Pop quiz: is this flyer◊ declaring polio vaccine, water treatment, and propaganda to be communist plots to destroy America a real pamphlet, or a parody of fervent 1950s "Red scare" tactics? (Answer: it's real!)
"Satire doesn't stand a chance against reality anymore."
"John Clarke and Bryan Dawe" are an Australian comedy duo that satirize politicians and other public figures. A quick glance at the comments on the YouTube page shows how many people think they're for real. Given that each of those sketches involve John Clarke playing all of the political figures without any change in voice, costume, or makeup, anyone who watches more than one should very quickly realize that he is not both Prime Minister Rudd and Senator Stephen Conroy, but is in fact a sketch comedian. Also, he is not Rudd's successor, Julia Gillard.
Performance artists The Yes Men have made a career out of this, or at least they did during the Bush administration. One of their projects included passing out surveys - http://theyesmen.org/petitions/pdfs/petition-terrorathome.pdf - under their "Yes, Bush Can!" slogan letterhead, urging people at Republican rallies to specify the rights they were willing to waive in the name of the War on Terror. They had assumed people would be shocked, but instead the audiences filled them out and turned them back in.
Swedish humor show Grotesco featured a song called Det är bögarnas fel ("It's the gay men's fault") which became a hit and can be watched here. It's a textbook example of this trope. The song is sung by a reverend who claims that gay men are to blame for every single bad thing in the world and sings that "I don't know the line and verse, chapter or part, but somewhere in [the Bible] it says that it's the gay men's fault." He and lots of other singers then go on to give gay men the blame for things that clearly aren't gay men's fault. One woman sings that "My son shot four people to death with the hunting-rifle. Somehow, I feel that it's the gay men's fault." A man sings that "I once ate porridge and confused curry for cinnamon, and that wasn't carelessness, no, it was the gay men's fault." It's almost impossible to imagine how it could be more obviously satiric, and still, when it was performed live on the family show Allsång på Skansen, somebody reported the show to the police for being upsetting to homosexuals.
Another Swedish comedian, Ronny Eriksson, wrote a song in the late eighties that parodied racism. The song, titled "Storswänsken" ("the Great Swede") contains lines such as "Don't believe for a second that the earth is round, 'cause some nigger thought that up", "Get rid of the alphabet and all damn numbers" and "down with science". About twenty years later young Swedish racists began to sing the song as their anthem. Eriksson's only comment was that some people are clearly too stupid to realize when they are being insulted.
The HMS STFU copied the Harry Potter section that was on our own Warp That Aesop page circa January 2011 as seen here. Most of the commenters took it as real Fan Wank with only a few considering that it might be a joke. Then again, The HSM STFU usualy deals with people who have similar or worse positions in total seriousness - they were the ones who discovered The Girl Who Lived, Hogwarts Exposed, The Last War, and the complete works of pstibbons and Robst, after all.
The infamous Zelda video The Light of Courage has an interesting case of something being both incorrectly mistaken for a parody and something fully serious at the same time. The animation behind the videos was purposefully kept bad as was the voice acting. However the dialog, grammatical errors, and storyline the videos were based on are all real and was done with the serious attempt to get them made into a movie. Aside from the few who know the story behind The Light of Courage, most people can't seem to figure out whether it's real or not. It was based on a horrible fanfic that its creator took completely serious, then someone else created the parody by adding purposefully badly done animation and voiceacting. Also the case for the infamous "Half-Life: Full Life Consequences" video, though this one is more universally recognized as a joke.
Nobody really knows if My Immortal was written seriously or if it's just the work of a troll of legendary prowess.
In documentary Religulous, Bill Maher disguises himself and starts preaching the actual tenets of Scientology on a park; naturally, most people laugh at him and call him crazy, unaware that those were Scientologists' real beliefs.
The jury is still out as to whether Timecube is real or a parody of schizophrenic antisemitic conspiracy theorists. It doesn't help that Gene Ray is a Reclusive Artist.
A minor example of this happened after Tina Fey made Mean Girls. She commented later, with some surprise, "Adults find it funny. They are the ones who are laughing. Young people watch it like a reality show. It's much too close to their real experiences so they are not exactly guffawing." She apparently meant it to be parody, but it was too realistic for kids to get the joke.
Prior to the release of James Cameron's sci-fi epic Avatar, a curious blog popped up called "Stop Avatar Movie." The blog's editor claims to be a transgender woman who is offended by the "heterosexual themes" found in the movie (namely, the apparent lack of non-heterosexual, non-cisgender characters), and urges people to boycott it. She goes so far as to make Avatar the scapegoat for anything in the wider culture that is or could be remotely construed as homophobic/transphobic, regardless of whether or not the thing or incident being discussed has anything to do with the film. The political and social views expressed on the blog are so extreme that even actual gay people are divided on whether the author is just a very dedicated troll, or legitimately insane. For all we know, the blog could have been started to covertly help the film; at one point, the writer actually encourages the offended to buy tickets and then not see the movie.
CSA The Confederate States Of America is a mockumentary based on an alternate history where the Confederacy wins the Civil War. Said mockumentary details an America, with slavery as part of modern way life, bat-shit crazy politics dictated and decided in part by the desire and need for human chattel, and numerous fictional, parody products with extremely racist overtones. Then the mockumentary comes to its conclusion, and you find out that a lot of those ridiculous, over the top products that couldn't possibly exist, actually did, and were actually being sold for decades. The whole totalitarian plot to conquer the entire New World from top to bottom, that sounds like the alternate ending for The Wild Wild West, or possibly Code Geass: yeah, that was actually the plan all along, and something the Confederacy would have attempted had they won the Civil War. Suddenly, the mockumentary, while still a bit ham-handed in presentation, becomes a little more uncomfortable to watch...
There's a minor political party in Russia called "Communists of St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast" (CPLO), that is best known for their public appeals against popular movies, written in an over-the-top style of mock Soviet propaganda. They sent a hate mail to Steven Spielberg over Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and accused Avatar of ripping off from Strugatsky Brothers. Their philippics have been picked up by media and taken too seriously, so that the real Communist Party had to remind they have nothing to do with that. There's still a debate is CPLO parodying Communists Just for Fun, as an advertisment strategy, or if they're really nuts (which is unlikely).
