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Farhad Manjoo: I Don't Think "The Onion" Is Funny Anymore

Illustration for article titled Farhad Manjoo: I Dont Think The Onion Is Funny Anymore

Do you read The Onion? Well stop! Did you know it wasn't funny anymore? Its true! Ask Farhad Manjoo: noted comedian and funny man.


To his credit: in the first part of the article Manjoo shows how things have changed at The Onion. From a slower two-week editorial heavy process to a moment-to-moment content generator:

Getting the headline approved was only the first step. It would take about two weeks to produce a typical Onion story, and by the time it hit newsstands, every single thing in the piece, from the fake names to the profanity to the punctuation, had been pored over by a team of editors. “We put out one piece of content each week, and there was endless fussing over it,” says Stephen Thompson, a writer and editor who spent 12 years at the paper. (He founded the entertainment section, the A.V. Club, and edited it until 2004). For a time Thompson was the Onion’s “verisimilitude cop”—he’d read every word to make sure it conformed to pitch-perfect journalist-ese. The very fact that such a position existed suggested the paper’s absurdly high standards.

The Onion doesn’t work that way anymore. You’ve probably noticed. Like the rest of the media, over the last year the Onion has gotten faster, bigger, more strident, and, to me, a little inconsistent.


Hey that's fair enough. If you think a publication is better with more editing and thought I can't argue with that. Not with someone who works at CNN. But here's what I have a problem with: Farhad Manjoo asks some guys he works with if its funny. It is a stone testament to the awful truth: The Onion just isn't that funny anymore:

One of my colleagues described what’s happened to the Onion as “a disturbance in the Force.” It used to be that you could open any issue and expect a laugh riot. Now you can’t make that bet. You’ll still laugh—but not as often, and not as hard, and sometimes you won’t laugh at all. Dave Weigel, another of my Onion-obsessed colleagues, is more critical.


But then, after saying its good to take your time and get good news out there, he says this:

It now publishes twice as much content as it did last year—not just fake news stories but also fake slideshows, fake news-in-briefs, fake op-eds, and fake headlines. The Onion now works just like the news organizations that it’s making fun of. In some ways, that’s part of the joke.


Farhad Manjoo: gets jokes.

Then he gets a bit defensive about a CNN article, while posting one of his favorite Onion articles, and then saying that both The Onion and Jon Stewart are no longer funny:

It was a typical piece for the new Onion: reactive, biting, and instantly viral. (It has earned almost 400,000 Facebook likes.) To me, though, the CNN piece illustrated one of the weaknesses of the new Onion. Whereas in the past, its political jokes were absurdist, surprising, and rarely partisan—an abortion point-counterpoint from 1999 pits “Life Begins At Conception” against “Life Begins At 40!”, a piece that I’m pretty sure elicited my life’s only legitimate spit-take—the new Onion sometimes aims for Jon Stewart’s game: ultra-clever but also a little scoldy, oversmart, and lacking much nuance. In an attempt to make a viral joke, the new Onion often makes an easy one. And even as a media criticism, the CNN piece wasn’t especially thoughtful—that cable news emphasizes shallow sensationalism isn’t much of an insight, after all.


But here's the real punchline, they're all in this together:

In other words, now, more than ever, the Onion is in the same boat with the rest of the media. Writers and editors at the Onion face the same pressures as their straight-news brethren—a mandate to be faster, to do more with less, to have insta-opinions on everything even if it means sometimes being wrong.


Well goodnight, The Onion. You've been eulogized before you've died. You're a part of the media machine now. Better take you behind the barn. Farhad Manjoo: Independent Reporter called you out. So put this on your tombstone:

As one staffer put it, “If your argument is that the Onion has gotten less funny because it’s had to adapt to the Internet, then OK—but that’s not the fault of anyone but, just, you know, the world.”



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