- Views & Opinions
Between reality and the bubble of fantasy news stories, these are tough times for satirists.
The New Yorker magazine recently took steps to distinguish Andy Borowitz’s humor columns from politically motivated false stories. His editor said the New Yorker was getting email asking if there was a difference between the two.
So they changed the tagline for “The Borowitz Report” from “the news, reshuffled” to “not the news” on the magazine’s website.
Borowitz’s columns take the form of news stories, like the recent one headlined, “Trump enraged as Mexican president meets with Meryl Streep instead.”
“It made more sense when people from another country would read one of my stories and not get the joke — that was kind of predictable,” Borowitz said. “But the fact that so many Americans have to go to Snopes.com to find out that Trump didn’t really hire El Chapo to be head of the DEA or something like that, that’s a reading comprehension problem.”
Satirists generally don’t like to have the word “satire” in flashing lights atop their work; subtlety helps the humor.
However, as the line has blurred for some, the website realorsatire.com has emerged to do precisely what its name suggests: enable readers to input the name of a site and determine its origins.
It was created more than two years ago to help web users navigate through an explosion in “clickbait” sites, where enticing news nuggets — mostly about celebrities — are used to draw people in so they can see the ads, said Jack Shepler, president of Ayokay Creative, which built the site.
“We saw people finding these ridiculous stories and posting them as real,” he said.
The two weeks after the presidential election were the site’s most heavily trafficked time, when publicity about manufactured political stories was at its peak.
Many manufactured news sites purposely resemble real news destinations, increasing confusion. Shepler said he’s been surprised at how often people post clearly false stories and thinks it’s because the desire to justify their beliefs is so strong they’ll take virtually anything at face value.
More than the false news sites and competition, the New Yorker’s Borowitz said that his job is made more difficult by the increasing absurdity of reality.
“Once you’ve had a country that’s decided that a reality show host should have nuclear weapons, it’s kind of hard to come up with a satirical story that beats that,” he said.