Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Onion: Ripping People Like Me

Would you find it odd to learn that the people in this life I often find the weirdest and the ripest for satire are people who share my world view?

My world view is to the left of center with a strong seasoning of libertarnianism and a devotion to the Christian faith. I don't know exactly how that can be, but I'm pretty much done trying to explain my own, let alone anyone else's, contradictory nature.

I've always loved fun poked at Christianity, and relished any satire of the denomination I belong to, Episcopalianism. There's so much to make fun of, ranging from the absurdity of the virgin birth and resurrection to, in Episcopalianism, the garb of the clergy, the wide variety of social and ecclesiastical positions that Episcopalians hold, the consumption of alcohol (when two or more Episcopalians are gathered, there's always a fifth), and so on.

When I was in college, I used to get my hands on the Wittenberg Door from time to time, a Christian satire publication, written and published by Christians, and I loved it.

When it comes to politics, I realize that people I admire and agree with are totally lampoonable (is that a word?). Peace demonstrators, pro-choice fanatics, feminists, enforcers of political correctness, Affirmative Action: at a level not difficult to unearth, it all has levels of silliness, whether the silliness is being exposed by Rush Limbaugh or Jon Stewart.

The vehicle I trust most for satire of all kinds, whether political, social, sports-related, media-related, or realted to current pop events is The Onion.

The Onion knows no sacred cows. Whether it's Barry Bonds, alzheimer's patients, welfare mothers, obesity, Hillary Clinton, the Bush Administration, illegal immigrants, Democrats, Republicans, Tom Hanks, Paris Hilton, PETA, the events surrounding 9/11 or anyone or anything else, The Onion will satirize it.

Media are always criticized for having an agenda, of favoring one social/political perspective over another. The Onion cannot be criticized for leaning one way or another. Everything is fair game and at least once a week I laugh out loud at a piece that I can't believe they actually ran because, by most standards, it is so irreverent, so politically incorrect.

It's this even-handed justice, of seeing everything as potentially ridiculous, that makes The Onion irresistable to me. If I ever start getting self-righteous or begin to see something in absolute terms, along comes The Onion and blasts it apart.

I was a teenager in Kellogg when the Sunshine Mine fire occurred and it was one of the most sober and grievous disasters in Idaho, if not USA history. In my adult years, I've tried to follow other mining disasters and try to understand the neglect and loss that causes and follows them.

So, I couldn't believe it when The Onion found a way to satirize mining disasters. If anything was going to say to me that The Onion went too far, it would be the following piece, but in some deeply comic place in my soul, I found this funny and it gave me a certain persepctive on these mining tragedies and the people who lend their support to those trapped and their families:

HARLAN COUNTY, KY—A candlelight vigil Tuesday night outside the Drum Ridge mine, where eight coal miners are believed to be confined, left an estimated 55 residents trapped with no means of socially acceptable escape.

Attendees said they had originally hoped that the vigil would last "two or three hours at most." But as the gathering stretched into its fourth hour in freezing weather with no word of the miners' fate, their faith began to waver.

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Area residents attempt to burn through their votive candle supply in an attempt to escape the vigil.

"I've been here a long time lending my emotional support, and I don't see any way out," Evarts resident Rebecca Sayles said. "I'm praying they find those men very, very soon."

With no food, a dwindling supply of hot coffee, the mine office's restrooms padlocked for the night, and the sole heat source the flickering flames of votive candles, hope was fading fast for a positive conclusion, or even just a conclusion, to the vigil.

"I can't believe it's only 10:30 p.m.," said South Wallins resident Pat Meacham, who said he had checked his watch nearly two dozen times since arriving. "The seconds, they feel like minutes, and the minutes, like hours. There's no end in sight."

Candlelight-vigil participants report that the presence of 28 relatives of the trapped miners is preventing an easy exit. One attendant noted that many family members were inadvertently blocking every route to the parking lot.

Many vigil participants reported a "suffocating" atmosphere, one worsened by the singing of church hymns and emotionally charged interactions with the miners' loved ones.

Though they were aware of the dangerous emotional conditions at vigils, many participants said they had ignored the warnings.

"I've been here four hours," said local realtor Margaret Clayton . "Every time I try to walk over to Mrs. Knauer to tell her goodnight, she has this 'the father of my children is trapped 350 feet underground' look on her face, and I just can't do it."

Attendees report that they have been "racking their brains," trying to think of a way to get out.

"The Stevens used the 'leaving to get more candles' tactic," local business owner Mark Peters said. "That was two hours ago, and I have faith that they were successful."

He added: "Right now, I'm praying for a miracle, such as an urgent phone call."

Near the five-hour mark, many attendees said they began to wonder about the rules, if any, of candlelight-vigil etiquette. Some were uncertain whether they could leave once news of the miners' fate was delivered, or if they would have to first wait for the emergence of a miner.

"I don't think I can leave until they find at least one of the miners," said gas station attendant Stuart Jenkins, who claimed that he was going to "pass out" if he didn't get to eat soon. "Maybe two, if the first one brought out is dead."

After the arrival of the WHAS-11 I-Team news van at approximately 11:30 p.m., the remaining vigil attendees reported that any hope for escape had been eliminated.

"I just want to go home," Harlan County resident Susan Rafferty said. "But now I'm cornered in every direction by the bereaved, and the whole state is watching."

Rescue crews, working feverishly to reach the trapped miners, asked to be allowed to continue their rescue operation without interruption.

"We understand that many in attendance are impatient," rescue worker Brian Turner said. "However, we can't stop every two minutes to answer questions about what kind of progress we're making, or how long we think it'll take to bring a drill from out of town, or what time the liquor store down the road closes."

When local pastor Michael Sloane arrived with 20 boxes of additional candles at approximately 12:20 a.m., adding untold hours to the vigil, one participant enjoyed a unique perspective. Ron Chernow, who had managed to escape from the candlelight vigil three hours earlier through a small opening in the emotional wreckage, spoke from his warm couch as he watched the live coverage on WHAS-11.

"My heart goes out to the victims of this awful situation," he said

Are there things that just should't be satirized? I don't know. But somehow I found comic relief in this piece.

I keep hearing that our culture has lost its sense of humor. Certainly I hear time and time again that there are things in life that just aren't funny.

The Onion helps me resist those hectoring, self-righteous voices. Sometimes it's laughing at things that helps me achieve an equilibrium within myself to feel sadness more deeply and helps me strengten my resolve in realtion to things in life I hold dear.

Sometimes I need a little distance so my feelings of grief and outrage and commitment can have a rest.

Laughter is refreshing. It doesn't cancel out my other feelings.

It helps renew and strenghten them.


Anonymous said...

Ah satire; Love it, damned if I can write it!

Anonymous said...

Haha-sounds like being Catholic--any difference?--there are even more married Catholic priests now--

Go Figure said...


Student of Life said...

This part got me the most, because it's so true: "...she has this 'the father of my children is trapped 350 feet underground'..." Guilt is such a great motivator, isn't it?

I'm glad it's not just people from my chosen profession who use humor to get by. I often felt like a very sick puppy while working in a television newsroom. I often felt inhuman making light of very terrible situations, but some days, it was the only way to keep on truckin' while sharing stories of the worst of humanity. That's why the news business is such a grind. The Onion was always a bright spot in our day in that environment.