As the seventeenth century passed grimly into the eighteenth, I can imagine that there were enlightened spirits in Ireland, England, and Scotland who cast an unillusioned eye on the world around them and said to themselves, "Thank God for Jonathan Swift, who keeps me sane." I feel much the same way about THE ONION, the satirical on-line faux newspaper whose reportage, even in these awful times, manages to find ways to skewer the insanities of the right.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with THE ONION, here is a selection of the headlines that can be found on its webpage just today:
"Kim Jong Il Ends Nuclear Program for Lead in Next Batman"
"White Person Waved Past Beeping Walgreen's Security Barrier"
And my favorite: "Census Finds Enough Homeless People Living in Public Library to Warrant Congressional District."
The life of a satirist cannot be easy, and in these times, it must take an iron will to hold firmly to one's calling and resist the temptation to settle for simple, factual reporting. To illustrate my point, let me offer three recent genuine headlines, each of which might as easily have come from the pen of an ONION staff writer:
"Maine Republican Party Calls For Repeal of 17th Amendment, Return to Selection of Senators by State Legislatures"
"Newly Elected Representative Who Opposes New Health Care Reform Act Complains About Having to Wait One Month Before His Congressional Health Care Kicks In"
And, once again, my favorite: "Right Wingers Accuse Obama of Wanting to Give Manhattan Island Back to the Indians."
Now, I ask you: Suppose you had not been reading the papers for some while, and were presented with a list of six putative headlines -- the three from the ONION and the three listed just above. How many of you could have unerringly disambiguated the real from the satirical?
I rest my case.