At one point, there was a popular image macro making the rounds on Facebook which made fun of fans of Fight Club who supposedly contradict Tyler's "don't talk about Fight Club" mantra by...well, talking about Fight Club. Of course, in the film itself, Tyler coins that saying specifically because he knows people will disobey it, and thus expand his sphere of influence.
There are still people who have to have it pointed out to them that A Modest Proposal is not intended literally. A Modest Proposal was Jonathan Swift's satirical essay that suggested solving the problem of working-class children in Ireland being a drag on their parents by selling them for food to rich people. Most interpretations read it as a satire of British attitudes towards the working-class of Ireland. It created a scandal because some people didn't get the joke (Swift intended a scandal, but not like that). Modern readers who take it seriously justify their stance with Swift's misanthropy and deteriorating mental condition later in his life. At the time of the writing, however, he had no such attitudes or problems.
Similar misunderstandings occur with modern tributes, such as this letter◊ commending Miami University for expelling a student for this poster◊ which was created to replace a poster put in the men's bathroom which characterized rapists as males. It referenced a "Johnathan S" (name withheld for privacy) who advocated baby-eating, and advocated the burning of his book (held in the Miami University library) by the same principle under which the poster was removed.
Niccolò Machiavelli's most well-known piece, The Prince, is a satirical Take That at the Medici who had recently had him brutally beaten—all his other writings advocate almost the exact opposite viewpoint.
Bernard de Mandeville, a Dutch physician in the XVIII century, wrote a poem named The Fable of Bees, which was a satire to the moralist campaigns of the time. The poem caused public commotion in the time, because he wrote that the vices of the people can be useful to the society, but today is regarded as a serious economic tract and many economists complain that it's hard to interpret him. It's hard because Mandeville wrote it as a satire; he didn't have any pretension to make a scientific tract.
In his short story collection Famous Monsters, Kim Newman mentions that Penguin Books asked him to tone down the politics of his story "Pitbull Brittan", a savage satire on Conservatism based on the question "What would it look like if everything the Daily Mail said was true?" To his bafflement, their objection was on the assumption that he was saying the world was like this.
What exactly Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron is a satire of continues to be argued over to this day. Those on the right claim it's a satire of egalitarianism. Those on the left claim it's a satire of the right's views of egalitarianism.
The Viridian Saga is a parody of Paranormal Romance novels based on the Cthulhu Mythos. It was written by The Nostalgia Chick and her friends, crowdsourced in a series of online videos and aided by ghostwriters. It was self-published under the alias "Serra Elinsen," who also serves as a sock-puppet for the authors to create online drama. Part of the point of the experiment is to see how people would react to it, and the authors were quite pleased when the novel caused some kerfluffle among Lovecraft fans and got some serious literary reviews.
It also works the other way: fans often play the part of a straightforward Fandom or Hatedom, meaning that one can't tell which reviewers are in on the joke or not!
Flatland is part geometric fantasy, and part satire of Victorian classism and sexism. Unfortuantely, it can be hard for modern readers to tell that the author was being satirical.
Live-Action TV and Radio
The Late Show with David Letterman ran a sketch to parody modern, post-modern, and abstract artwork. The segment was titled "Ape or Artist?" Each sketch would put a spotlight on a large canvas with an abstract splattering and smearing of paints. David Letterman, musicians in the band, audience members, and occasionally guest experts, would then try to figure out if the painting was done by a professional artist, or an ape playing with paint. The parody was so flawlessly executed that several guests with university degrees in art and art history were unable to distinguish whether or not the painting was ape-splatter or professional modern art.
There's also a pervasive myth that he was mistaken for a real conservative pundit by members of the Bush administration when he was invited to the 2006 correspondents' dinner; the dinner was in large part a traditional roast of the President, and they knew exactly who he was, although they may not have expected him to be quiteso harsh.
Some conservatives realize that Colbert is a parody but believe that he makes correct points in character. In other words, the Strawman Has a Point, while there are some conservatives who enjoy the show simply because of the comedy. Colbert himself exacerbates this by frequently picking up on recent talking points of various conservatives in the news, then expanding upon them. This makes it difficult for some to actually understand he is parodying them, particularly when he begins a rant following talking points that many of the more extreme commentators in the media voiced a day or two before.
Brass Eye, which hoodwinked British celebrities into participating in fictional public information films, culminating in a Member of the British Parliament raising a question in the House of Commons about the ludicrous made-up drug "cake".
Housos is a Black Comedy of Australia's working-class bludgers (i.e. the working-class who don't work). Two current affairs programs aired hard-hitting 'exposés' on this offensive new Reality Show. Interestingly, when they realised the show was fake they tried a new angle, complaining about tax-payers money being used to subsidise filth. The show's home channel, SBS, raised all the funds itself. All in all, the Housos creator was happy at the hilarious free publicity, while the current affairs shows got publicity of the wrong kind altogether.
Radio host Phil Hendrie makes a living on this trope. His radio show consists of a stable of guests that he regularly interviews (the president of a home-owners association, the owner of a restaurant that supposedly sponsors the show, the head of a local activist group, etc.) discussing a current event of some sort, with the guest having some wild, ridiculous, and sometimes offensive opinion on the matter. This prompts listeners to call the show and incredulously berate the guest, whose rhetoric becomes more and more ludicrous as the segment goes on. The joke? All of the guests are voiced by Hendrie, who essentially is having a conversation with himself using a phone handset in the studio.
Hendrie is very very good at doing two distinct voices, keeping them straight, and "interrupting" himself realistically, so those who tune in to the program in the middle without ever having heard of Hendrie before can be excused for not realizing he's performing both the host and guest parts. However, there's also a meta level to this; it's sometimes difficult to discern whether the callers actually believe the guests are real or whether they're just playing along (given Hendrie's vocal talents, it wouldn't be impossible that he plays some of the more ridiculous callers himself).
