. The upshot of the article, however, is that Allen meant for the bill to be an outrageous joke (meta) but that no one in Congress and certainly not the President thought it was (meta meta). The bill, entitled "The Preservation of Public Lands in America Act" sailed through the Senate, and returned from the House with only minor amendments, including one which designated the course water hazards as "ecological conservation areas".

Allen took that as a sign that perhaps someone on his side of the aisle had gotten the joke, but alas, this was not to be true. Democratic Senator Joe Biden initially thought it was a joke, but then said, "...if it got this far, it must be valid". Biden went on to say, "Now, the bankruptcy reform bill that passed in April, I thought for sure that was meant to be ironic. I actually voted for it out of total sarcasm. My mistake, obviously."

But the Onion is careful to remain bi-partisan, indicating that Republicans can have a sense of humor too, by ending with this quote from Mississippi Senator Trent Lott:

"We're all very serious about our task, but that doesn't mean we don't enjoy a good-natured poke in the ribs once in a while. I remember the time [Sen. Russ] Feingold introduced his universal health care bill. I was laughing so hard, I almost needed medical attention!"

When parody becomes impossible, what's left?

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