“America’s finest news source” for satirical made-up news, The Onion, has filed a document in the US Supreme Court in defence of parody. “The author convinces the readers that they’re reading the real thing, then pulls the rug out from under them with the joke”, the court filing reads in one place. The long-running satirical publication has argued that parody functions by tricking people into thinking that what they are reading is the “real thing”. To require parodists to state up-front that their work is nothing more than an elaborate fiction would strip the parody of its comedy.
The document urges the court to hear an appeal against a lower court ruling that suggests that parodists are in the clear only if they warn people at the outset that their work is a parody. The case involves an Ohio resident, Anthony Novak, who made a fake Facebook account of a local police department and made satirical posts in The Onion’s style. The man advertised the police’s plan to provide free abortions in police vans, a “pedophile reform event” in which successful participants could be removed from the sex offender registry after solving puzzles and quizzes and another soliciting job applicants but stating that minorities were “strongly encouraged” not to apply.
— The Onion (@TheOnion) October 4, 2022
To demonstrate its point, The Onion cites one of its own greatest headlines: “Supreme Court Rules Supreme Court Rules” from 1997. It further argues that mimicking the voice of a “serious authority” is what allows it to critique it. It gives a rare peek into the thinking process that The Onion employs to write about real and made-up events to critique society. “The dry news-speak of the Associated Press” is mentioned as one of the inspirations for its style. In the wake of the Uvalde, Texas school shooting in May this year, The Onion wrote “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens” in a hard-hitting article that subsequently went viral.
— The Onion (@TheOnion) May 25, 2022
The Onion’s brief is both a lesson in parody and a parody of court affidavits itself. The document hits comedic gold on page 15, where it comments on the format of court affidavits. “This is the fifteenth page of a convoluted legal filing intended to deconstruct the societal implications of parody, so the reader’s attention is almost certainly wandering. That’s understandable.”