Why We Keep Coming Back To The Onion's Satirical Article On Mass Shootings

Photo: Bob Levey/Getty Images.
As news broke Friday of a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, Twitter users began retweeting a now-familiar story from the satirical website, The Onion.
The Onion has published the article, headlined, ‘‘'No Way to Prevent This’ Says Only Nation Where this Regularly Happens,” after nearly every mass shooting in America since 2014. They update the location, date, and number of casualties but the key elements of the story remain the same including biting lines like:
“At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past eight years were referring to themselves and their situation as ‘helpless.'"
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In the aftermath of the the Parkland, FL shooting in February, in which 17 people were killed, the post’s author Jason Roeder, took to Twitter to express his shock that the most recent iteration of the article hit very close to home for him.
The Onion, whose satirical coverage has been lauded by many as worthy of a Pulitzer Prize, often captures the hopelessness in tragedy. The comedy is bitter, but necessary. Soon after 9/11, as the country grappled with how to handle the enormity of the tragedy, the website published an article, “Not Knowing What Else To Do, Woman Bakes American-Flag Cake,” which somehow captured the confusion and enormity of the attacks in a way that few iterations of traditional media had managed to.
"I baked a cake," said Pearson, shrugging her shoulders and forcing a smile as she unveiled the dessert in the Overstreet household later that evening. "I made it into a flag,” the story reads in part. Something about the fictional woman’s futile, mundane, and desperately hopeful gesture tapped into a sense of bewilderment so many felt deeply, but were incapable of expressing.
Somewhere in the chasm between despair and content, there exists a very specific type of humour. It’s a feeling that’s difficult to put into words — perhaps it’s similar to the way we sometimes cry when overcome with joy — and it’s a form The Onion has mastered. The fact that the shooting article has become evergreen content speaks to the sense of futility that inspired its inception.
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The old adage — “It’s funny because it’s true” — is being borne out in America in the most gruesome of ways. The Guardian reports that Americans own an estimated 265 million guns — more than one gun for every adult. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there is a mass shooting nine out of every 10 days on average. Early reports indicate that at least eight people were killed at Santa Fe High School.
At 10:05 AM President Trump, who addressed the annual NRA convention on May 4 and has suggested arming teachers, tweeted “School shooting in Texas. Early reports not looking good. God bless all!”
Meanwhile, just last month, students at Santa Fe High School showed their support for gun control.
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