This week, internet website "The Awl" sparked a minor uproar when it ran an article parodying the voice of Business Insider's Henry Blodget under Blodget's byline—when, in fact, the article was written by someone at The Awl, as a parody. It's not hard to see the potential for confusion. How is the average reader supposed to know that Henry Blodget himself did not label his own career "a testament to the total decline in the traditional concepts of personal responsibility and moral behavior?"
It's become clear that in today's internet, expecting readers to magically know what is supposed to be "parody" or "satire" or "sarcasm" or "a joke" or "funny" is simply asking too much. With the comfort of everyone in mind, please allow us to suggest a few simple best practices for using humor online.
Many writers who came of age in the early days of blogs were sheltered in small audience ghettos, read only by friends and like-minded wannabe-comedians, whose social milieu was similar enough that detecting jokes was not a great problem. But as we've all grown rich and successful and widely read in places unused to our particular brand of wry, unbearably obnoxious sarcasm (like the offices of Business Insider), it is only right to make allowances for the fact that not everyone approaches our work with the background knowledge that would allow them to pick up on when we are, or aren't joking. Do our headlines faithfully reflect our true belief, or is there "sarcasm" lurking behind them? Did we really secure a famous writer to mock himself on our site in a gross exaggeration of his own writing style—or is this another one of our little tricks?
It's unfair of us, America's self-indulgent online writers, to expect the average reader to be able to tease out these hidden meanings. Going forward, we recommend the following guidelines when using "humor" online—so everyone can enjoy the fun.
- Blinking text: When the reader sees the text blinking, he will say to himself, "Ahoy! Humor ahead."
- Spanish punctuation: It's a stretch to imagine that readers can pick up on subtle humor when it's formatted so that it blends seamlessly into the rest of the text. But what happens when they come across an exclamation point... that's upside down? Ay, dios mio!
- Footnotes: All instances of humor should be fully explained with footnotes. A simple rule. Follow it.
- Pictures of clowns: Not everyone is a librarian type who can understand and appreciate the meaning of words, punctuation, footnotes, or writing in general. Pictures of clowns send a clear message: humor, in this vicinity.
Following these easy guidelines make online humor work for everyone. For demonstration purposes, we'll take a paragraph from this story in satirical publication "The Onion" and render it in the proper humor format:
¡Bo Obama Receives Visiting Dognitaries From Furuguay
1) This headline is not from a real news story. The notion of Bo Obama, the president's dog, actually being president himself is being used to humorous effect.
2) Like "Uruguayan."
3) Like "dignitary."
4) Like "Washington."
5) Not a real administration.
6) Like shaking hands, but for dogs.
7) Like "remarks."
8) Like "diplomats."
9) Like "minimum wage."
10) Like "free trade agreement."
11) What you just read was a joke.
Top image by Jim Cooke.