Poking fun at the Onion suckers

by Toby Manhire / 01 June, 2011
A new site collects comments from people duped by Onion stories. But is it right to laugh, or simply "elitism masquerading as internet hipsterism"?
Doing the rounds recently has been a website that collects comments on Facebook links to stories from The Onion, the usually very brilliant satirical publication. More specifically, the Tumblr-based Literally Unbelievable collects comments by readers who have not noticed the satirical bit.

Just quickly, some examples:

“So much for Obama being the peace President ... Is Obama a nut case or what?" This refers to an Onion headline "Obama Makes It Through Another Day Of Resisting Urge to Launch All US Nuclear Weapons At Once".

"Ppl just litarally kill me! The selfishnes of 1self 2 partake in a insane enviornment. I'm speechless about this article!” That’s a comment on the story “Planned Parenthood Opens $8 Billion Abortionplex”, which delivers news of a “state-of-the-art facility, which features an IMAX movie theater as well as multiple fetus incinerators”, includes the following user testimony: "I was kind of on the fence in the beginning. But after a couple of margaritas and a ride down the lazy river they've got circling the place, I got caught up in the vibe. By the time it was over, I almost wished I could've aborted twins and gotten to stay a little longer."

And on the headline "Final Minutes of Last Harry Potter Movie to be Split Into Seven Separate Films", one reader worries for Emma Watson (the one who plays Hermione): "FOR CRYING OUT LOUD THE LITTLE GIRL SHOULD HOPE SHE HAS A LIFE WHEN SHE IS OLDER."

One more. "What do we want with a parrot? I'm trying to defend why I want to re elect Obama to my friends and this isn't helping!" That's from a reader alarmed at this news: "Obama Finishes Deal To Get Every American A Free Parrot".

But is it OK to laugh? Not everyone thinks so. Alexis Madrigal writes at the Atlantic:

But at least one user, tech writer and PhD candidate Navneet Alang, points out the somewhat nasty undercurrent powering the site. "This 'Literally Unbelievable' Tumblr irks me no end," Alang wrote. "Elitism masquerading as internet hipsterism."

I'm not sure how I feel about it. There is something hilarious about interpreting satire as reality, but this site really is about making fun of the rubes, defined in this case as gullible and shockingly un-media savvy right wingers. It's sort of The People of Walmart for the news, except the gag is: "Look how dumb!" instead of "Look how fat/low-class!"

A similarly is-it-right-to-laugh moment of guilt may overcome visitors to a site that collects “The best obnoxious responses to misspellings on Facebook”, which does just what it says on the tin, and which was also circulating furiously a few weeks ago. If you haven’t flicked through it already, do now. Feel the guilt, I say, and laugh anyway.
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