The Globe and Mail
Entertainment Section
Saturday, Apr. 5, 2003

Where the skewer is mightier than the sword

It didn't take long for jokes about the war in Iraq to surface. Some of the best, MICHAEL POSNER finds, are on Web sites

They held a funeral for irony after 9/11, but it was obviously premature. Within weeks, there were Osama bin Laden jokes on the late-night talk shows and pretty soon just about everything connected with that watershed moment in modern history was considered fair game for the comics. Given enough time, after all, almost everything is funny.

With the current conflict in the Persian Gulf, the satirical gloves were off from the outset -- at least partly because the western world is so clearly divided about the legitimacy of the war.

Iraq-attack jokes are a staple in the diet of Jon Stewart's Daily Show and few monologues by Letterman ("Experts say Iraq may have nuclear weapons. That's the bad news. The good news is they have to drop it with a camel"), Leno ("Did you know that Iraq is Arabic for Vietnam?") or Conan O'Brien ("American and British troops handed out food to hundreds of Iraqis. Not surprisingly, Iraqis handed the British food back.") lack a war-related jibe. Even CTV's Mike Bullard has joined the fray, with a couple of sketches ridiculing the recent decline in Canada-U.S. relations.

But mocking the war is an equally thriving industry on the Web, with dozens of sites taking aim. The humour for most of these, alas, is juvenile, but there are some notable exceptions.

The gold standard is probably set by The Onion (theonion.com), a well-funded and well-staffed operation that publishes pieces in a mock-tabloid newspaper format. A recent issue targets George W. Bush's alleged stupidity ("a puzzled President Bush confided to military advisers Monday that he really figured the war would be over by now") and the clues American spy agencies are using to detect whether the Iraqi leader is still alive ("The CIA announced Monday that it suspects Saddam Hussein's latest televised address was pre-recorded, pointing to its suspiciously dated reference to Nelly's Hot in Herre, a rap hit from the summer of 2002").

Less well known, perhaps, but also registering some direct comic hits is The Specious Report (thespeciousreport.com). Its approach is slightly different in that it also parodies the Web designs of existing media outlets. For example, using a fake CNN Web-page template, it ran a recent piece suggesting that the Pentagon had submitted it's recommendation for the most productive use of long-range bombers after penetrating Iraqi airspace; an accompanying map showed the planes flying from Iraq to France. An accompanying article, based on the model of the London-based Guardian, reported discovery of the lost sequel to Orwell's 1984, in which Big Brother is replaced by "Big Moron, an incompetent cretin who was not elected, but selected by a Supreme Council. And double speak has become nonsense speak. Orwell has divided this fictional world into two camps: The Homeland and The Evil Doers. It's a simplistic world where 'you're either with us or against us.' "

I also like the skewed approach taken by Australia's satirical newspaper The Chaser (chaser.com.au), which noted that the plight of Iraq's entertainment industry was being neglected. "Leading Iraqi actor Yasin Ibrahim . . . tries to keep a brave face on for the cameras, but Yasin is privately concerned about the future of his acting career in a post-Saddam Iraq. Mr Ibrahim has one of the most high-profile roles in Iraq, and possibly the world. He is one of Saddam Hussein's three favourite body doubles. . . . For Yasin the secret to his uncanny resemblance to Hussein is his strict adherence to the Method acting technique, pioneered by Russian-born director Constantin Stanislavsky."

In a similar vein, Broken Newz (brokennewz.com) recently reported that Bush had announced the start of another operation of extreme importance "vital to the security of not only the United States, but of the whole world." Operation Freedom from Dion would focus on reducing the global threat posed by the singing of Queen Celine.

Over at fuckedworld.com, there's the Apocalypse Jones Industrial Average, "a weighted average of selected catastrophic terms appearing in Google News searches." At Ironic Times (ironictimes.com), there are no funny stories, just funny headlines, including: "Things We Might Not Have Noticed During the Current Crisis 1. For security reasons, the Constitution has been removed from the Capitol Rotunda and placed in an undisclosed location, where it is being edited and improved by John Ashcroft. 2. The Appalachian National Scenic Trail has been opened for strip mining."

And at Bongo News (bongonews.com), a story explained the real reason why Bush the Younger had started Gulf War, the Sequel, a few days early: It seems he had General Tommy Franks on one line and his father on the other and, "intending to tell his father that they should barbecue lamb for dinner, he accidentally picked up the line with Franks on, and said, 'let's cook a rack.' "

Among Canadian sites satirizing the war, the best is probably The Hammer (thehammer.ca), written by Ottawa's Trevor Thompson (under the pseudonym Buford McGraw). Operating on a shoestring budget, the 27-year-old comic writer says he tries to keep the site, which is getting about 200 hits a day, "as Canadian as possible, germane to Canada, but not exclusively Canadian."

His current issue, for example, turns the war's embedded journalists into fighting forces, using superior tactical ability and guerrilla interviewing techniques to take the Iraqi town of Nasiriyah. Led by Brigadier General Christiane Amanpour of CNN, the U.S. Special 4th Embedded Media Infantry were praised for their . . . fighting by General Tommy Franks, commander of Operation Iraqi Freedom. "Damn, those reporters sure can fight when they know a plum network anchor job is waiting for them back in the U.S." A shorter item raised the question of whether Hussein might be hiding out at Mirabel Airport.

" 'He's the first human being I've seen in the past six months,' said a terminally bored Philippe Dubournay, a cleaner with the Mirabel Maintenance and Thumb-Twiddling Authority."

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