Penn & Teller: Bullshit! does this often to ridicule the topic they are covering in a particular episode, for example polling hippies on banning water (identified as the scary sounding Dihydrogen Monoxide) or asking for donations to fight global warming with no proof the funds will be used legitimately.
Batman was a very popular comedy show in its day, but a surprisingly large number of modern-day viewers assume that it was meant to be a serious adventure show. This included Neil Hamilton, the portrayer of Commissioner Gordon, who would get annoyed if he saw other actors cracking up on set.
Adam Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel set up a petition to "End Women Suffrage" with a hidden camera across the road. Footage used in The Man Show depict men and women alike signing the petition and the two of them actually getting a lot of signatures, the signers not understanding what "suffrage" means.
From the 24/3/14 episode of Media Watch: Two of the following headlines about the missing Malaysia Airlines jet are from genuine newspapers, while one is from a spoof - "Pastor Predicted Disappearance of Jet", "Missing Jet in North Korea", "Plane Stolen by Aliens". Which one is the spoof? The correct answer is "Missing Jet in North Korea"
Salvador Dali once sent a telegram for Romania's dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, for his adoption of a scepter as part of his regalia. Dalí's intent was to mock him, but Ceauşescu, who had one of the biggest personality cults ever, took it seriously, and the text was published in the Party's newspaper. When he did find out it was a joke, he fired the editor who published it. Never mind that he was the one who ordered it to be published.
Roger Ebert went political and wrote a blog post giving a statement of creationist beliefs, with the intention of making a point about people's inability to recognize irony. While many people did see the satire, a significant number of readers either thought he was being serious or assumed the site had been hacked. PZ Myers criticized the article, pointing out that when there are so many people making the same claims without irony, the joke becomes undetectable to anyone who doesn't already know Ebert's stance on the issue.
A little known example with Erwin Schrodinger. His infamous Schrodinger's Cat thought experiment was actually made by him as an absurd scenario to point out the flaw with Albert Einstein's theory about quantum entanglement, which claimed that the combination of two systems (such as two sub-atomic particles) where interacted but then separated they would have to logically be each in a non-definite state. Schrodinger thought this was silly and so came up with his own version of the theory so absurd that it would show the flaws in Einstein's. His silly scenario was that if you locked a cat in a box with a gas vial which was then smashed, you would be unable to claim that the cat was dead without looking inside, so you had to assume the cat was both alive and dead simultaneously. Of course, he knew that this was stupid as the cat would always be dead as it would have breathed in the gas, but not many other people saw it as a parody and he has since become famous for this theory, and this theory only. The rest of his philosophical ideas now unknown to anyone without an A-Level in Philosophy.
Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravityby Alan Sokal. Alan Sokal, a physicist who was severely annoyed at scientifically-illiterate deconstructionist philosophers trying to work quantum physics into their philosophy, submitted a paper to the journal Social Text which declared "quantum gravity"—and ultimately reality itself—to be a social construct. Social Text accepted it. Right after printing it he notified them it was a logically inconsistent rambling as bad as he could write without using mushrooms. Oops. Social Text was annoyed; they thought that the paper had merit, and, according to them, while the editors themselves didn't think reality was a social construct, they thought that Sokal thought it was!
WMSCI 2005 accepted an article Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy. The only value it has for computer science is the fact that this garbage wasn't even written by a human, but by a pseudorandom text generator. Then these pranksters went to the conference, held a "technical" session and read a few more randomly generated speeches with straight faces. It's all there — along with the Open Source text generator.
The Bogdanov Affair is a reversal of the above. Igor and Grichka Bogdanov published their papers in reputable scientific journals claiming that their calculations could puzzle out what things were like in the Planck era (the point immediately after the Big Bang). Subsequent criticisms of the papers by scientists and in Internet forums claimed that the poorly-written papers, filled with many commonly used scientific buzzwords used in nonsensical contexts, were meant as a big hoax. The controversy is frequently called the "reverse Sokal hoax" because A) the material was submitted to scientific journals rather than liberal arts journals, and B) the Bogdanovs consistently maintained that they were completely sincere.
In 1985 MIT pranksters managed to get a sculpture included in an exhibition at MIT's List Visual Art Center. Titled "No Knife", it consisted of an overturned wastebasket on which was a dining hall tray, plate, bowl, glass, fork and two spoons. It was accompanied by an artist's statement describing it as "a study in mixed media earth tones", and going on to praise and interpret it ("The casual formalism of the place setting draws upon our common internal instincts of existential persistence to unify us with the greater consciousness of human bondage") in a parody of the style of art criticism. It took the gallery staff several hours to discover it was not actually part of the exhibition.
She still shot and nearly killed a man (she shot someone else also, but only Warhol was seriously injured) for having "too much influence over her life". Being objectively crazy blurs the line between "things you really believe" and "things that are so insane they must have been intended as satire" considerably.
In a strange case, creationist speaker Kent Hovind earned the P.T. Barnum "One Born Every Minute" Award when he incorporated information of the finding of man and dinosaur fossils co-existing and the government cover-up of this discovery, from a website into his lectures as evidence against evolution. In reality, the website was a fake one (and somewhat conspicuously so) that the New Mexicans for Science and Reason (NMSR) had set up as an April Fool's Day prank.
As a satire of excessive capitalism, an artist made a bench that you must pay to sit on; overstay your purchased welcome and the bench will impale you with steel spikes. And now, a Chinese park owner who didn't get the joke actually wants to install these in his park to prevent hobos from hanging around on the benches.
At the First West Coast Computer Faire, Apple engineer Steve Wozniak had made several gag brochures for a successor to the MITS Altair called the "Zaltair." The ad copy was filled with absurd claims, like having 18 expansion card slots, a new "BAZIC" programming language that could be rewritten by the user, and a case that will "add to the decor of any living room." People bombarded the MITS stand with questions about the new model, and it wasn't until late in the day that anyone caught on to the joke. Today, these brochures are highly sought-after collector's items. What made it plausible was Woz's unorthodox sense of humor and that everything listed there did really exist at that time — the fictional computer just had little to do with those features. Except maybe 18 expansion slots — this was how many slots were in the full-feature Altair 8800 MB, though not all of them could be used for expansion.note MITS' S-100 bus was a passive backplane, and at least three to four slots were taken up by the CPU board, memory board, I/O board etc. The first Programming Language that could be rewritten on-the-flynote John Mc Carthy's Lisp was actually invented back in '55, but was virtually unknown in the microcomputer world, and a case might be successfully built that the case that will "add to the decor of any living room" was present in Woz's own work — the fair was a venue where the Apple ][ was first unveiled, and it was the first fruit of Steve Jobs' famous "computer as appliance" philosophy.
