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Regarding the humor in The Onion

I'm having a conversation with my sweetie Joyce about one kind of writing in The Onion (for example, It's Not Nice to Be Smarter Than Other People).

We agree there are two layers to this piece:
  • Layer One: what the words say. ("It's not nice to show off.")
  • Layer Two: the satirical meaning of the piece ("Let's mock people who think that showing knowledge or intelligence is rude.")
I also think there is a
  • Layer Three: but really, don't you also know people who don't know when to shut up? Doesn't the "author" have a legitimate point, even though "she" takes it rather farther than you'd take it?
To me, if Layer Three exists, it changes the humor from humor-at-the-expense-of-others to humor-at-our-own-expense (which I think is a gentler form of humor).

What do you think?


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 3rd, 2003 01:43 pm (UTC)
Without even reading the article, I vote for Layer 3. But you probably knew that I would. ;-)
Jul. 6th, 2003 11:50 pm (UTC)
I think the notion being lampooned in this article is "nice"
Remember, it's the Onion. You might know it as a cool parody newspaper on the Web, but in reality it's the alternative weekly of Madison, Wisconsin, whose schtick is parody news.

elisem goes on about "Minnesota Nice," but in truth the Nice ethic is indigenous to the whole upper midwest. (Elise's deep dark secret is that she was actually born and raised in Wisconsin.) Under the Nice ethic, being nice might not wholly make up for being evil, but most people who lived by the ethic would rather have nice, evil neighbors than wise and good neighbors who weren't nice.

Under the Nice ethic, being nice is more important than being truthful or just. Cruelty, malice, and spite are socially acceptable, provided that they are masked by niceness. (Abuse survivors, for example, have a hard time in the upper midwest, because confronting perpetrators, or even breaking silence about abuse, is seriously Not Nice.)

Sure I think that there are knowitalls who I wish would just shut up. But I think that comes before your Level 2, not after.

The article is indeed "humor at our own expense." But the "us" in question is the Wisconsin "us", not the West Coast "us" of yours, Stef, and mine.

Jul. 7th, 2003 12:44 am (UTC)
Re: I think the notion being lampooned in this article is "nice"
Good points.

I was raised in Michigan and my parents were both raised in Illinois, so I probably partially inherit membership in the "us" in question. Maybe that's why I related on some level to what the article's, um, narrator? was saying. (Level 1 and Level 3)

Also, the "nice" I was raised with was "be nice to outsiders and be nice to everyone to their face, but with insiders [close friends, relatives, exactly who is an "insider" varies by context] it's OK to be spiteful, snarky, etc., about other people." (Level 2)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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