When Lambert sent me the link to a New Republic article, “The Onion Has Become America’s Finest Marxist News Source,” I first assumed that TNR was engaging in a bit of humorous flattery, as in taking a page from The Onion’s own book in highlighting its success. After all, The Onion is more widely read than The New Republic. Alexa ranks The Onion at 635 in the US, versus The New Republic at 3,237
Now I think this is meant to be funny…but it comes off as being serious enough that I’m left unsure at what the intent was. Key extracts:
From coffee shops to college campuses, this country still has plenty of publications dedicated to radical politics. But only one is breathing new life into a far-left movement mostly vanished since FDR dropped dead. It isn’t The Socialist Worker. It’s not The Militant, either. And it isn’t Monthly Review, Political Affairs, World Socialist Website, or Worker’s Vanguard. Rather, the vanguard of revolution—the paper most dedicated to the overthrowing capitalism in the United States today—is none other than The Onion.
Since their move to Chicago two years ago, “America’s Finest News Source” has taken on a decidedly darker—and more subversive—bent. Nothing in The Onion suggests explicit support for a communist solution, of course, but looking back on the humor magazine’s punchiest political barbs of late, one can’t help noticing that many of the jokes—what you’re meant to “get”—are just less obtuse, much funnier versions of capitalist critiques in The German Ideology and other Karl Marx classics.
The joke behind “Man Briefly Forgets Hotel Staff are Not Human” would provoke chuckles from even the most crass conservative, but the truth it gets at—that capitalist commodification not just of goods, but of humans’ subjective agency in the form of labor, is tantamount to the dehumanization of the working class—is straight out of young Marx’s Manuscripts of 1844…
It doesn’t stop with the obvious, communist-tinged class warfare gags. More often than not, The Onion delves into deep cuts from the Marx-Engels oeuvre. “Laid Off Man Finally Achieves Perfect Work-Life Balance” has traces of entfremdung, the contention that capitalism alienates the proletariat from their species-consciousness by making them participants without control in the economic relations of their culture…
But perhaps the most salient example of The Onion’s Marx-inspired skewering is last months’ “All-Knowing Invisible Hand Of Free Market Once Again Guides Millions In Profits To Nation’s Bead Stores.” The joke is far from subtle. But it wouldn’t be so obviously if you didn’t intuitively buy into the theory of commodity fetishization, and know that the natural use of capital as a convenient common denominator for the exchange of material goods has been supplanted by a system wherein commodities are little more than frivolous intermediates for the conversion of capital into itself.
OK, so you get the drift of the gist. This isn’t a mere superficial observation that The Onion is making class warfare jibes, no, this is a footnoted treatment of that thesis. And even though the bulk of the piece is devoted to documenting author Emmett Rensin’s case, notice again the set-up: this is “radical,” “subversive,” The Onion is even given credit for helping revive the “far-left movement”.
So while I trust this is meant to be tongue-in-cheek but fell a bit flat, it’s not out of the question that the Rensin isn’t kidding. The New Republic is full of young writers from top schools, the sort of place where students are now inculcated to identify with the elites (after all, you’ve gotten the pricey entry ticket; it’s up to you to decide whether to stay in the club or not). The magazine fetishizes clever contrarianism, to the point of sometimes losing the plot. So it is quite plausible for someone at The New Republic to miss the following:
Our elites are increasingly isolated, tasteless, boorish, ridiculous, and therefore great objects of ridicule
The country harbors more leftist views than the media would have you believe. Polls show consistent majorities or pluralities for preserving Social Security and Medicare, ending the wars, protecting the environment, and more progressive taxation
The US is destined to move to the left thanks to our failed economic policies. Young people poll as being more left-leaning than older cohorts. Funny how high levels of unemployment create a keen appreciation for the value of better social safety nets and curbs on predatory lenders and debt collectors
Places like The Onion are news-driven. Income inequality and its effects have been hot political and business news issues as a result of the “recovery” extending only to the 1% and their retainers
Marxism is now cool
So faithful readers, please tell me. Am I just tone deaf and missed the irony (we Americans are bad at irony), or was this piece serious? Because if it was, it’s yet another symptom of how out of touch our soi-disant elites are.