The fact is that I quite enjoy fake news, and I get a healthy dose of it on a daily basis. For example, today I read an article on with the headline, “Obama finally fulfills campaign promise to spend one night in abandoned amusement park.” It tells the story of how the president, “carrying only a flashlight, a water bottle, and a backpack full of snacks,” snuck into the derelict Cedar Plains Family Fun amusement park to spend the night roaming through the ruins of a once-proud fun center.
“Between now and sunrise, I will climb to the top of the Ripsaw roller coaster, I will throw a rock through the window of the snow cone stand, and just as I’ve said time and time again, I will wander around in the big concrete track where the Lazy River used to be,” the president said. Or, more accurately, the article I read said that the president said this. Because the president, of course, didn’t actually say this. He didn’t say anything close to this because this didn’t happen. As far as I know, there is no such thing as the Cedar Plains Family Fun amusement park, let alone a Ripsaw roller coaster. The whole story is complete and utter nonsense.
The thing is that just about everyone who reads it knows, in advance, that what they’re reading is nonsense. This is a piece from the celebrated satirical site The Onion, which also includes such headlines as “Thousands of rats tumble about uncontrollably inside Snoopy balloon high above Thanksgiving Day Parade,” “NFL to curb excessive celebrations by removing areas of players’ brains responsible for emotions,” and, my personal favorite, “The Onion’s 2016 Fish of the Year is … this fish,” a piece accompanied by a picture of an average-looking fish of an unidentified breed who won this singular honor because of its “quiet dignity and resilience in the face of aquatic turbidity.”
It should be clear to anyone with half a brain that all of these articles are silly fictions designed to entertain and not inform, but plenty of people have still been duped. In 2012, The Onion named North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un the Sexiest Man Alive, which prompted a news outlet in China to breathlessly report the story as a legitimate honor, complete with a 55-page photo gallery honoring the “Pyongyang-bred heartthrob” who “is every woman’s dream come true.”
And lest you think that no American news organization could make this kind of mistake, remember that even the venerable New York Times, according to the Baltimore Sun, had to issue a retraction after reprinting an Onion-produced parody cover of Tiger Beat magazine featuring the Jonas Brothers and Vanessa Hudgens alongside Barack Obama.
“I sing in the shower,” the phony Barack was reported as saying. One is left to wonder whether this happens during his presidential wanderings in abandoned amusement parks.
The fact that real news outlets are occasionally bamboozled is half the fun, especially since The Onion goes out of its way to let readers know that what they’re reading is pure hooey. Funny fake news has a long and healthy tradition that predates this election and even the internet. Decades ago, I remember picking up copies of the Weekly World News tabloid in supermarket checkout lines whenever the infamous Bat Boy made an appearance.
Certainly outlets that are trying to deceive are worrisome, but deliberate satire allows us to laugh in the face of real world problems, and I think we need more of it, not less. Also, Elvis is alive, and he may well be in the running for 2017’s Fish of the Year.