[TW: Misogyny, Heterosexism]
One of the sites I like to check in with every now and again is Literally Unbelievable, the fascinating chronicle of Onion articles taken seriously on social networking sites. Most of the Onion stories that show up on the site are, as you might expect, stories about politicians (especially President Obama), or heavily politicized topics like abortion and euthanasia. The site was founded because of the overwhelming response to the Onion headline “Planned Parenthood Opens $8 Billion Abortionplex,” which continues to appear on the site with some regularity, even nine months after the article first appeared. The reaction to the “Abortionplex” story isn’t unexpected though – I’d argue that the humor of the article hinges on that reaction. The story is funny because a significant group of politically-active people apparently honestly believe that Planned Parenthood’s sole mission is to abort as many pregnancies as possible; and furthermore, that both the employees of Planned Parenthood and the women who have abortions do so for no other reason than the sheer sadistic pleasure of killing babies. Without that group of people, there’s no joke at all. And, as with most of these, people believe the story because it confirms what they already know, whether it’s that Republicans are dumb or that the government wastes money.
Not everything on Literally Unbelievable is political in nature, of course. But it does seem like most of the Onion articles that show up on the site over and over again have political resonance for the people who are reacting to them as if they are real news stories (Obviously I don’t know what LU’s selection criteria for the screenshots they post are; they may very well receive lots of screenshots for non-political things and just not find them as funny, in which case my thesis kind of falls apart). But there is one glaring exception, and that’s what I want to talk about today: this Onion News Network story, “Justin Bieber Found to Be Cleverly Disguised 51-Year-Old Pedophile.” The date on that video clip is September 28, 2010. A year and a half after the video was posted, it’s still showing up with regularity on Literally Unbelievable. As I write, it is on the front page of LU twice.
What I find so notable about this Justin Bieber story is how obviously, patently false it is. This is true for a lot of the Onion articles that people mistake for real, but I think in a lot of these cases the people involved are having a mindless reaction of “This makes [person/group/organization] I dislike look bad; therefore I believe it.” That’s a response I can grok when it comes to, say, Mitt Romney, or Planned Parenthood, or Republicans, or whatever, even when I don’t necessarily share it. But what is it about Justin Bieber that provokes that reaction?
I don’t think I know enough about Justin Bieber to answer that question adequately, but I suspect it is at least related to the “criticisms” that he is “gay” or “a girl” which I see kicked around on other social network screenshot sites (like Lamebook). Bieber is beloved by young girls (say in the 11-14 range?), and in a lot of ways our culture still holds the same view of young pubescent girls that Mr. Bennet had of his three youngest daughters: they are silly and shallow and not worth paying attention to. By extension, anything they like is stupid, and it is unmasculine (which is why Bieber is slammed with misogynist language – girls like him, so he can’t be masculine, and not being masculine is presumed to be an insult in itself). As for how this relates to the Onion News Network video: If we accept the misogynist premise that girls are stupid and shallow, it stands to reason that they are also easily duped. And of course, young women can only play the role of victim when it comes to sexual desire, whether it’s their own or others. In the fake news story, the sexual feelings the girls have for the object of their crush is what allows the predator to hurt them. That’s a very convenient thing to believe if you are threatened by the existence of sexual desire in girls too young to be sexually objectified by adult men.
But I think that’s really a separate blog post for another time . Apparently I have a lot of thoughts about Justin Bieber (I am as surprised about this as anyone).