"Factually Inaccurate, Morally Correct": How The Babylon Bee Brings News Satire to the Right
Bach, Parker, Media, Culture, and Technology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Swartz, Lana, AS-Media Studies, University of Virginia
Founded in 2016, the Christian-conservative satire website The Babylon Bee has come to be known as “The Onion of the Right,” and bucks the decades-long trend of the Left dominating news satire in the United States. This thesis aims to understand how The Babylon Bee operates as a satiric voice on the Right and as a digital-age content creator.
In the first chapter, I locate The Babylon Bee within the tradition and writings of cultural theory, and how its twenty-first century American conservatism may require adaptation of such ideas, focusing on the public sphere and the carnivalesque. Providing such adaptations of existing theory, I introduce the notions of the conservative countersphere and the quasi-carnivalesque.
In the second chapter, I examine the political economy of The Babylon Bee, introducing the term “recursive commodification,” by which The Babylon Bee and other sites augment immanent commodification with free user labor online in order to create a feedback loop of profit. I further argue that The Babylon Bee adopts the strategies of marketing resistance and constructing an echo chamber to draw users into the cycle of recursive commodification and keep them engaged therein.
In the third chapter, drawing on close examination of hundreds of articles by The Babylon Bee, I introduce five discursive tactics that The Babylon Bee uses in its satiric commentary. Four of these tactics are common to political discourse on the American Right, but The Babylon Bee’s greatest discursive innovation over other conservative media on one hand and satiric media on the other is its reliance on profound ironic ambiguity and polysemy.
Ultimately, The Babylon Bee demonstrates that digital content creators and the American Right share similar incentives and strategies, aiming to cast a wide net and maximize engagement rather than come to a consensus on specific issues. Moreover, the popularity of The Babylon Bee proves that conservative satire is not only possible, but a crucial area of study in order to better understand the transideological politics of satire and the culture and discourse of the American conservative countersphere.
MA (Master of Arts)
political satire, American conservatism, the carnivalesque, political economy, commodification, the public sphere, irony, The Babylon Bee