After years of secrecy English crop circle makers Doug Bower and Dave Chorley decided to fess up to their pranks in 1991, only to find many UFO-believers deciding that although the circles were man-made, the two must have been possessed by aliens who had made the circles through them. As Skeptoid sums up in an episode on crop circles:
It is an interesting world we live in, where you can tell a group of people that you made a crop circle with a rope, even show them how you did it, and they still insist that an unknown paranormal intelligence did it. You can tell them that two plus two equals four and they'll insist that it's five.
"The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)" by Ylvis was made by a pair of talk show hosts and was supposed to be a parody of runaway formulaic pop hits that became... a runaway formulaic pop hit.
Or for that matter, anything fronted by Billy Milano (S.O.D. and M.O.D. most notably). Flame wars have been fought over whether songs like "Speak English or Die" are satire or serious.
Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue." Is it a genuine (if a little overheated) expression of Patriotic Fervor, or an ironic glorification of the Eagleland (Flavor 2) mentality? It's really hard to tell. The song starts off sincere and heartfelt enough, but the abrupt shift from "melancholy" to "kickass" is bizarre enough to inspire at least a few self-aware chuckles. It gets even more confusing if you watch the music video, which backs up the lyrics with an intense montage of various U.S. military bombs, missiles, and fighter jets, looking almost like a Technicolor Dr. Strangelove. On balance: since most country songs don't feature so much violent or militaristic imagery, it's easy to see this as a spoof; however, the song's Crowning Music of Awesome and throat-grabbing finale make you want to take it at face value. So, all things being equal, it's all probably being played straight.
There's also his more overtly satirical "American Ride" from 2009, which got him considerable heat from both the political right and left for its political barbs. But as several music critics and even Keith himself pointed out, the song pokes funs at both sides of the political spectrum. (It should also be noted that it's one of the only singles in his career that he did not write.)
In a combination of this and Stealth Parody, Jethro Tull recorded the album Thick As A Brick as a deliberately over-the-top parody of concept albums and the Progressive Rock genre, after the previous album Aqualung was mistakenly called a concept album by the music press. It is widely considered one of the best progressive rock albums ever made, by music fans and journalists likely unaware that the work was a parody. Bandleader Ian Anderson still gets remarks from fans about how much older the fictitious child prodigy poet (Gerald Bostock) depicted in the cover art and album credits who "wrote" the lyrics to the album must be now in the present day.
However, the follow-up album A Passion Play is apparently a straightforward example, despite having the same structure.
Years later, Anderson also claimed that it was a parody of the concept albums by Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer however at the time Thick as a Brick was released, neither Yes nor ELP had even released one (Yes' would come two years later with "Tales From Topographic Oceans" and ELP would never release a concept album in their history) so it is quite possible that Anderson is being a bit of an Unreliable Narrator. He would finally embrace the concept in June 2012 when he released "Thick as a Brick 2." Though ELP had the album Tarkus and King Crimson made Lizard (both of them having sidelong epics) and Yes and Genesis had a penchant for long songs since the beginning. Maybe the success of Thick as a Brick helped bring it out further into the mainstream, essentially encouraging the trend of concept albums.
The Rap Critic states this as the problem with Kesha: She's supposedly a parody of current music, but when "serious" artists are making songs that are just as ridiculous, it's hard to tell.
U2's Zoo TV tour was intended to be an overt parody of mass media, but ironic content was so subtle that may fans believed their appreciation to be genuine. Their subsequent Pop Mart Tour upheld the theme of parody. This time, the target was consumer culture; and fans were just as baffled as they had been by Zoo TV.
The Beastie Boys' You Gotta Fight for your Right to Party was actually meant to mock partygoers and the whole 1980's party scene. How ironic that it became a hit at parties.
Former Alice in Chains vocalist Layne Staley was often baffled by the number of people who interpreted his songs as pro-drug anthems, remarking "Don't these people listen to my music? Don't they know it's actually about how awful heroin addiction is?"
News and Columns
The Onion is the embodiment of this trope, its satirical articles often being mistaken for real ones, while real extremist articles are often suspected of being Onion articles.
An article called "Harry Potter Sparks Rise In Satanism Among Children", in which six year old girls claim that "Jesus died because he was weak and stupid", was copied into a furious chain letter and circulated about the web. Commentators noted that many of the article's more obviously parodic passages were excised from the letter, suggesting that the poster may not have believed it him/herself. Regardless, it worked, triggering a panicked reaction among fundamentalists, in spite of (or perhaps because of) it ending with J.K. Rowling praising Satan. The very same article led to a concerned parent sending mail to Reader's Digest, criticizing them about interviewing Rowling. After a bit of back-and-forth, the reader mentioned reading about it on The Onion whereupon Reader's Digestpointed out that it's a humor paper, and Rowling is not really a Satan worshiper.
The blog Literally Unbelievable chronicles people taking Onion articles at face value and posting about them on Facebook. It is as hilariously depressing as it sounds. Poe's Law applies recursively here, as it's impossible to tell whether the Facebookers are just playing along with the joke.
The most controversial Onion example is their "Kelly" political cartoons, which still have people arguing about whether they're expressing or parodying conservative ideas. Although the real focus of the cartoons is less ideological than parodying the artistic cliches of bad, lazy political cartoons independent of any specific viewpoint.
Iran's FARS news agency fell for an Onion article that said more Americans would prefer Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be president than Obama. This is somewhat understandable from a country that believes Hollywood is controlled by Washington.
