Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Of Onions and News Shows

Though the whole of Robocop was awesome, one of my favorite parts was the news clips and the commercials in between the news segments. They were only a small part of the film, but they really set up for the audience an overall setting of the world that Robocop exists in and provide a bigger picture of how the people in Verhoeven's futuristic America think and act. The news in the movie is presented in all seriousness, but you would have to be pretty clueless to not pick up on the strong underlying tones of satire in the stories read by the newsanchors and commericals for toys like "Nuke-em!" and giant gas-guzzling automobiles. I can definitely see this part of Robocop providing inspiration for the advent of satirical news that was presented in two kinds of ways.

In the most popular satirical news, instead of serious anchors reading off outrageous fake news stories, the news stories are real and the anchors provide the slant that makes actual events seem more than a bit ridiculous. I've mentioned The Daily Show and The Colbert Report before in passing as cool sources of news for hip young things, but they really are brilliant. The Daily Show premiered in 1996 (not that long after the last Robocop installment) with anchor Craig Kilborn as a "fake news" program. Though it still refers to itself as such, the show has taken on some pretty serious national and international news issues under Jon Stewart, the current anchor who took over in 1998. Stewart often interviews serious authors and political figures, including foreign prime ministers and presidents as well as American Senators and Congress members. The show became especially popular among college students and young adults during the Bush administration, as Jon and the rest of the correspondents voiced many opinions that could not be found on regular news shows. The Daily Show may be advertised as just comedy, but like all good satire, Jon and company use their humor and exagerrated takes on issues to get viewers to wake up and pay attention to world events in a way that other news shows cannot.

Another popular form of news satire is closer to that used in Robocop: fake news presented in all seriousness. The most popular provider of this type of satire is by far The Onion (motto: America's Finest News Source) a newspaper and website that appears exactly as an actual newspaper would, just with completely outrageous stories. I had actually forgotten about The Onion until we watched Robocop, but this past week the site has seen many, many hits from yours truly. It has a special place in my heart not only for getting me through my Business Law class senior year of high school (especially during the unit on torts), but also for being one of the absolute best web sites for entertainment news I've ever come across. The Onion was founded in 1988 by two students at the University of Wisconson, starting as only a small paper popular in surrounding universities. When the web site launched in the mid-1990s, The Onion gained national popularity that is still growing today. The Onion's articles, videos, and regular columns not only make you bust a gut laughing, but often point out how ridiculous pop culture can get and offer a pretty pointed view on certain people and happenings.

From Jonathan Swift to Stephen Colbert, satire always has been and always will be cool. The use of irony and disattachment in satire is not only smirk-worthy, but presents the opportunity to get people to think about real issues in a clever way.


  1. The Onion is a great site, but I have to admit when you click on a link that says "Read this" and about 3 or 4 minutes into it you realize it's from the onion and not real, you want to just sigh and walk away.

  2. I'll admit, I often find that I learn more (and probably retain more) news from the Daily Show and Colbert Report. Not that we should completely get rid of traditional news broadcasts. That would eliminate my job....