When it comes to relentlessly humorless coverage of humor, it's hard to beat The New York Times. To be fair, of course, the paper is tasked with telling the general public what they need to know, and the Times' specialism-made-general tone serves it pretty well in explaining the ins and outs of health care reform or securities. As we learned with the "New York Times Discovers Brooklyn" fiasco, though, the Gray Lady's sociological approach to pop culture can at times seem a bit heavy-handed.
Our latest example comes from the Thursday story "Fake Twitter Accounts Get Real Laughs," a headline only breaths away from the truism "Parodies Are Funny." In a twist that gave us a chuckle, at least, the article seems to be written according to what looks like Formula A for handling humor pieces. Here's how it goes:
When a blizzard blanketed Chicago last week, "Rahm Emanuel" took to Twitter to chronicle his day — making a snow angel on Lake Michigan, shoveling out David Axelrod’s Civic, drinking whiskey in an igloo made by a tireless campaign intern named Carl.
Except, of course, these urgent updates were not from the actual Mr. Emanuel ... They were from a fake account in his name, an online alter ego created anonymously.
Compare that to how the Times handled the Baracka Flacka Flames YouTube Obama parody back in October:
"I'm the head of the state!" President Obama shouts, with a blend of jubilation and indignation on his face.
Except that’s not exactly what he says--the sentence is spiked with an expletive and a racial epithet.
And, of course, it’s not Mr. Obama, but an extremely convincing impersonator, James Davis, performing as Baracka Flacka Flames in a video called "Head of the State."
Hey, this famous political person is doing something weird--except it's not actually him, get it? Then there was, of course, the Times' gleefully meta coverage of The Onion's Biden parodies, which the Wire already noted:
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has never smashed a Whac-A-Mole game in a drunken fit. He has never invoked Freedom of Information laws to find out a female federal employee’s work schedule. And to the best of anyone’s knowledge, he has never washed his car in the White House driveway.
But to readers of The Onion, the satirical newspaper and Web site, the vice president has done all of those things.
For that one Times reporter Jeremy Peters actually called up the Vice President's office to get a comment for the New York Times story about the fake Onion story about Biden.
Of course, the Times also has other models for its "we hear tell this is funny" articles. Consider, for example, the effortlessly bland opening to the BP fake Twitter account story this past June: "With corporate imbroglios now come online parodies--sometimes very popular ones." Imagine that. That sentence even debuted under the doggedly youthful headline "BP Account on Twitter? Just a Joke; K thx bye." (Here's another example.)
Look: the Times has to cover these things, and it has to do it the Times way. Never ones merely to shoot fish in a barrel, we've actually got a suggestion: the Times should embrace the meta-nonhumor and go hog-wild. Start all these stories off right--for example with "lo!" For instance: "Lo! Somewhere in this great land there are reports of people giggling at things generally supposed to be evocative of a humorous state."