China's People's Daily Online reported as straight news the Onion story declaring North Korean leader Kim Jong Un the "sexiest man alive for 2012."
The British newspaper The Independentprinted a "CNN statement" on their saturation coverage of a "shocking" dance routine by Miley Cyrus that was actually a satirical Onion column speculating on their motivation.
While The Onion is perhaps the most famous satire newspaper on this list, other satire newsletters and satire news sites like The Daily Currant and Weekly World News can also fall to this. Snopes has numerous examples of rumors that were sparked by articles from these and more.
Syndicated columnist Jack Kilpatrick once wrote a column purporting to be an interview with an ACLU leader named Eton "Si" Eritas. Eritas claimed he was determined to remove all traces of religion from America, going so far as to change the names of any cities with religious connotations, such as San Francisco and St. Paul. This column shocked many people and sparked countless columns and letters to the editor flaming the ACLU. The only problem? Eritas didn't exist. Eton "Si" Eritas, spelled backwards, is "Note: Is Satire."
When Private Eye ran a mock-up Daily Telegraph cover, parodying the MP Expenses Scandal the paper broke by targeting its proprietors, the reclusive Barcley Brothers, they received a letter threatening them with libel action. Their response was that it was in the "joke" section of the magazine, it clearly wasn't a real news story, and they didn't think there was a case to answer.
Private Eye gets this from many newcomers who don't know where the cut-off points between the 'investigative journalism' pages and the 'parody' pages are. There are a lot of otherwise intelligent people who think From the Message Boards (a parody of Internet arguments which containseverythingyou'dencounter in a real Internet debate) is genuine.
The Guardian finally pokes fun at the long standing leftist idea that promoting humans rights in totalitarian hellholes is the modern definition of "imperialism". Doesn't it?
Right-wing British paper "The Daily Mail" recently decided to make fun of their readers with an article about how right-wing voters are stupider; while the article was intended to be an obvious satire (as no paper would be stupid enough to flat out insult their readers), the less intelligent readers quite aptly failed to consider it a joke, which prompted Guardian writer Charlie Brooker to deconstruct it (and it's not helped by the fact that there have been several actual "studies" and surveys that deliberately tried to imply this).
In an Onion-like newspaper in Mexico named El Deforma, there was a note about Samsung paying 1 billion dollars to Apple in coins of 5 cents. The note spread among othernewspapers, one of them, from Yahoo News (already deleted). There was another article making further fun about it.
This story from NPR's The World. The Serbian satire website NJUZ (pronounced "nyews", and self-admittedly The OnionIN THE BALKANS!) ran a fake story about a Serbian man who got drunk and jumped in the ocean, and landed on a shark, killing it. Macedonia's official news agency got hold of it and ran it as a real story, and things went downhill from there.
Iranian news saw an image by satire site The People's Cube showing Iran Hearts Jews, and took it for realz
Douglas G. McGrath had a regular humor column in The Nation which was supposed to be the fictionalized diary of a high-ranking bureaucrat in the George H.W. Bush White House. In one column, he had then-Vice President Dan Quayle giving a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars where he said, "The Civil War was the best war we ever had because when you're fighting with yourself you're always going to win." In Paul Slansky and Steve Radlauer's 1992 book Dan Quayle: Airhead Apparent, he claimed that the newsletter The Quayle Quarterly, dedicated to his mistakes, had contacted him because people had been contacting them to find out if the quote was real or not. McGrath said that if you were to put that fake quote on a page of real Quayle quotes, "you wouldn't even blink. It's the most interesting thing I know about Quayle: you can make up any quote, the more ridiculous the better, and it'll sound real." In fact, if you Google the quote, you will find it listed on pages of actual political quotes.
In July 2013, a Spanish website known as Ciencia Seminal (Seminal Science) claimed that Shigeru Miyamoto leaked during an interview about Pikmin 3 hints about Mario and Luigi being, instead of brothers, a gay couple (you can read it here). The way the news was written was so realistic that a large number of Spanish-speaking sites and even radio programs had echoed it as something real. As it turns out, the offending website is satirical. Kotaku has more info on here.
A lurid story alleging that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had executed his uncle by having him eaten alive by dogs was printed as potentially true by many English-language news outlets but turned out to derive from a Chinese-language comedy blog.
A February 18, 2014 opinion piece in The Harvard Crimson called "The Doctrine of Academic Freedom – Let’s Give Up On Academic Freedom in Favor of Justice" has the author argue that, instead of allowing academic freedom, universities should instead enact a policy of "academic justice" that actively bans and impedes any research that might be deemed offensive. "It is tempting to decry frustrating restrictions on academic research as violations of academic freedom. Yet I would encourage student and worker organizers to instead use a framework of justice. After all, if we give up our obsessive reliance on the doctrine of academic freedom, we can consider more thoughtfully what is just." The almost entirely negative responses in the comments include numerous accusations that the author is a troll or a satirist, with one guy saying "Was this cross-posted on The Onion?" while another person says "There's something grimly admirable about an article that manages to be its own parody."
Brazilian philosopher Luiz Felipe Pondé published an article in of the most known Brazilian newspaper claiming that the reason why the Brazilian Right isn't relevant is because it doesn't know how to seduce women. Naturally, lots of person misinterpreted the satire: on the Left, people thought it to be mysoginistic and a misrepresentation of the Left, and on the Right, people thought it to be a ridiculous reason for their lack of relevance.
The now defunct blog AntiSpore (a parody blog from supposedly a Christian Creationist taking issue with the themes Spore had on Evolution) fooled many gamers and even websites like Kotaku and Joystiq, at least until some very obvious notes on the blog's "Real About Page" were added, like the following:
Even after this, people kept up arguing against him for over a thousand comments; there are over 2500 total, and the balance slowly shifts to people actually getting the joke, but toward the end there are still one or two condemning him as a bigot. Most of them apparently didn't even read the entry, and some of them who did read it, and pointed out he'd gotten the Bible verses wrong.
