It's the stuff of webby fantasy and urban legend: a reader who takes an Onion story seriously. Last week, a speedy and vicious blogosphere watched its collective wet dream made real when "Pete," proprietor of antiabortion blog March Together for Life, posted "Murder Without Conscience," a furious excoriation of a 7-year-old fake column in the Onion titled "I'm Totally Psyched About This Abortion!" [Ed. Note: The original "Murder Without Conscience" entry has been altered since its publication and now includes some graphic images.]
The Onion is a satirical newspaper founded in 1988 by University of Wisconsin students and is these days published weekly from New York. The piece that inspired Pete's July 6 extended smack-down was a 1999 Op-Ed by fictional columnist "Caroline Weber." Pete did not realize that the Onion traffics in satire, and that the piece was a send-up of the notion that pro-choice activists are actually "pro-abortion." Weber's outrageous claims that she "seriously cannot wait for all the hemorrhaging and the uterine contractions" and that "this abortion is going to be so amazing" did not tip off Pete. In an utterly unironic retort, he cited lines like, "It wasn't until now that I was lucky enough to be pregnant with a child I had no means to support," and "I just know it's going to be the best non-anesthetized invasive uterine surgery ever!" to illustrate his disgust with the author.
Spoken like a person without a womb. But Pete explains that he was confused by the piece because it was such an excellent example of art imitating life.
Four days after his initial Onion entry, Pete posted a follow-up, acknowledging that he now understood that the piece had been a joke. "Needless to say, a few people wanted to let me know that I was a dolt for thinking that her article was real," Pete wrote. "As a matter of fact, call me a dolt, because in the beginning I really did think it was real. Why? Because I meet women like her in the field all the time.
Sure you do, Pete. The world is just full of women who love having invasive surgery, on their most intimate parts, without anesthetic. I know I do. Pap smears and root canals are fun, but nothing beats having your insides sucked out through vacuum tube. Oh, and Pete... let me help you out. I'm being facetious... oh, just look it up.
Some years ago I got an email from a friend about the horrors of the "Bonsai Kitty" market. My friend was a passionate defender of animal rights and was horrified to learn that a site was marketing cats that had been grown and fed since kittenhood in jars in order to attain the desirable, dwarfed distortion that characterizes bonsai trees. (The site is long gone but some of it remains in Google cache.) I looked at the site, pronounced it hilarious, and emailed her back. Um, this is satire, I told her. She was unconvinced, remaining as credulous as Steve Martin watching nefarious, Mexican cat jugglers in the "The Jerk," until I pointed out that there was no actual ordering information on the site; only a link that promised an order form would be forthcoming. She finally conceded that it was probably a hoax, but that it wasn't funny and made a mockery of the very serious problem of animal cruelty. It should come as no great surprise that we are no longer friends. The humorless, as a species, are a particular challenge for me.
Pete, the anti-abortion fanatic, offers a novel explanation for his inability to process irony.
The funniest thing about the whole ordeal, said Pete, is that "I come from Germany -- a German economy, a German culture, German friends. And Germans have no humor."
Very good. I'll be sure not to mention the war.