What The Scope Can Teach The Onion
“Clickbait” humor has invaded the internet. In a comedic economy that measures success based on likes, shares, and traffic, the posts that thrive are those that are flashy and concise. As a result, our newsfeeds are filled with sixty-second BuzzFeed videos, Bad Luck Brian memes, and some links to “Ten things that only ___ people will understand.”
One comedy news source that has flourished in the clickbait market is The Onion, whose articles are best known for their witty headlines. Presently, they are focused on the upcoming holiday season: “Mom Wants One Of Those Things Your Sister Has For Christmas”; “Entire Shopping Mall Quietly Dreading Whatever Empty Stage Set Up For”; “Man Had No Idea Cough Was Going To Be Wet One”.
Though I appreciate the ironies highlighted by these headlines, I feel that they don’t fully satiate me. They are funny – but not that funny. I want to read something that’ll have me rolling on the floor gasping for air, something that I’ll want to read over and over, and will make me laugh harder each time I do. But these headlines are a bit too bland, and the articles attached rarely provide me with much more to laugh at. They are often a mere paragraph or two in length and do little other than retell the joke from the headline in a much wordier formulation.
The Onion’s mediocrity results directly from its comedic strategy. The writers generate headlines by simply observing the world they live in, identifying ironies, and isolating them. They are not creating satire, they’re just drawing attention to the humorous things that already exist in the world around us.
To create satire is to invent a new world. To write about places that don’t really exist, events that don’t really happen. These satirical worlds will resemble our own. But the nonsensical aspects of our world are not spit straight back to us. Instead, they become the foundations of a far more ridiculous world, one that, on the one hand, we completely relate to, and yet one the other hand we feel excited to explore.
It is this technique that has granted our school’s satirical paper, The Scope, such widespread acclaim on campus. The articles that they feature do more than just draw attention to the abundance of ironies that permeate our complex campus. They take these ironies and use them to construct a different campus, a far more outlandish one. Last year’s article about Rabbi Wieder receiving criticism for acknowledging the existence of women was paradigmatic of this method. It created a reality in which the reader could at once recognize the frequently debated issue of woman’s role in Judaism, while at the same time feel immersed in a world of dialogue that is completely preposterous and foreign.
The Onion writers, in contrast, have not created anything new, so there is little room for them to expand their satire beyond the headline of their articles. What details can they add about holiday gift drama that we don’t already know from our own experience? At the same time the lack of original material prevents us readers from wanting to come back for a second read. We don’t need to reread the article to be immersed in its reality, since its reality is not different from our own. On the contrary, after we read the headline one time we accept its contents for what it is – just another idiosyncrasy of our absurd world.
If The Onion were to write about YU Marketplace, it might read, “YU Marketplace gives up, becomes meme page.” When The Scope approaches the same topic they create a world where YU Marketplace becomes a real, physical market, where the familiar quirks of the Facebook group are manifest in new, bizarre ways, from “Emergency Herenstein Booths” to “Open Orthodoxy is Not Orthodox” picket signs. The latter takes far longer to produce and requires much more skill. But its fruit is the kind of comedy that makes us fall out of our chairs.