The Onion files a brief with SCOTUS….

Thanks to Loyal Daily Dawg Reader Mark Tilley for the heads up about the brief filed by The Onion in Novak v. City of Parma. Not familiar with The Onion? Too bad. Here’s how The Onion describes itself in the brief:

The Onion is the world’s leading news publication, offering highly acclaimed, universally revered coverage of breaking national, international, and local news events. Rising from its humble beginnings as a print newspaper in 1756, The Onion now enjoys a daily readership of 4.3 trillion and has grown into the single most powerful and influential organization in human history.

None of that is true. What is true is that The Onion is hysterically funny. It’s a parody publication that has featured such headlines as: Kim Jong-Un Named the Onion’s Sexiest Man Alive. The brief cites the use of parody going back to the ancient Greeks. Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain are cited, along with several court cases holding that parody and satire are protected as free speech under the First Amendment. As professional parodists, the writers at The Onion claim that they have an interest in protecting Mr. Novak, the plaintiff in this case, from prosecution.

Mr. Novak was arrested for what he posted on Facebook. According to the brief:

Mr. Novak’s spoof Facebook posts advertised that the Parma Police Department was hosting a “pedophile reform event” in which successful participants could be removed from the sex offender registry and become honorary members of the department after completing puzzles and quizzes; that the department had discovered an experimental technique for abortions and would be providing them for free in a police van; that the department was soliciting job applicants but that minorities were “strongly encouraged” not to apply; and that the department was banning city residents from feeding homeless people in “an attempt to have the homeless population eventually leave our City due to starvation.

Do you find that not very funny? Tasteless? The Onion concedes that point, but cites the Supreme Court case involving Larry Flynt’s Hustler magazine for the proposition that “the quality and taste of the parody is irrelevant.”

The brief is asking the High Court to take up this case and reverse the decision of the 6th Circuit. The 6th Circuit ruled against Mr. Novak because he did not include a disclaimer, warning his readers that his posts were not to be taken seriously. The Onion claims that disclaimers would spoil the joke. Here’s how parody works:

The author convinces the readers that they’re reading the real thing, then pulls the rug out from under them with the joke. The heart of this form lies in that give and take between the serious setup and the ridiculous punchline. As Mark Twain put it, “The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it.”

The Dawg has occasionally used parody so I was pleased to see The Onion rise to the defense of this rhetorical art form. We shall see what happens.


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