If the crime, violence, and petty political bashing of the mainstream news sometimes feels depressing and overwhelming , satirical news media may provide a comical respite .
By Shepard Daniel

n the United States and Britain, satirical news has long been a popular source of entertainment. Satire – the literary genre whose content ridicules individuals and society as a source of comedy – has been adapted to news media, both written and produced, and it has proven to be a comical way to take a break from what can often seem ridiculous and tiresome mainstream news .

Common features of satire include strong irony or sarcasm as well as parody, exaggeration, and caricatures. The use of these humorous devices is exactly how The Onion, a U.S.-based newspaper, caters to its readers. It cleverly parodies such traditional newspaper features as editorials, “man-on-the-street interviews”, and stock quotes – all on a traditional newspaper layout and with an AP-style editorial voice. Claiming a national print circulation of 690,000, The Onion print edition is distributed free through the Midwest United States, New York, Chicago, Denver/Boulder, Austin and Washington D.C., and it is also sold in bookstores worldwide , including in the United Kingdom. In 2007, “Onion News Network” was created, which offers satirical news stories, audios, and videos online.

Sometimes referred to as “Fake News,” the international, national, and local news published by The Onion both ridicules real news stories as well as invents ‘fake’ ones, often with hilarious exaggerations or juxtapositions. Poking fun at the vague nature of the U.S. ‘War on Terror’ a news headline reads, “U.S. Vows to Defeat Whoever We’re at War With.” In addition, Onion humor plays on commonly used phrases, as in the headline, “Drugs Win Drug War” or presents simple, everyday events as newsworthy , such as the Sunday feature headline, “Guy Carrying Guitar Case on Elevator Envied By Everyone On Elevator, Imagines Guy.”

News satire has also been prevalent on television since the 1960s, following the emergence of a generation of English satirical writers, journalists and performers at the end of the 1950s. Such TV shows as That Was the Week That Was, which aired in Britain from 1962 to 1963, was groundbreaking in its achievement of comedy through politically-charged irony and mimicry .

Today, TV productions such as Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert’s The Colbert Report, are prime examples of contemporary American satire. Stewart draws his comedy and satire from recent news stories, political figures, and media organizations, and he generally presents a more liberal political leaning. His show, with its biting sarcasm (“I’ve been to Canada, and I’ve always gotten the impression that I could take the country over in about two days”) and clever irony (“Religion. It’s given people hope in a world torn apart by religion”) has kept viewers entertained since 1996, having won over fourteen Emmy Awards during that time. 

Jon Stewart’s television counterpart, Stephen Colbert, hosts a Daily Show spin-off , another news program known as The Colbert Report, which mimics neo-conservative personality-driven political programs. Colbert’s character is an opinionated and self-righteous news commentator who, in his TV interviews, interrupts people, points and wags his finger at them, and uses a number of logical fallacies.  In his typical fashion, Colbert often imitates the right wing with assertions such as, “This past weekend, Al Gore’s movie, ‘An Inconvenient Truth,’ earned more per screen than any film in the country…I dare say Gore’s movie is the highest grossing PowerPoint presentation in history!” This comic effect is complimented by his hilarious exaggerations: “To sit here at the same table with my hero, George W. Bush…I feel like I’m dreaming. Somebody pinch me. You know what, I’m a pretty sound sleeper , that may not be enough…Somebody shoot me in the face!” Both The Daily Show and The Colbert Report skillfully demonstrate the cornerstone of modern American political satire: the ridicule of the actions of politicians and other public figures by taking all their statements and purported beliefs to the furthest “logical” conclusion, thus revealing their perceived hypocrisy.

Whether it’s a sarcastic headline from The Onion – “The Police Seize More Than $50 In Wire From Nation’s Wealthiest Crystal Meth Dealer!” – or political commentary from Jon Stewart – “Hillary Clinton vs. Barack Obama. Normally, when you see a black man or a woman president, an asteroid is about to hit the Statue of Liberty” – satirical media provides a hysterical outlet for the weary reader of conventional news.

Read more from The Onion Network:

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart:

The Colbert Report: with Jon Stewart:

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