When G4 held their 2011 VideoGame Deathmatch and pitted The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim against The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, the Zelda Universe fansite posted an article sarcastically imploring their readers to help Skyrim, "our favorite game," help win the vote. So many people in the comments took it at face value that ZU had to post another article explaining that it was meant to be a joke. Incidentally, the comments themselves exhibit this trope as well; site members who got the joke tried to partake of the sarcasm in their own comments and got said comments voted down to as low as -20.
The "Laughing scene" in Final Fantasy X, which was intentionally made to sound fake and over-the-top in-context, was mistaken as a legit attempt at acting and is frequently held up as an example of poor-English voice acting.
A Facebook page impersonating Satoshi Tajiri posted the following: "You all think you have great ideas for Pokemon games, but if I actually listened to all of you and we combined all of your ideas into a game, it would be an unplayable monstrous game. You want a game with all the regions, but only the first generation Pokemons, yet all the legendary ones and such silly things. Whenever I receive one of these rants, I go to the development floor and read it out loud to all the Game Freak employees in a mocking voice, and we all laugh at you." Fans were shocked that the creator of something they loved so much was such a dick - those who didn't realize that even if Tajiri spoke English this well, he'd darn well know that "Pokemons" isn't a word, anyway.
Grabbed by the Ghoulies was released as a parody of the Haunted House trope. However, a lot of people criticized the game for taking tropes it parodied completely straight. IGN even listed it as one of the worst "Survival Horror" titles ever. Yes, they put a parody of many Survival Horror games as a straight example of a bad one. (Even if it isIGN.)
Web — Misc
Popehat closed their fake Twitter account for North Korea's propaganda ministry after legitimate news agencies started picking up stories from it.
When Internet Infidels Discussion Board decided to start a contest of making parodies of the creationist organization Answers in Genesis cartoons, they received a cease and desist letter from the latter claiming that the parodies "clearly (are) likely to cause confusion as to the affiliation between your client and my client..." Here's an example: original◊ and parody◊.
A viral marketing ploy for the movie Hell's Half Acre created the WUCP, an organization that represents the What Do You Mean, It's Not for Kids? mentality to the most logical extreme by acting shocked when they see the movie trailer and are appalled that this is being passed off as children entertainment and call for it to be banned. It's so over the top that no one would believe it was real, right? Well, as a look at the comments will point out, many people took it seriously. On a plus side, the movie producers did get quite a bit of free publicity.
The Bonsai Kitten web site, which admittedly was a very sick joke, was a joke nevertheless (close inspection of several of the photographs revealed that they were obviously posed, such as a kitten supposedly "in" a bottle being actually behind it). Still, the site drew tons of protests, including several chain letters, from those who failed to grasp the parody.
Even for those who accept it's parody, the argument goes that those who take it for real might try and do that to actual kittens.
Tech parody site B Bspot ran an article claiming that the MPAA was lobbying Congress to pass a law requiring anyone who owns a home theater setup to purchase a home theater license, and additionally, that they would require people to install surveillance devices to make sure there were no unauthorized home screenings. Even though the site only runs parodies and not actual news, they had to run a second article explaining this fact to all the people who read it and thought it was real.
A group parodying the Tea Party released videos advocating a boycott of Disney's Aladdin on the grounds that it was Islamic propaganda. Many were confused as to whether the videos were serious or not, but in this case the fact that it was believable as a Tea Party position was part of the point of the parody.
PolitiChicks, a right-wing "answer" to The View, has led to endless discussion in the comment section (as well as on anumber of othersites) about whether it's serious or a parody, with the fact that Saturday Night Live alumna Victoria Jackson is involved causing the impression that it's all a skit. Of course The View has comedians as part of their panel too, and if Victoria Jackson's not genuinely the conservative tea-partier that every bit of public speaking she's done in the last four years indicates, then she's reached Andy Kauffman levels of Stealth Parody.
Similarly the Radical Feminist blog "Femonade." is widely regarded as an inspired parody due to it's relentless use of feminist tropes ('all heterosexual sex is coerced', 'all of the internet is porn', 'all men are bad', 'all transsexuals are men subverting women') taken to an unsustainable extreme. Comments against the blog consist of trolls trying to outdo each other, although including the occasional poster who is not in on the joke and would seem to believe it to be real.
Regretsy, a website that makes fun of ridiculous Etsy products (its tagline is "Where DIY Meets WTF") recently debuted a column called "Etsy or Regretsy?", where they intersperse actual bizarre Etsy listings with parodies created by the Regretsy staff, and have the readers guess which are real and which are fake. It's harder than you'd think.
The "Amanda Bieber" Twitter account (more info here) is notorious for criticizing other musicians in praise of Justin Bieber. Her(?) comments are so full of ignorance (e.g. Kurt Cobain is inferior to Bieber because he never got big on Twitter, France is an Islamic country) and hateful vitriol (nonwhite people need to leave America, gays shouldn't have rights) that she must be a Troll. Right?
The Twat-O-Tron was created as a parody of many semi-coherent and angry commenters in the BBC website's "Have Your Say" section. It produces randomly generated rants formed from careful analysis of the HYS comments, and the results are not unlike the "From the messages boards" section in Private Eye: often sadly indistinguishable from the real thing. The source database has sadly not been kept up to date.
The Conservapedia article on George W. Bush once said that he was "one of the greatest presidents in American history," that he was "successfully able to salvage the Hurricane Katrina rescue effort after it was sabotaged by a Democratic/Islamo-Fascist conspiracy", and that his unpopularity is entirely due to him being forced by the Democratic Congress to push through bank bailout packages.
The root of the issue is that the site's proprietor, Andy Schlafly, keeps the site under tight control. The number of satirists has led him to become ever more paranoid and ban-happy... the result being that only the parodists remain◊, driving him ever-deeper into his mad spiral of paranoid banning.
Rational Wiki speculates that this is the first living example of a "Poe Paradox" — that in any given fundamentalist group, any new person/idea sufficiently fundamentalist to be accepted by the group will come off as being so ridiculous as to risk being called a parodist or a parody.
This evolved into meta-humor once this entry made its way on there — particularly with this laughable assertion:
"Clearly, the cause of the mistake is not that the genuine article is no better than a mockery; rather, the cause of the mistake is that some people lack the critical thinking skills and/or experience to differentiate the two."
