Is the Onion News Network Toothless Satire?
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There’s a reason why the first half of The Daily Show, which always tackles political topics, and the show’s closing interview, are what makes that program go. The fake investigative journalism that comes in between is, by contrast, forgettable. Like the Stewart-Colbert rally, ONN’s refusal to distinguish between the truly frightening Fox and the ultimately rational, if slick and contentious, MSNBC, is a problem. I know, we're talking about the news industry here, not any one side of the political equation. The justice system, filtered through the media, favors little white girls. That's a safe joke to make. It addresses the issue of women in combat, rather than gays in the military.
ONN feels strangely conservative, in large part because it’s forced to try and mine territory that Stewart, Colbert, and yes, Glenn Beck, haven’t already worked over. The Onion Network also has the problem of following in the footsteps of Stewart and Colbert, both of whom have ripped this medium to pieces as a matter of course. SportsDome, The Onion’s fantastic riff on ESPN’s SportsCenter feels genuinely new. It pushes a self-aware and nominally hip program over the edge, an impulse that has been nagging ESPN viewers for years.
If this program had come along 10 years ago, when Crossfire was the scourge of thinking folks everywhere, it would have been revolutionary. But as we learned this summer, it’s absurd to say that the problems of “the media” are still as simple as CNN’s bluster and plasticity. As long as the Onion News Network stakes out this territory, it's at best, a rehashing of humor that's been tried before (as well as proof that longer isn't always better). At worst, it's stoner comedy that goes after a red herring.
Bethlehem Shoals is a founding member of FreeDarko.com and a co-author of The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History. He has also written for GQ, The Nation, Slate, and McSweeney's.