This is the fourth installment of our blog series exploring the articles in the special issue on “Fake News” from the Journal of American Folklore(vol. 131, no. 522). The special issue on “Fake News” from the Journal of American Folklore (vol. 131, no. 522) is available in print and on JSTOR now.
When I first encountered The Onion I shared their humorous stories on my wall: technically, my door. The little window and then the entirety of my cramped study carrel on the third floor of the Arts Building at Memorial University of Newfoundland soon became
covered with print-offs from its website. In my corner of far-eastern Canada, well-distanced from its home base in Wisconsin or the large American urban centers of its print distribution network, The Onion arrived as a newly discoverable source of witty and cynical humour that reflected how my cohort and I imagined ourselves.
And often those stories would be torn down, defaced, or otherwise subjected to some kind of “commentary.” When removed from the context of a humour website and placed upon the grand entrance to an inner sanctum in the hallowed halls of the ivory tower (however plywood-y that sanctum may have been), how were they interpreted? The Onion was barely known at that place and time, still a niche for the first generation of digital migrants. And this was different from the yellowed New Yorker cartoon of the tenure-tracked do
ors that signalled ‘read me askance’: this looked like journalism, which is almost like real research! How was it to be taken?
My article, “Pretend News, False News, Fake News: The Onion as Put-On, Prank, and Legend,” shies away from this auto-ethnographic moment. It is a reflection on the recontextualization of a piece of humour from its initial source and the different “authority” bestowed on it through both the act of sharing and the relationship of the sharer to the new audience. Looking back, however, this examination of the double-edged quandary of what happens when news parody becomes mistaken for reality and—more soberly—how the parodist negotiates the grim realities of the real world must have some of its genesis on that door.
The whole issue can be found here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/jamerfolk.131.issue-522