Comedy in Unfunny Times: News Parody and Carnival After 9/11
Comedy has a special role in helping societies manage crisis moments, and the U.S. media paid considerable attention to the proper role of comedy in public culture after the 9/11 tragedies. As has been well documented, many popular U.S. comic voices were paralyzed in trying to respond to 9/11 or disciplined by audiences when they did. Starting with these obstacles in mind, this essay analyzes early comic responses to 9/11, and particularly those of the print and online news parody The Onion, as an example of how “fake” news discourse could surmount the rhetorical chill that fell over public culture after the tragedies. By exposing the news as “mere” production and by setting an agenda for learning about Islamic culture and Middle East politics, The Onion avoided violating decorum and invited citizen participation. This kind of meta-discourse was crucial after 9/11, when shifting rules for decorum created controversy and as official voices in government and media honed frames and narratives for talking about the attacks.