The Value of Satire in Media

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The Value of Satire in Media

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There’s truth in the premise that, “It’s funny because it’s true”. Mike McAvoy, CEO of the Onion opened our annual CMDC VIP Dinner revealing how satire helps create constructive conversations around essential social, political, and business issues.

Mike McAvoy opened his talk with a bold slide that claimed his firm as The Single Most Powerful And Influential Organization In Human History. The Onion is an American digital media company that began as a satirical weekly print publication in Madison, Wisconsin. In 1988. Online publication began in 1996. And in 2013, print publishing ceased, as Onion Labs, an advertising agency launched. 

McAvoy sees the organization’s mission to remind people why to care. In our day and age of fake news and propaganda, truth appears to be up for debate. and outright lies(delete),. McAvoy posits that the goal of a fake new article is to be accepted as Truth by its readers. Whereas, “satire has precisely the opposite intention”. And The Onion aims particularly at those truths he describes as challenging and uncomfortable.

McAvoy explains that our tendency towards polarization was enabled because of the editing to our consumption of media. Formerly, most content was released only after an editor, or editors, had vetted any particular piece. It was critical to maintain journalistic standards and requirements and accuracy.

Today’s so-called “Fake News” articles exploit personalized feeds. In effect, baiting their audiences by rewarding us with exactly what we want to hear. And we are complicit. Russia interfered with the US election precisely because the networks gleefully provided them the means.

McAvoy cheekily asserts, “Only the reporting of The Onion can shine a light on the Truth behind Fake News”. He believes that satire helps us become smarter and more critical readers, thinkers, and humans. In essence, humour loosens our defenses and helps us to see issues from points-of-view that we consciously or unconsciously guard from ourselves. First we laugh. And then we must process why we laugh.

He continues, “If people take the words purely at face value, we have not done our job as satirists.” That said, those who ought to know better have been known to misinterpret or misunderstand The Onion’s humour as fact.

Famously, the newspaper Beijing Evening News unironically reprinted an Onion headline that read, “U.S. Congress Threatens To Leave D.C. Unless New Capitol Is Built”. As audiences continue to grow with Trump coverage, the Onion acts as a escape for people. The inauguration itself was the biggest online traffic day the publication has ever experienced.

The Onion approaches their business with two obvious rules. And quality lords above all. When everything starts with the headline, the focus begins there. With over 1,500 headlines pitched weekly, only 30-40 will run. Which nets a striking success rate of a mere 2%.

Rule number two extols egalitarianism. If you’re using the tools of humour to ridicule
worldviews and shed light on the truth, then everyone and anyone is a target. McAvoy closes his presentation with a slick, smiling portrait of himself emblazoned with the headline: “Man Who Cried Himself To Sleep Last Night Has Some Great Ideas For Growing Company’s Brand.”

Key Insights from Mike McAvoy

1. Funny is a stealthily effective way to deliver even the most uncomfortable truths.

2. We must be vigilant and honest even with ourselves about what we consider to be factual.

3. How we consume information affects how we judge it.


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