THE ONION is a world-renowned satirical publication started in 1988 by University of Wisconsin-Madison undergraduates Tim Keck and Christopher Johnson. After gaining popularity in college towns and then on the Internet with the launch of its website in 1996, The Onion established itself as an unmistakable pop culture entity, cleverly appealing to the humorous side of humanity and amplifying the absurdity of today’s media. The presentation of the 2015 Humanist Media Award to The Onion marked the first time the American Humanist Association has awarded an entire publication. (The AHA has twice honored radio stations, Pacifica Radio Foundation in 1992 and WWNZ Radio Orlando in 1990.)
The following is adapted from the speech given by Seena Vali, senior writer and sports editor at The Onion, on May 8, 2015, in acceptance of the Humanist Media Award at the AHA’s annual conference. In it, Vali satirically personifies the grandiose and arrogant character of his publication. (Please be advised the following contains profanity.)
THANK YOU, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. I am indeed Seena Vali. I’m a writer and editor at The Onion. And on behalf of The Onion, I would like to thank the American Humanist Association, its board members, and indeed all of you tonight for giving us an opportunity to come and grace you with our presence. It is truly, truly an honor for all of you.
Given The Onion’s stature and unparalleled record of journalism, it is of course no surprise that we’ve won the Humanist Media Award. But what is it that makes The Onion so incredibly, undeniably deserving of this award, and indeed all awards?
Simply put, The Onion is the single greatest, most important, most influential invention in the history of humankind.
When one looks back at, say, the advent of the wheel, or of penicillin, or of the computer chip, all of these things are pieces of shit compared to the greatness of The Onion. Indeed, each of us could live 10,000 lives and the sole constant throughout that span of eons will be The Onion. Beaches will wash away, mountains will crumble, lakes and oceans will dry, and The Onion will remain a shining beacon of excellence, of integrity, of perfection incarnate. America’s finest news source, indeed.
The Onion has always been there to chronicle the world’s biggest breaking stories. That is the common thread throughout humanity, is it not? When something happens, The Onion is there to cover it. So let’s consider some of the most famous headlines in The Onion’s history. Of course, we were among the first to report the tragedy of the Titanic: “WORLD’S LARGEST METAPHOR HITS ICEBERG! Titanic, Representation of Man’s Hubris, Sinks in North Atlantic.”
We were also there that fateful day when our president was assassinated: “KENNEDY SLAIN BY CIA, MAFIA, CASTRO, LBJ, TEAMSTERS, FREEMASONS. President Shot 129 Times from 43 Different Angles.”
And how can we forget this monumental achievement of science, thought impossible and made possible: “HOLY SHIT, MAN WALKS ON FUCKING MOON. Neil Armstrong’s Historic First Words on Moon: “Holy Living Fuck…I Am God.’” Words that will live forever.
Other memorable headlines include: “REAGAN MAY HAVE BEEN ELECTED, DOESN’T RECALL” and “DRUGS WIN DRUG WAR.” In the aftermath of 9/11, The Onion reported: “U.S. VOWS TO DEFEAT WHOEVER IT IS WE’RE AT WAR WITH,” and after the historic 2008 election: “FIRST BLACK MAN GIVEN NATION’S WORST JOB.”
Of course, The Onion has always covered the delicate matter of religion with tact and grace and total unquestioned accuracy. (This could certainly apply to anything that The Onion has covered.) Let’s take a look at some articles relating to religion:
- Pope Nervous for Annual Performance Review with God
- God Knocked Unconscious by DirecTV Satellite
- Everyone in Middle East Given Own Country in 317,000,000 State Solution
- Vatican Tightens Nocturnal Emission Standards
- Mellowing Jihadist Not As Enraged by Western Culture As He Used to Be
- Gay Teen Worried He Might Be Christian
- Man on Verge of Self-Realization Instead Turns to God
- Report: More Children Being Raised with Religion of Pushier Parent
- Four Angels Banished from Heaven for Attempting to Unionize
Now, when we think critically about religion and secularism, and it is important to do so, we often return to several fundamental questions about life. What are those questions? First, perhaps immediately, is: Does God exist? Is there an all-powerful divine being out there? And following from that question: If God does exist, who is God? Is it the white bearded man of the Abrahamic religions? Are there perhaps multiple gods, even hundreds of gods as in the religions of Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, or the Greek mythos? Perhaps the greatest question of all is: How do we know—and can anyone truly, definitively know—whether God exists?
Well, ladies and gentlemen, The Onion knows. In fact, The Onion has always known and we have simply been waiting for the right moment to divulge this information to the masses. And that moment where all questions about divine beings and higher creation are answered—that moment is now. For the very first time, The Onion, with its indisputable authority, can reveal to the world the almighty God, divine creator of the universe. Behold and tremble at the glorious might of your God: the almighty AHA President Rebecca Hale. All praise be unto her, our lord and savior.
