With American News Like This Who Needs The Onion?

When equine flu threatens a junior gymkhana in heartland America, they don't they call it off or rearrange for another day. No, they opt for something far more mental instead.
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Anyone who holds the prejudiced view that Americans 'don't get irony' has obviously never heard of The Onion. Having already conquered the world of comedy via the written word, it now produces radio and video segments on its website, many of which must make Chris Morris kick himself for only running one series each of The Day Today and BrassEye.

Unfortunately for the more credulous amongst us, its straight-faced satire is sometimes so authentic that it can be hard to differentiate fact from funny-as-fuck fiction. There's even a new Tumblr called Literally Unbelievable, dedicated to the gullibility of Facebookers who don't know a good joke when they see one. It doesn't seem to matter how preposterous or surreal the humour is, there are people out there who'll believe every word of it, simply because it looks like news.

Not that Facebook users are alone in their naivete. Reputable news sources, politicians and activist groups have all been taken in by the website's uncanny knack for media mimicry, including MSNBC, Fox News and the New York Times. Then again, given the ridiculous nature of much of what passes for news, it's hardly surprising that their defences are down.

"It will give you experience for if you happen to have a problem like this later in life. You already have the experience of riding a stick horse."

For instance, a recent headline from West Virginia read "Man high on bath salts arrested in bra, panties, accused of stabbing goat". Seriously, what the fuck? Read that again and imagine Trevor McDonald saying it. You can't because it's insane. But it's still news.

Similarly, a fresh story breaking yesterday ran with the headline "Horse herpes outbreak forces rodeo queens to ride stick ponies." There's so much wrong with that line, it's hard to know where to start. Apparently, a recent equine herpes outbreak in Utah has resulted in 13 suspected and seven confirmed cases of the virus. Although the disease poses no threat to humans, it's highly contagious and fatal to horses.

Rodeos are big business in the American heartland, so the state is trying to avoid cancelling any horse-related events. But with their animals stuck in quarantine trying to de-emphasise an embarrassing cold sore, the organisers of the Davis County Sheriff's Mounted Posse Junior Queen Contest had to come up with an alternative solution for its young competitors to show off their horsemanship. So they offered their budding young cowgirls a bucket full of hobby-horses and told them to saddle up.

I'm sure the girls gave it their all, but this gymslip gymkhana looked more like a Monty Python sketch, as the competitors trotted round the course straddling their makeshift mares. Winning an honorary rosette for stating the obvious, contestant Kylie Felter commented "With a stick horse it's a lot different because you have to do all the work, and I think it's going to be a lot more tiring than with a real horse."

Former Junior Queen Savanna Steed told the girls that they'd benefit from this improvised approach to their routines, "It will give you experience for if you happen to have a problem like this later in life. You already have the experience of riding a stick horse." There's something highly suspect about telling a bunch of teenage girls that they can always fall back on a broom handle when no other options present themselves.

Just like the performers who complain that trashy docusoaps are killing scripted drama, it looks as though reality has also got it in for comedy. After all, when real news headlines are this weird, who needs The Onion?

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