Monday marked the first time in 34 years of The Onion’s publication that what anyone might reasonably think is an Onion headline was an actual headline about the Onion.
Which is to say, “America’s Finest News Source” on Monday filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court that was altogether serious in its support of a free-speech case before the panel, while also absurdly inside-out ridiculous in its parodic delivery.
And it might be the funniest thing The Onion has written in a long, long time.
The document backs the plaintiff in Novak v. City of Parma, the Ohio town where Anthony Novak created a Facebook page to parody the local police department’s. His Onion-like brand of over-the-top satire wasn’t appreciated by said police officers, who 12 hours later arrested him and searched his apartment.
Novak was acquitted of wrongdoing by a jury and sued the police department and city. The case made it to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld a lower court’s dismissal ruling that Novak failed to prove police violated his First Amendment rights. Legal experts say differing rulings on similar cases make this ripe for the Supreme Court to take up Novak vs. City of Parma.
Now comes The Onion, self-described in its Monday filing as “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.”
And with that opening statement, the tone was set.
Typical of an amicus brief before the High Court, the Onion’s supporting argument is long (18 pages), dense with legal arguments and gratuitous in its use of Latin. Atypical of an amicus brief before the High Court, the Onion’s supporting argument is thoroughly hysterical.
The document’s writers did take some beats to be serious:
“The court’s decision suggests that parodists are in the clear only if they pop the balloon in advance by warning their audience that their parody is not true. But some forms of comedy don’t work unless the comedian is able to tell the joke with a straight face. Parody is the quintessential example. Parodists intentionally inhabit the rhetorical form of their target in order to exaggerate or implode it – and by doing so demonstrate the target’s illogic or absurdity.”
But most of it came with a heavy dose of Onion.
“The Onion cannot stand idly by in the face of a ruling that threatens to disembowel a form of rhetoric that has existed for millennia, that is particularly potent in the realm of political debate, and that, purely incidentally, forms the basis of The Onion’s writers’ paychecks.”
We’ll never do it justice. It’s worth reading for yourself here.