The Babylon Bee is a satirical website, not unlike The Onion (“America’s Finest News Source”); The Bee produces a steady stream of work and some of it is funny.
What both sites parody foremost is the mainstream news media, which even at its best, as with The Washington Post’s “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” can be unbearably portentous. (Stephen Colbert, firmly in the paper’s affluent, liberal demographic, suggested The Post could have gone with the motto “No, You Shut Up!” Others thought the paper was going through its Goth phase and should be kept away from sharp objects for a few years.)
There is obviously ample room for satire of the mainstream news media. What do you think the people who produce it do all day in snatches, between filing to the always-on news cycle? One of the members of the Monty Python troupe once pointed out that American humor is stunted because we confuse seriousness with solemnity: We suffer from that in spades in news, at least as it is presented.
So how is The Bee different from The Onion, or, why would we need two Onions?
Here are two recent Onion headlines:
“Pete Buttigieg Tries Appealing To Moderate Boomers By Announcing He Doesn’t Agree With His Choice To Be Gay But Respects His Decision.”
“Tom Steyer Upgrades To Luxury-Class Debate Section With Hot Towels, Beverage Service.”
They’re good, although nothing may ever top our Onion fave, “Dolphins Evolve Opposable Thumbs” (“‘I believe I speak for the entire human race when I say, ‘Holy f--k,’ said Oceanographic Institute director Dr. James Aoki”) – perhaps not least because it was accompanied by a picture of an ax on a sea floor; that’s all, just an ax underwater, with the cutline “A primitive axe crafted out of driftwood and shell that is believed to be the handiwork of dolphins.”
Here are two recent Bee headlines:
“To Honor Death Of Politician, Nation Agrees To Delay Screaming At Each Other About Politics Until Tomorrow.”
“Trump Blamed For Causing Violence In Typically Peaceful Middle East.” (“‘Trump has betrayed our allies, the Kurds,’ said one man in Arizona who had just Googled ‘who are the Kurds’ a few minutes before.”)
In the interests of a control group, here is the serviceable headline of a recent news story from The Post:
“Facing unbearable heat, Qatar is air-conditioning the outdoors.”
And here is one from The Week:
“Hillary Clinton claims Jill Stein is a ‘Russian asset’ and suggests Russians are ‘grooming’ Tulsi Gabbard.” To which The Bee responded: “Hillary Clinton Asked To Leave Costco After Repeatedly Accusing Sample Lady Of Being A Russian Asset.” How can anyone possibly contend our times are so serious that we cannot laugh at them, when that is often the only sane response?
For one, there is Robin Givhan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion critic for The Post, who solemnly reported on President Trump’s visit to a new Louis Vuitton factory in Texas: “The president is radioactive. Entering his orbit means stepping into the white-hot heat of a brutal sun or into a deadly nuclear meltdown. Wherever he travels, Donald Trump is at the center of a volatile cloud of unknowable proportions. Thursday afternoon, French businessman Bernard Arnault stepped into that cloud.”
Truly, the jokes write themselves.
In fact, the only thing that might distinguish The Bee from The Onion is that the former is quicker to skewer liberal pieties – although, as Givhan shows, they are almost self-skewering, like a self-cleaning oven.
Entering this madness with all undue seriousness is the fact-checking site Snopes, which has repeatedly attempted to misunderstand The Bee, for some reason (“Did U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar Say ‘If Israel Is So Innocent, Then Why Do They Insist on Being Jews?’”). This may have reached a crescendo after a Bee piece said CNN was using an industrial-sized washing machine to spin the news.
Snopes solemnly rated that “False.” You have to wonder if Snopes would have bothered had it said Fox News instead.
It is one thing to take oneself too seriously and quite another to fact-check satire – which reminds us of that Steven Wright joke: “I spilled spot remover on my dog and now he’s gone.”