The caption below the picture of the Black Cat and number 13 on that page is even more hilarious. It quotes a Wall Street Journal article to claim that Christianity reduces belief in superstitions, yet the "unlucky 13" pictured is a superstition that has its origins in Christianity.
This is the basic premise of Rick Mercer's Talking to Americans where he travels around the US asking people about fake Canadian news stories. The show even got the better of some soon to be well known American politicians here.
Cracked.com has two articles about "Satirists Attacked by People Who Totally Missed the Point," here and here.
Also, see this article about how the blogger meant to come off as so ridiculous that nobody could take it seriously... and the media thought he was being literal.
Yet another article from the site was about a woman who had created a fake online dating profile to see if the rumor that men on that site would overlook personality flaws and mismatched tastes if the woman in the picture was "hot." Even though the profile depicted someone who was very rude and immature, she got a lot of replies.
There was also a woman on Craigslist who pretended to be a cow to see how many men wanted to date her anyway. About 20 sent in serious responses without reading the ad. 
During The Second Google Incident, several works were cutlisted in protest to say "This zero-tolerance policy will likely cut this". While obvious ultrafamous works like Romeo and Juliet* Which has a history of being used this way had little risk, Black Bird ended up being cut for real (it was restored afterwards).
One recurring segment of The Chaser's War On Everything played subtitled clips from more extreme Middle-Eastern television shows which decried the west in the most ridiculous ways possible, including Tomorrow's Pioneers, a Palestinian childrens' show ripping off Mickey Mouse but encouraging hatred of the west in children. Given what the War on Everything is normally like, one would expect the subtitling to be a Gag Sub, an exaggeration for comedic purposes. It turns out it's legit — they had to put in disclaimers establishing that The ABC had independently confirmed the legitimacy and accuracy of the subtitles.
Not Always Right and other such "true story of human idiocy" collections are just plausible enough that it's impossible to know for certain how many of their submissions are genuine, though at least one is a known Urban Legend.
A parody series on YouTube, made by Jellopocalypse, is named "Welcome to [insert website name]", which consists of fake guides, parodying the stereotype, problem or otherwise funny things that the website, being parodied, contains. When the "Welcome to Tumblr" parody hit YouTube, it wasn't long until Poe's Law hit the fan.
And inspeaking of Tumblr, there are several blogs on the very site that were written as a parody, but Poe's Law has kicked in and it's hard to tell them apart from many other blogs and "ask" questions on the site.
There is a wide-spread rumor found around the web that says that TV Tropes features works pages for at least anime series that are completely fraudulent. The "series" in question contain so many of the stereotypical anime tropes and they are described in such a fanboyish way that its impossible to actually tell these pages from the ones featuring real anime series. Presumably, this is meant as tropers engaging in Self-Deprecation. Ironically, it's also possible that this rumor is another example of this trope.
The now-defunct website marryourdaughter.com was a website purporting to sell teenage girls (some as young as 13) to prospective husbands (provided they submitted a "suitable" proposal). It was presented as a way for parents to earn some money, get rid of Bratty Teenage Daughters, and as a way for fundamentalists to marry daughters offBiblically. The website was all a hoax, intended to point out inconsistencies in US marriage laws regarding age of consent and such.
This also showed up in the episode "Trapped in the Closet" when an official narrates Xenu's origin story. The phrase, "This is what Scientologists actually believe" was put in because it would've been indistinguishable from the show's weird humor to those who didn't already know the story. Even then, some people still didn't believe it, because even that sounds like something South Park would do.
The 16th season episode "Sarcastaball" revolves around a game which Randy invents as parody, but which everyone else takes seriously.
A YouTube user named Tamtampamela had a channel on which she posed as a satire of fundamentalist Christians, but when she put up a video thanking God for the Japanese earthquake, saying that he had caused it to punish Japan's atheist population, it immediately went viral and she started receiving death threats, causing her to eventually come clean that it was a parody.
Just as YouTube user potholer54 was about to nominate a creationist for his 2008 Golden Crocoduck Award (given to the creationists who knowingly and most effectively lied to support their arguments), the creationist outed himself as a satirist. Despite this, potholer explained that one of his arguments (the rings of Saturn prove a young solar system) is actually used by some creationists. Watch for yourself here.
Several YouTube videos, such as the famous "Angry German Kid" video were originally made to satirize how German politicians saw gamers. Unfortunately, if you ask around today, most people won't actually know it's faked because of how easy it is to put on a show for the camera.
Another famous video, the Greatest Freakout Ever: At least 3/5 of the comments were "Boy, this is what World of Warcraft does to people?!?", ignoring that you can replace "World of Warcraft" with "Xbox Live" or "EverQuest" and it'd still make sense...or that. The internet still seems to be divided between those who think it was fake and those who think it was real, without any conclusive proof one way or the other.
Detractors often point to the over-the-top reactions of Steven (the freakout kid) as clearly being acted.
P.Z. Myers fell victim of this in this blog post where he rants about an anti-feminism YouTube video while labeling it as "Our Opposition", it should be noted that some of the commentators of his blog started invoking this law pointing out that it was so over-the-top it had to be a parody, only to be dismissed by the rest of the commentators and P.Z. himself. Then the original poster of the video made a response videoMSTing and mocking P.Z. and his commentators for taking it at face value.
The maker of this "Cinema Trailer Sins" video criticizing the teaser for Godzilla (2014) had to post a comment stating that his extreme nitpicking and Insane Troll Logic were never meant to be taken seriously after Godzilla fans lashed out at him and got the video downvoted really low.
An in-universe example would be Leo and Max's 'Springtime for Hitler' gambit in The Producers; they aimed to produce the biggest flop ever so they could make off with the investment money, so they took in a story glorifying Hitler and made it as offensive as they could. Unfortunately, the actor playing Hitler himself was so terrible that the audience assumed that it was a parody, and the show sold out. The director deciding to throw in some catchy musical segments didn't help.
