Lead image via ClickHole/Patriothole
Last Wednesday, regular readers and Twitter followers of ClickHole were treated to an overnight rebranding. The site, known for its parody of Uproxx, Upworthy, and similar viral sites, had taken a sudden right wing turn. As editor in chief Matt Powers jokingly put it, “We felt that ClickHole wasn’t reaching its beautiful click potential because it was marginalizing these groups in this growing market of people who like to say things louder than normal people. Our audience was too quiet and we wanted to court the loud people. So ClickHole has boldly become Patriothole in this climate where volume equals truth and truth equals clicks.” Instead of pieces like “Accessibility FTW! Tic Tac is Making Its Breath Mints 500 Times Larger For The Visually Impaired” and “Fascinating Social Experiment: These Millions of Women Tried Cheap Drugstore Makeup for Their Entire Lives,” the site was populated with articles like “What The Mainstream Media Won’t Tell You: 16 Years Ago, Radical Islamic Terrorists Crashed Airplanes Into The World Trade Center, Killing Thousands of Hardworking Americans” and “Powerful: Pringles Has Unveiled A Line of Damp Chips That Won’t Crunch Loud Enough to Ruin A Moment of Silence for Our Fallen Soldiers.” There is even an online store selling merch like a “liberal tears hand towel” and t-shirts mocking conservative platitudes. In other words, the site has taken a break from its satirization of Buzzfeed Listicles in order to skewer outlets like Breitbart, the Independent Journal Review, and The National Review — thank the clickbait overlords.
The Method Behind Their Madness
As with everything that ClickHole and its parent publication The Onion do, this project isn't just hilarious; it is yet another sharp satire of the media landscape. The rollout and content of PatriotHole are a direct response to the shifting media landscape in the aftermath of the 2016 general election. In the wake of Trump’s victory, publications across the Internet, large and small, have taken to digital soul searching. How could they have been so wrong in predicting a landslide Hillary Clinton victory? Liberals are still lamenting their “bubble,” where people drink lattes and understand that healthcare should not be subject to free market forces. In response to their missteps (be they real or imagined), news sites and blogs have added conservative voices in the interest of adding “balance” that most of their readers never asked for. Most notably, the New York Times op-ed page has lurched rightward with the hire of climate-denying, hippie punching Bret Stephens and the publication of pro-life op-eds. The Times isn't the only publication engaging in ideological hand wringing post-Trump. It seems every site that can afford it is sending reporters to “Real America” to talk to customers in diners who would rather be left to eat their sausage and eggs in peace.
In addition to mocking the right wing push at many publications, PatriotHole’s overnight rebrand is also a jab at the nature of online publications themselves. Many digital content sites are funded like start-ups, with venture capital and investors expecting a return. If the clicks aren’t there, the content has to change. Like any other business in the age of Silicon Valley, if a site isn't working, it is often expected to “pivot,” changing its mission completely. On any day, a writer or editor can come to work to find their site has a “new focus” on reality television or video content or weird foods or whatever investors might think could yield a little higher return. As easily as BuzzFeed could decide that their future is tied up in people trying new foods on video, a website could decide to change its entire identity overnight. For a real life account that feels like parody, read about “president-in-law” Jared Kushner’s time at the New York Observer, where he all but tanked a hallowed institution in pursuit of Silicon Valley-style “leanness.”
Why The Onion Keeps Winning
The Onion and their assorted projects have had the kind of successful run that you could compare to South Park or The Daily Show. Founded in 1988 and a household (or at least dorm room) name by the late ‘90s, the publication has served as a source for the most relevant satire to several generations of snarky young minds. If you want to know how difficult it is to sustain sharp satire over the years, go read some Doonesbury and try to explain what the hell you just looked at. Since its inception, The Onion has launched various ventures to keep up with the times. Though some of them have been short lived, all of them have been hilarious. For a couple years, they ran the fake gossip publication, Starwipe, that is now sadly defunct. They’ve dabbled in sports media parodies more than once. My personal favorite was when they “gave” a talk show to what appeared to be a 19th century prospector, resulting in a parody of Fox News talking head shows called “The Cressbeckler Stance.”
Over the weekend, the PatriotHole Twitter account reverted back to ClickHole. It seemed that the brief, beautiful experiment might go the way of Joad Cressbeckler. Thankfully, ClickHole released a message indicating that PatriotHole might be with us for a long while. In the statement, titled “ClickHole and PatriotHole are Joining Together To Profit Off A Fracturing America,” the site announced that its new rebrand would continue. They wrote, “By not having a moral compass, guiding principles, or even a passing concern for basic decency, we can get clicks from the Left and the Right. And that kind of pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps profiteering is what America is all about, excluding the absolute saints of Minnesota.”
Here's to PatriotHole's bright future mocking the current conservative movement, from Mike Cernovich to Harlan Hill to Tomi Lauren, and the soulless media environment that allows them to flourish. But, if the day comes when PatriotHole does shut down, we can be confident another brilliant satirical project will emerge in its place.
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