Andrew Marlatt, the mind behind the insidious, sarcastic SatireWire, has finally gone Onion. Fans of that fine news source, in fact, are probably the first ones who should check out this new compendium -- 183 magazine-size pages -- of SatireWire stories. SatireWire is a deadpan Fortune/Forbes/CIO Magazine (with a touch of Adbusters) to the Onion's USAToday/Newsweek/Times. The book is called Economy of Errors, and puts a virtual bathroom library of stories from BusinessMonth Weekly (published semiannually every day) into one volume. (Read on for the rest of my review.)First, I grinned. The pin-headed suit pictured on the cover of Economy of Error (against a backdrop of sensible, neutral mottled gray) would have been right at home on the cover of a conventional business magazine, and with a different headline would probably even have made perfect sense -- this sense of ritualized news interchangeability is the same one that The Daily Show has been successfully mocking for years. Marlatt has a keen sense of the business-cheerleader media culture's inertia-driven , obsessively imitative tone and style, and apes both well throughout the book in a patois familiar to anyone reduced to buying magazines in airport news-stands
While parody sites draw their subject matter from whatever their creators find worthy of skewering, the most famous obvious comparison (The Onion) is basically a general news source, for a certain value of "news." The stories in Economy of Errors are (you guessed it) more about the Nu-Economy, and swipes at the buzzword laden, sense-deprived world of corporate idiocy and technological myopia -- the world of new startups, old-line companies pretending to be startups, last-year's startups pretending to be old-line companies and so on, not to mention dangerous "Click Houses" cropping up in the suburbs.
After I grinned, I started chuckling, then really laughing. "CDNow Wins Patent for Loss-Based Revenue Model." "Manufacturers' Lobby Says Small Children Defective.""Yahoo! beats Analysts' Estimates, Dogs."
I particular enjoyed the piece titled "Judge Denies Bias Against 'Guilty Microsoft Bastards,'" which quotes Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson explaining that his rulings in the Microsoft trial over which he presided were fair, and that he was never biased against "those guilty, lying bastards." Or, pick your poison, "Microsoft Says Linux Has No Future, So Linux Firms Will Stop." Say, these headlines are probably good for another 3 to 5 years at least!
Without giving away too much, I think you can safely read these headlines, too:
- "House Sends Spam Bill to Senate; Senate Spam Filter Deletes It"
- "Shooting at Virtual Office Leaves 3 as Good as Dead, 6 Tantamount to Wounded"
- "Cubists Launch Unnavigable Web Site"
And of course, you can read these pieces on the SatireWire site as well, if you'd like too much to be given away anyhow.
Besides the stories (of which the full pagers ike "New HP Chief Can do Straddle Jump," seem to me much funnier than the shorter disinfo-blurb scattered throughout), there are a hefty selection of ads, most of which stick close enough to seeming real that I'd love to see a few scattered into a real business publication, just to see how many people notice. The spread on pages 88-89 of ads for various online trading companies certainly makes me laugh, or at least makes my face settle into a disturbing rictus. ("Thanks to Ameritrade, I quit my job as a bartender and bought that French villa I always wanted.") Maybe this is because I'm in that select group of people with a few handfuls of options on stock that costs far less than my special discounted strike price.
There are a few flat spots. For one thing, some of the parody ads no longer seem like parody, though this is hardly Marlatt's fault. (One ad shows the standard grey wash of newspaper stock listings, with enough stocks bolded to outline the familiar Absolut bottle shape, and says that the reason stocks will never fall is "Absolut Denial." Suddenly, too late -- it's like a mock gravestone for a living person, when the target suddenly drops dead.)
The same is true of two stories about the crisis that went away quietly, the Y2K bug. I wished as I was reading "Y2K survivors Devolve Ahead of Schedule" (about pre-survivors who started watching cannibalism tapes early) that each story was marked with a "first run on" date to establish more context. The undated story about the trend started by Microsoft Bob could use some context too, for when our children one day ask us seriously "What was Microsoft Bob?"
A few of the stories and ads in the book just didn't make me laugh, and small number didn't even stir a chuckle. Things like the full-pager for FamilyFetch.com ("Rent a life. Virtual Family in under an hour. Guaranteed.") seemed to take up valuable reading space, but didn't turn me on. YMMV.
On the other hand, both in the book and on the site, Marlatt makes a few forays into irreverent cultural and religious humor which may infuriate the culturally sensitive and leave those who would like to be culturally sensitive scratching their heads, not sure if they're allowed to laugh or not. I found myself in that second boat, but mostly laughed anyhow. Does anyone take real offense at a story suggesting that "Judiasm may be Y2K solution" because of the offset in years of the Jewish calendar versus the western one?
An impossible request for Marlatt when the next compilation comes out (as I'm sure it will) -- please include an index! Trying to look for an example of possibly offensive story, it would have been much faster to look for the word "Hinjew" in an index, but I think that story was too late to make the book, and is instead only on the site.
Now, I admit it -- I usually can't stand humor sites, because when they're not funny (to humor-impaired me), they're really not funny. There's no accounting for taste, which goes double for humor. This book, though, has spurred me to finally bookmark SatireWire and forced me to hand the book over temporarily to friends and family members prompted by my maniacal laughter to ask what I was reading. I look forward to the next round.
You can purchase Economy of Errors from bn.com, or from the SatireWire site. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.