Most Americans with access to a computer have come across an article from The Onion at some point. It’s often funny, but it’s been particularly good of late — possibly even profound.
Here are 5 reasons everyone should read The Onion.
1. It is actual news — The Onion is only slightly off in its slogan: “America’s Finest News Source.” Everyone knows it’s not to be taken seriously (except these people), but it’s still a good place to look to know what’s going on in the world. It’s up to date on current events, especially foreign policy and economics. It follows politics as closely as any Washington wonk. It informs as well as Anderson Cooper, provides interesting (and real) perspectives, and drills to the heart of the issues. Check out this piece from “Bashar al-Assad”: “So, what’s it going to be?” There’s an incredible amount of real, enlightening news in there. Like every outlet, it has its biases, but The Onion’s chief bias is toward humor. The Onion actually does a pretty decent job of keeping you in the loop. So, while I’d still recommend reading The Times or The Tribune for dinner, The Onion makes a pretty satisfying dessert.
2. It knows history — Whoever is writing The Onion articles is really, really smart. One of my professors hypothesized its marginalized PhDs having a bit of fun, and it wouldn’t surprise me. The prose can get esoteric quickly. It’s thick with intelligent economics, policy and history. These are not punk kids telling jokes — it’s sophisticated analysis in the form of satire. For example: “Obama assures Americans this will not be another 1456 Ottoman seige of Belgrade.” For a history lesson or Civics 101, The Onion is remarkably solid.
3. It is good writing — As if being relevant and accurate weren’t enough, the writers are strong craftsmen, as well. They clearly have the journalist bug, but they’ve crossbred it with the skill of a comedy writer. The nitty-gritty of the writing is good, but the flow and catchiness is even better. Most of The Onion’s pieces are short, but even the long ones don’t feel too long. It’s entertaining, informative writing. Attractive style, easy tone. Neither shapeless nor overwritten. I feel like I could read novels from these writers. And, beyond simply enjoying the quality, The Onion is, in my opinion, one of the absolute best teachers in the world for satire. Satire is one of the hardest writing genres out there — typically, you either come across as naive or angry or prejudiced or moronic — but The Onion comes across as witty, smart, clever. If there’s an outlet that better criticizes modernity through comedy and irony, I don’t know it. Jonathan Swift would be proud.
4. It is hilarious — Not too much needs to be said here. Read it for yourself, or ask a friend. The Onion can be very funny. I almost never laugh out loud while reading, but The Onion has been known to go there.
5. It is true — This is probably the best reason to read The Onion. Sure, it’s satire, and, sure, it’s supposed to be funny, but neither of those things make it untrue. Parody is often an excellent reflection of real life. Sarcasm is readily confused with sincerity. There are times I’ve read The Onion and thought, “Wait, that’s exactly the way it is.” It’s amazing how satire gets at the truth. It’s witty and wise and, frequently, downright prophetic. Here’s a prescient piece with a long view of history: “Experts point to long, glorious history of U.S. bombing campaigns.” One of the best ways for people and societies to improve is through thoughtful criticism. The Onion offers just that.
The only disclaimer I offer comes regarding the site’s crudeness. It’s often profane, and can be vulgar, but as long as you’re not quickly offended by language, the content trumps the cursing.