Say Hello To PatriotHole, The Onion’s Response To Right-Wing Sensationalism
Where right-wing Facebook rants stop, PatriotHole starts
Three weeks ago, fans of ClickHole, The Onion’s sister site that satirically traffics in click-baiting and emotionally manipulating its readers for, well, clicks, found that their beloved publication was no more. Its social media presence and its homepage had been abruptly hijacked by PatriotHole, an unknown quantity with a powerful and confusing name.
An explanation of the takeover was blasted out across ClickHole’s social media platforms as well as those of The Onion and The A.V. Club.
What the messaging lacked in fundamental comprehension of light and sound, it more than made up for with enthusiasm and righteousness. In the same vein that ClickHole sought to outshame shameless click-bait sites with feel-good stories and misguided empowerment, PatroitHole would take that same Baroque approach, equating right-wing ideology and paranoia with virtue.
Just as the clumsy ClickHole name dispensed with all subtlety in pandering to the BuzzFeed masses, so too does PatriotHole, this time around targeting the Fox News faithful. However, with no warning or prelude, the abrupt launch could easily have been construed as an ad hoc response to … something.
The Comey scandal in the making? Health care? A shift in media? As is the case with The Onion and ClickHole’s straight-faced approach to satire, PatriotHole, aside from the very in-character missive tweeted above, is heavy on content but light on context.
Two days after the PatriotHole brand launched, ClickHole took back its brand and site, relegating PatriotHole to its current home, a tab on Clickhole’s homepage. The whole affair, much like the phenomenon it targets, was disjointed, illogical, and, above all, loud. It was clear from a few minutes on the site that we weren’t going to get any color on what the hell PatriotHole was without talking to the guys who created PatriotHole.
So we called Matt Powers and Jamie Brew, two of the guys who created PatriotHole.
The two were quick to explain that the confusing launch of PatriotHole was, like their satire, methodical and deliberate. According to Powers, ClickHole’s editor in chief, the sudden launch of PatriotHole wasn’t indicative of its ideation, which took place months prior, sometime around Donald Trump’s inauguration.
“So much of the American political climate was in upheaval, and so many things were in flux. There were a lot of scary things happening and a lot of uncertainty, and it coincided with this rise in these fringe conspiracy political sites that one year ago or two years ago were not in the discourse. These are crazy sites that only your uncle's weird friend shares on Facebook,” he said.
The transition from the comically insignificant fluff championed by ClickHole to the weightier political fare of PatriotHole was revealed by Jamie Brew, ClickHole’s head writer, to be more organic than one may intuit. “Writing in a highly emotional, opinionated point of view is something that ClickHole likes to do, so we already write a bunch of stuff that takes a strong emotional stance that holds things up as heartwarming,” he said.
Substituting “patriotic” for “heartwarming,” PatriotHole was operating off a proven template. In the world of satire, tone trumps all else. It’s the reason The Onion hasn’t just ruled the satirical news space for far longer than it would seem possible, but also the reason no publication has even attempted a respectable run at its title.
Brew continued, “We noticed that there’s a whole different world that also writes in an emotional, strong-stance mode. The switch was pretty natural for us. It was a pretty easy switch to make to celebrate coal and Mike Pence.”
I asked Powers and Brew if they considered setting the liberal media in their sights as a more clandestine and subversive target, and was surprised to learn that PatriotHole existed as a departure from the liberal media satire they’d been churning out at ClickHole for years.
“I would say that [Clickhole’s] default is writing in the voice of left-leaning sites, articles about social justice wins and body positivity wins,” said Powers. “The internet we have been using is the internet that manipulates your emotions to click on something.”
It’s unlikely that the public will suffer the same confusion in determining the philosophical targets of PatriotHole.
In keeping tabs on the meta affair that is the launch of PatriotHole, it’s both important and difficult to bear in mind that PatriotHole has no political beliefs. Like ClickHole, it exists only generate clicks and sell ads. It validates you so that you share articles and revisit the home page. There is no overarching editorial doctrine. There exist no guiding principles.
“Clickhole exists to get traffic by any means necessary, and it realized that it could achieve that goal by courting the Breitbart/InfoWars groups,” said Powers. “It’s craven Clickhole trying to get clicks.”
Brew continues, “The website Clickhole has no political views. Its only goal is to get clicks however it can.”
As for the release, the plan was always to arrive with bombast, then slink back, suggesting that PatriotHole’s (fictional) management would believe that a splashy debut would suffice in capturing their audience, allowing ClickHole’s (fictional) management to target the next audience it panders to.
Powers explains, “After two day of PatriotHole taking over ClickHole, we reverted back to realizing, in voice, that we could now get clicks from the left and right. Very cynically, we’re playing both sides.”
To that end, the more impressive PatriotHole feat isn’t its ability to mock Breitbart or Infowars, but rather its aping of the tactics, both editorial and managerial, at play in the entire industry of media. The creators’ attention to ephemeral details was such that if you didn’t catch their tactics and note their corresponding intent in near real time, you missed much of the exercise. But that’s also exactly why a project that’s just weeks old is already worthy of a retrospective at the same time it’s still being introduced.