Have you seen the site ‘Literally Unbelievable‘? It’s entirely dedicated to recording instances of people who see articles from satirical news website The Onion, on Facebook or occasionally Google+ (apparently there are people are still using Google+! Who knew) and respond to them without realising that they’re satire. With, as they say on the back of sitcom box-sets, hilarious consequences.
Hoping, I confess, to engineer a screenshot I could send to Literally Unbelievable, earlier this week I posted to Facebook an Onion story about Chick-fil-A’s new ‘Queer-Hatin’ Cordon Bleu sandwich’ – an article which, like all the best satire, was funny because it could so easily be true.
Unfortunately, the only misunderstanding I managed to attract was a comment stating ‘You do know the Onion is a fake newspaper right?’
Leaving aside the question of whether ‘failing to recognise someone else’s appreciation of satire’ is the new ‘failing to recognise satire’, I’m intrigued by the use of the word ‘fake’. This itself is common to Literally Unbelievable: the screenshotted commenters will often discuss whether an article – ‘Justin Bieber is disguised 50-year-old paedophile’, for example, or ‘New study finds 85% of Americans don’t know all the dance moves to National Anthem’ – is real or a ‘hoax’.
It’s tempting to conclude one of two things. Either these people, who believe that The Onion genuinely seeks to convince them that Mitt Romney is requiring his potential running mates to write a 5000-word essay on their favourite things about money – for example – must find the world a very confusing place. Or, perhaps, this is the inevitable consequence of living in the same country as Fox News and being taught creationism at school.
But I’m starting to think that the lines between reality, hoaxes and satire are getting more blurred for all of us. The internet provides us with a daily torrent of photoshopped images, out-of-context tweets and unsubstantiated rumours, the latter of which are increasingly picked up by over-eager members of the mainstream media without pausing to verify them. The Maginot Line between these pranksters and our unsuspecting minds are those who patrol the internet, bravely standing up for truth and literal-mindedness, the word ‘fake’ their only weapon.
What’s more, reality is getting increasingly difficult to satirise. Remember that bit in The Thick Of It when Nicola got bollocked by Malcolm Tucker for telling everyone at a constituency event that Kate Middleton was pregnant and that this was great news for the economy? No you don’t, ‘cos that really happened. Just like the Prime Minister leaving his kid in a pub, and being accused of excessive chillaxing. And the Daily Mail is so often caricatured as grotesquely racist that it’s a little hard to believe that on Saturday they actually, genuinely complained that the Olympic opening ceremony featured too many black people.
The Onion, meanwhile, has had a crack at satirising the opening ceremony itself – with limited success, because nothing they could come up with is really as hilarious, unlikely or completely, delightfully f**king nuts as the Queen (apparently) skydiving into the stadium, Lord Voldemort doing battle with Mary Poppins or a dance routine about the NHS. Meanwhile, as the New Statesman pointed out, the BBC sitcom TwentyTwelve found it difficult to compete with the real Olympic preparations for comedic cock-ups.
So have the Tories and the Olympics killed off satire between them? Well, the new series of The Thick Of It is out in the autumn, so not long until we find out…