The Onion Uses Satire to Draw Attention to Psychopathy & Sociopathy

Posted by admin on April 9, 2013

In the past few years, the media has seemed to feature increased coverage regarding the influence of psychopathy and sociopathy. This website was started both because this increased media coverage helped validate the importance of the issue and because there was a need for those media stories on the issue to be more widely promoted. The increased coverage is represented throughout this site, including in our online news and television news sections.

Still, I don’t know what it says about the media that the source providing the most frequent and insightful coverage about psychopathy and sociopathy may be a satirical newspaper, The Onion.

Recently, I’ve seen several examples of The Onion’s use of humor to shine a light on this still too-often-overlooked topic.

Back in October, during the United States’ presidential debate season, The Onion featured a story entitled “Nation Tunes In To See Which Sociopath More Likable This Time.” It based its satire on the premise that voters take it as a given that both of the major party presidential candidates – and, indeed, all successful politicians – are sociopaths and simply use the debates to try to decide which candidate is better at pretending to have a conscience. I shared this story and put it into the context of ponerology in a piece of my own called “Ponerology Hits the Onion.”

Then, I came across another Onion piece – this one actually published in 2009 – called “New Study Reveals Most Children Unrepentant Sociopaths.” The story surveys many actually normal characteristics and behaviors of children and, by comparing them to those on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, manages to portray healthy kids as antisocial monsters. I found the article brilliant on several levels.

Almost all children who exhibit the traits and actions mentioned are simply reflecting appropriate developmental milestones. But, there are those in our culture who really do think of children, either consciously or unconsciously, for various reasons, the way the article portrays them. Such a view of children may both stem from and underlie some of the unhealthy parenting styles that, in our society, are accepted as worthwhile or even necessary to bring children into line. The article uses satire to bring this perspective to light more effectively than a child psychologist giving a lecture could probably ever do.

The article also, by focusing humorously on children rather than seriously on adults, lowers people’s defenses enough to make them aware that sociopathy and the Hare Psychopathy Checklist really do exist.

At the same time, there may be a small percentage of children who are psychopaths or sociopaths. This is a very controversial and deeply important topic and debate rages over whether such children really do exist and whether we should be screening children for such conditions. This is discussed at some length in this post from a couple months ago and in books like Savage Spawn: Reflections on Violent Children. The Onion article may provoke people to think about child psychopathy and its implications.

The relevance of this particular Onion article was brought home to me recently when I came across a piece by blogger Lyz Lenz entitled “Toddlers Are the Real Psychos,” in which she wonders whether her two-year-old daughter might be a psychopath. She even answered the questions on the Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale, Hare Psychopathy Checklist and Lynam’s Childhood Psychopathy Scale using her daughter’s traits and behaviors as a guide, almost exactly as was facetiously done in the Onion article with the PCL. I later showed Lenz the Onion article, which she had not seen before.

Well, yesterday, The Onion did it yet again. And, this time, they’ve returned to the political aspect of ponerology. Picking up where they left off when considering sociopathy in the presidential debates, they now consider its presence in the legislative branch.

The video is called “Authorities On Alert As Hundreds Of Crazed Sociopaths Enter Congressional Chambers.” As you might guess, the “crazed sociopaths” in question are the Members of Congress themselves, who are also described as “manipulative,” “extremely dangerous,” and “lunatics, many of whom are believed to suffer from severe personality disorders.”

I don’t think it’s an accident that The Onion keeps revisiting, from different angles, these ponerologic topics. Its writers have demonstrated consistently, for years, remarkable ability to zero in on and surface key issues lurking in our society’s underbelly. I believe some of them have come to understand how essential it is strategically, if we are ever to significantly improve our world, to consider whether our politicians or others – even, in some cases, perhaps, our children – have conditions that limit their very capacity for empathy or conscience.

I hope the folks at The Onion have indeed come to such an understanding. I eagerly want to see more public education about these topics occur. And the ingenious people at that satirical newspaper are great ones to have contributing to that cause.

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Categories: Humor, Online News

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