Jack Knox: The truth, via Nanaimo satire site, will set you free

Jack Knox mugshot genericHere’s a story you didn’t read in the Times Colonist: Premier John Horgan has announced construction of a 43-kilometre bridge from the mainland.

A map shows it spanning the strait from Stanley Park to Gabriola Island, a short distance from Nanaimo. Unfortunately, a shortfall in revenue from B.C.’s new speculation tax means there won’t be enough money to build the connecting bridge from Gabriola to Vancouver Island, so drivers will have to continue to rely on the existing small ferry for that leg of the trip. Ferry users can expect delays of three to four days.

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That last line should have been a clue, even to the clueless. The story was a fake. So is everything else on nanaimobeacon.com.

It’s a parody site, and a damn good one, cheerfully satirizing the news in the same way as Rick Mercer, 22 Minutes, and the Weekend Update duo on Saturday Night Live.

Not that that stopped readers from bursting into flames after stumbling across the bridge story — or at least its headline and first sentence.

That’s all the information people needed before taking the article seriously and responding with scorching social media posts — which, say those behind nanaimobeacon.com, emphasizes the reason for launching the site in February.

Their goal, they say, is to improve media literacy on Vancouver Island, to get people to think critically about what they read online. Also, they figured Nanaimo, after four years of bat-crap craziness in city hall (I’m paraphrasing here) could use a good laugh. Also, they said, they were bored.

Now, when I say “they” I could be referring to “he” or “she” or any combination thereof. Maybe it’s a guy in his mother’s basement. Maybe it’s the mother. The creator(s) of Nanaimo Beacon want(s) to be anonymous, would communicate only by email. All they will reveal is they’re not in it for the money, because there is none; the only advertising on the site will be given away free to local non-profits.

They’re having fun, though, coming up with stories like the one in which Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog channels his inner Trump in proposing to wall off the city’s grittier south end. (“When South Nanaimo sends its people, they’re not sending their best … ”)

Or this one: “B.C. Liberal Party Leader Andrew Wilkinson says he now regrets a ‘poor choice of words’ when he said in the legislature last week that doing methamphetamine was ‘a groovy way to spend a weekend’ and that people who use the drug are ‘so woke.’ ”

Or this headline: “Federal government changes Nanaimo Bar recipe to align with new health guidelines.” The new ingredients include raw kale, brown rice, unflavoured gelatin and gluten-free tofu.

It’s all obvious parody, satire in the fine Canadian tradition that runs from Stephen Leacock to Mordecai Richler and through the likes of Nanaimo’s Susan Juby, Victoria’s Ian Ferguson and North Saanich’s M.A.C. Farrant.

It’s a form of humour that uses hyperbole and the absurd to mine the gap between life as it is presented and life as it really is. It reminds us that the world isn’t as rosy as we are told and, conversely, that things aren’t as terrible as some people want you to believe.

Sometimes there’s more truth in satire than in bloodless reportage. Hands up if Mercer gave you a better understanding of Canadian politics than did The National. After reading Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo-journalism account of Democratic candidate George McGovern’s ill-fated run for U.S. presidency, McGovern’s campaign manager declared the book “the least factual, most accurate” account of the race.

Of course, as in the case of the bridge story, you have to actually read it to understand it.

“It’s really quite shocking how many people just comment on an article they see on Facebook without even bothering to read the article,” emailed the Nanaimo Beacon creator(s).

“This kind of laziness has significant impact on things like elections and people’s attitudes toward social issues. If Nanaimo is going to develop into the city it deserves to be, we have to start with rational discourse. And we can’t even get there if people aren’t going to take the time to read and consider articles before vomiting uninformed opinions on social media.”

That’s not funny at all.

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