God is, of course, one of the great mysteries of the universe, and yet we do know this: we know that God is the giver of all things, that God is all-powerful and all- knowing, that God was born in New York and moved to Colorado in the third grade. We also know that God is all around us. And even though God lives in Colorado Springs with her husband Gary and their daughter, God is everywhere watching us and guiding us, bestowing upon us blessings from on high.
And to those skeptics who believe that God may not exist, I simply say: Look in your heart and then look over there [points to table where AHA President Rebecca Hale sits] and behold the awesome glorious visage of the almighty with your very own eyes! In fact, if you would indulge me for just a moment, I would like to take this opportunity to humbly worship God. Just a moment please, I will be right back. [Vali walks to the side of the podium, gets down on his knees, and bows in Hale’s direction. He rises and returns to the podium.] That was the greatest moment of my life. Now let us pray together:
Lord our God, creator of heaven and earth, you came to us from your alma mater of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs whereupon you graduated in 1976 with a master’s degree in public administration and you offered us gifts of love, salvation, and everlasting life. We would all humbly ask for your forgiveness of our sins, especially the sins of those who chose not to attend tonight’s AHA award banquet, and we ask to be granted access to your kingdom in El Paso County, Colorado. Deliver us, lord, from every evil and grant us peace in our days, and in your mercy protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for next year’s AHA conference. Amen.
I would like to conclude with a scripture reading that means a great deal to me personally. It’s gotten me through a lot of tough times. Whenever I’m sad or down, I look to these words and they lift me back up. The scripture to which I refer is of course from the AHA conference website, specifically the passage entitled “Day Tour,” and this particular verse is from “First Letter to the Humanist Tour of Denver Attendees, 4/19.” And the scripture reads:
Join your fellow conference attendees on a humanist tour of Denver. This is a bus tour that will feature stops at the headquarters of EvolveFISH, the largest seller of freethought merchandise; the infamous Ten Commandments statue on Capitol Hill; and a wine and cheese reception with entertainment at the Secular Hub, the first community center in Denver to serve secular humanists.
Attendees will be picked up from the Grand Hyatt Hotel at 12:30 pm in the main lobby. This tour is not included in your full registration, but you can purchase it separately for $79 per person. The cost includes bus transportation and lunch.
The word of the lord. Praise be to God!
In closing, The Onion would like to simply dedicate this award to God. For all things are made possible through you. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you. Rebecca Hale bless you. And Rebecca Hale bless the United States of America. Thank you very much.
At this point, I will be dropping The Onion character and just being a normal human being so you can feel free to ask questions about whatever you’d like. Thank you very much.
Q: I’m a follower of The Onion on Twitter. Another favorite is It’s Not The Onion. I was wondering if you were aware of that site and if you follow it. They put out real news stories that you think would be Onion headlines, but unfortunately they’re not.
A: Yeah, we’re all aware of it. It’s actually a sobering experience going to that site and seeing all of the insane things that are real. But yeah, I check it once in a while.
Q: I’m just curious. Do you have any African-American writers at The Onion?
A: Full-time we have, let’s see, six white guys who look just like me and three women. And then we have writing fellows who are like junior staff writers, one of whom is African-American.
Q: I was hoping you’d mention a comic The Onion ran in 2012. The caption was “Nobody Murdered Because of this Image,” and it showed an orgy with every religious figure except for Muhammad. And I’m just wondering, “Draw Muhammad Day” is coming up. Anything planned?
A: The image to which you refer did indeed depict Jesus, Moses, Ganesha, and the Buddha, and was very graphic, a little too graphic even for this event. But no, no plans to draw Muhammad.
Q: A few years ago I was interviewing a North Korean official. I’m a journalist too. Not to the standards of The Onion, but nonetheless. And he quoted one of your stories back to me as evidence of America’s moral decay. Do you guys get a kick out of it when the North Koreans and the Iranians and others pick up your stories as well, real?
A: Yup. So, we did an article where we named Kim Jong Un the sexiest man alive. That was picked up by a Chinese newspaper and they did a photo spread that was forty-eight photographs of Kim Jong Un shirtless, riding horses on the beach. It was quite wonderful.
I should say we never intend to deceive necessarily. We want to keep all of our headlines and our jokes grounded in reality, but it’s especially funny when it comes from a person in public office in the United States, which has happened occasionally. And you think, if you just use your stupid little brain for two seconds and look, use your eyes and look somewhere else on the site, you will quickly see that it’s satire and not real. But yeah, we do get a kick out of it when federal governments of nations perceive our articles as real.