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Overeager parents fall for The Onion's joke

Posted by Rob Anderson  November 1, 2011 01:51 PM

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Yes, I was one of the many who tweeted the recent Onion story, "Study Finds Every Style of Parenting Produces Disturbed, Miserable Adults." It was irresistible, in an age of extreme hand wringing. And it was classic Onion in the sense that a) it contained an essential truth that made the parody sting, and b) the headline contained the joke in its entirety.

Still, the story went on for awhile, citing the California Parenting Institute, a real-life organization in Santa Rosa, California, and ending by noting that "adults often achieve temporary happiness when they have children of their own to perpetuate the cycle of human misery." And somehow, people believed it was real. According to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, the real CPI was deluged with calls from people concerned that their parenting philosophies had just been rendered invalid, plus one woman who was writing a book on this very subject and needed a copy of the study to support her conclusions. Even people who worked for the agency apparently thought the study sounded reasonable enough to be real. Finally, the institute issued a press release explaining the concept of The Onion, and the agency's marketing director complained to the newspaper that "It's obviously not OK to list our agency, even in satire."

Obviously? Oh, dear. First off: She shouldn't be terribly upset that a nation filled with overeager parents now knows that her group exists. Second: Sometimes we all need to be able to take a joke.

And third? Dear parents, The Onion has your number. The news feeds are filled with actual studies that offer equally unusable wisdom, apparently designed to freak out the population. There was the one that said that girls whose moms went to college had a higher risk of eating disorders. Or the one about how SpongeBob causes four-year-olds to briefly get a little hyper. I'm still waiting for the study that says that parents with a sense of humor produce more docile, obedient teenagers. Maybe I'll have to make it up.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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