Content Marketing

Baratunde Thurston Tells Us How to Read the World at SXSW Keynote

Humanity is ready for an upgrade, says Baratunde Thurston, director of digital for The Onion and author of “How To Be Black.”

For four years, Thurston has made mockery of America’s leading news stories for The Onion, the most popular satirical newspaper in the country. Anyone in on the joke knows that it’s all for fun. However, there have been times that the naive have mistaken Onion‘s fabricated stories were the truth, such as when Congressman John Fleming (R-LA) shared the Onion story “Planned Parenthood Opens $8 Billion Abortionplex” on his Facebook Page after believing it to be true. 

Perhaps unwittingly, The Onion has evolved into “a platform for expression and satire,” according to Thurston, saying comedians have always played a role in communicating truth directly. In a world where change is constant, comedy can be used for more than pure entertainment; it can be a driving force against political injustice.

Freedom of the press is sacred in the USA, which is how a publication like The Onion can run without conflict.  In other parts of the world, however, the Internet is the only tool to share political opinion. Thurston points to examples of comedians who are committing “true revolutionary magic,” such as Bassem Youssef, whose YouTube channel reports the serious issues of Egypt with sarcasm; Nigeria’s satirical Wazobia Report; and Iranian satirical news show Parazit, whose creators were told by Jon Stewart that “they had true guts” when they appeared on The Daily Show.

Digital tools are depended on by people all over the world. We have a responsibility, Thurston says, to bring the world humanity through storytelling, and in many cases, humor.

Quoting the Roman satirist Horace, Thurston declares: “A cultivated wit, one that badgers less, can persuade all the more. Artful ridicule can address contentious issues more competently and vigorously than can severity alone.” 

Below are examples of how the Twitterverse reacted to Baratunde Thurston’s SXSW keynote:

  • “Great keynote – Baratunde Thurston: “We’re about more here than checking in, we’re about upgrading our own humanity.” #keynotunde #SXSW @JimDayton 
  • “RT @SultanAlQassemi: Very true – At #SXSW @baratunde: “You can measure the tolerance of a government by how they deal with their comedians.”@Lisspanksta
  • “RT @mattpaul: “You can almost measure the freedom of a society by its tolerance for satire” @baratunde #SXSW @Eliza Nguyen
  • “Some great quotes from @Baratunde’s #SXSW Keynote: Everyone can create The code writer and screen writer have to work together @Chris Estes
  • “It’s not about humor. It’s about freedom. It’s about upgrading our own humanity. #keynotetunde @Brian Fitzgerald
  • “Baratunde Thurston challenges #SXSW community to be about more than just checking in. Delivered a lofty vision of human freedom in keynote. @JulieY
  • “Another pearl of wisdom from Baratunde Thurston #sxsw keynote, throwing machines at data to understand the world isn’t enough #wssxsw @allyson hugley
  • Image courtesy of News Taco

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