In the musical version the former Nazi Franz who will be playing the part of Hitler breaks his leg just prior to curtain, and is replaced by the director — who turns flamboyant up to eleven. The original version had him played by a beatnik.
Roger Ebert noted that this is what actually torpedoed Leo and Max's scam. If they had gone all out (i.e, featured the Holocaust or Operation Barbarossa in their pro-Nazi musical), then their plan would actually have worked, as nobody would want to see satire that distasteful.
Taken to something of a logical extreme in Homestuck, where Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff, Dave's Stylistic Suck webcomic, is described as "a webcomic ironically maintained through a satirical cipher" with "legions of devoted fans, most of whom are totally convinced" of his sockpuppet persona's sincerity. A bit of meta irony kicks in when you consider that in real life, Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff actually is much better known than Homestuck and MSPA, and genuinely does have legions of devoted fans (though most of them are well aware of its ironic Stylistic Suck value).
In a Checkerboard Nightmare arc, the titular character creates a children's show centered entirely around promoting himself and his merchandise. Said Merchandise-Driven nature is so transparent that the show becomes a hit amongst teenagers and young adults who mistake it for biting satire (the fact that Chex could only afford for the show to be run on a 4AM timeslot didn't help).
In Erasure, an intellectual black author, sick and tired of his philosophical books being passed over for publication because they're not suitably "Black," writes a way, way over the top parody of thuggish ghetto-chic blaxploitation called My Paffology and has his agent send it out as a protest. Random House accepts the book at face value as a fierce portrayal of the Black experience and pays six hundred grand for it. The book, now renamed Fuck, goes on to win the National Book Award.
This is what got the Bill of Life, which allows parents to have their children's body parts be divided and used as transplants once they reach age thirteen, passed in Unwind; it was proposed in order to make both sides in the Heartland War realize how ridiculous they were being. What wasn't expected was both pro-choice and pro-life people to embrace it as the only way to compromise.
In P. G. Wodehouse's short piece "How Kid Brady Broke Training", Kid Brady, after reading a magazine, goes off meat and starts an all-fruit diet under the belief that it will make him a better fighter. He later meets the article's author, who tells him that it was meant as satire, "[b]ut so subtle and delicate is my humor that apparently the thing is misleading".
The South Park episode "The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs" has this happen: Upon finding out that The Catcher in the Rye is overhyped, the kids write an offensive story about nothing in particular, solely to be more offensive than The Catcher in the Rye was claimed to be. The adults find it, and believe that it's a great literary work, even after the kids explicitly tell them that it is nothing more than a string of gross-out attempts on paper, and that there is no actual story in it.
In The Nostalgia Critic's review of Scooby-Doo, his younger self defends the movie by claiming that it's making fun of the show's pointless celebrity cameos. The Critic responds that no, the movie just has pointless celebrity cameos.
A common problem on blogs like "White Whine" and other collections of First World Problems — for every entry that is a genuine example of someone engaging in over-the-top and unnecessary complaining about a trivial issue, there is another which is clearly either a parody of that type of person or someone who is perfectly aware that their current issues are trivial but are simply exaggerating for humourous effect or to vent.
An episode of The Simpsons has Marge finding a copy of The Onion on her neighbor's coffee table. Upon reading it, Marge is surprised at the headlines only to be informed that it's satire. Next, Marge opens the paper and upon reading the movie reviews, laughs at what the critics say about the movies only to find out the movie reviews are real.
A passage in What Th—?, Marvel's parody comic, has a hypothetical story in which the Fantastic Four meet Superman. The writer of the story comments in a footnote that it is impossible to write a parody of The Thing's dialogue that doesn't sound exactly like something he would really say.
An episode of Murphy Brown had Murphy passing off a painting her infant Avery had created, with the fake name of "A. Very". One critic thought it was brilliant. The other thought it was child scribblings. An art buyer bought it for an obscene amount because the two critics were arguing over it.
In the Beavis and Butt-Head episode "Buttniks," they wander into a coffee shop and witness a poetry slam. Butt-Head goes on stage and deliberately stinks up the joint to the annoyance of the crowd. Beavis drinks lots of Frappucino (or, as he called it, "Crappucino") and turns into the Great Cornholio and goes off on an insane incoherent rant. The audience loves it and call it "ground-breaking stuff," instead of recognizing it as the babblings of an overcaffeinated psycho.
Exploited and combined with Refuge in Audacity in the Honor Harrington book On Basilisk Station through the "big lie" theory. After the Republic of Haven gets their hand caught in the cookie jar regarding their schemes with Basilisk, Honor hopes that Havenite civilians will see through their government's outrageously falsePropaganda Machine, which paints themselves as the real victims of the debacle, just as easily as the Manticorans have. Unfortunately, as gets explained to her by experts on such matters, the fact that said propaganda is so outrageously false is also what leads the Havenites to accept it at face value; they would never believe that their governing authorities would deliberately lie to them in such an audacious manner, so they end up believing them even when they are lying.
Discussed on Zero Punctuation. More than once (such as in his review of Deadpool) Yahtzee states that video game violence is already so extreme and ridiculous that its nearly impossible to parody.
Darrel Bristow-Bovey's self-help satire I Moved Your Cheese complains about how hard it is to write a self-help satire: "When it comes to the self-help genre, the line between satire and the real thing is drawn in water with a blunt pencil."
Invoked in a devastating satire by Australian comedian Craig Reucassel, in which he said that the controversial climate-change skeptic Lord Monckton note infamous for comparing environmentalists to Hitler Youth, among other claims was a satirical character played by Sacha Baron Cohen— and proceeded to interview an unsuspecting Monckton himself about it, asking such questions as "Will we ever see Ali G or Borat come back?" Monckton was bewildered, to say the least.
In the Family Guy episode "Brian Writes a Bestseller", Brian manages to pull this off with a hastily-written self-help book called "Wish It, Want It, Do It", which he wrote as a statement on self-help books in general. However, it winds up becoming a bestseller, and he ultimately buys into his own hype. It ultimately takes Bill Maher to get Brian to admit the truth and be shooed off the set.
Ha, you fell for it! This isn't a TV Tropes article at all, it's a scathing parody of one.