August 26, 2012

Gannett Official Says The Onion’s Suicide Net Jokes ‘Crosses a Line’

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The day after Cornell began installing the first of seven nets to be placed under and around campus and city bridges, The Onion, a satirical publication, mocked the University’s efforts to reduce suicide, prompting both condemnations and defenses from some members of the Cornell community.

The article, which asked fictional characters to sound off on the nets, included responses such as, “‘Wouldn’t it just be easier to make everything ground level?’” and “‘I imagine nets are probably more cost-effective than providing suicidal students with psychiatric care and medicine.’”

The article, though short, drew wide-ranging reactions, with some defending The Onion’s satire and others calling the article insensitive.

“It’s troubling that a news satire organization like The Onion would choose to make light of the tragedy of suicide,” Tim Marchell ’82, director of mental health initiatives at Gannett Health Services, said in an email Friday. “I think that crosses a line.”

He also said the topic of suicide is especially sensitive to the Cornell community.

“Reinforcing the misperception that suicide is more common here than elsewhere is irresponsible,” Marchell said.

Amir Malik ’15 agreed that this article went “too far.”

But Giselle Malina ’13 said that although she recognized that the piece was “clearly just [The Onion] exaggerating things,” she felt that it was “definitely harsh.” She said that those outside the Cornell community, who are less informed than Cornellians about the nets, may find it easier to criticize and make fun of the nets.

“I guess [that] unless you’re at Cornell, you don’t really have … an accurate understanding of what’s going on,” she said.

Other students, however, thought the article was a harmless joke.

“I don’t think there’s a limit to satire; I think anything can be joked about,” said Marcus Viereckl ’15.

Viereckl said he thought the article did not cross any lines because it was “still in jest” and “not serious.”

“It’s The Onion — it’s [made] to make people laugh,” he said. “It may bother some people but that’s what good humor is.”

Sam Ugowe ’15 echoed this sentiment.

“It is a terrible thing but The Onion’s job is to be humorous and humor … [it] cannot be limited by sensitive topics,” he said.

Malina added that the article fit in with her expectations of the type of content produced by The Onion.

“It’s kind of like South Park; they just make fun of everything,” she said. “It’s not like they’re making fun of people with psychiatric problems or depression. They’re just making fun of the nets themselves.”

While The Onion appeared to be indicating that Cornell is pursuing the nets because they are cheaper than psychiatric care, Marchell said the University has made efforts to expand its mental health services.

“Both are vital, which is why we’ve expanded our clinical services at the same time that we are making the bridges safer,” he said.

Original Author: Sylvia Rusnak