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Advanced Placement Essay Reviews » AP Essay Review: The Onion

AP Essay Review: The Onion AP Essay Review: The Onion


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You read the 2005 AP Prompt containing a selection from The Onion, a satirical publication. The selection presented was a mock advertisement for a company marketing Magna-Soles, the next generation of shoe inserts. The advertisment attempted to persuade consumers to buy Magna-Soles; however, the product is clearly a sham. The Onion's writers mock how companies market products to consumers, exposing their ridiculous methods.

For example, the following are among the varying objects of satire:

  1. Diction: In particular, scientific-sounding words. The mock ad uses numerous made up words that look and sound impressive but have no meaning. And so many real ads delude consumers through manipulation of words that make their product seem to be more than it is.
  2. Science: Connected to the above, the mock ad ridicules how men dressed up as scientists lend credibility to products when clearly they are not who they are presented as. Should actors dressed up in lab coats be reason to buy a product?
  3. Personal Testimonials: Many ads use satisfied consumers--but why should carefully selected testimonials persuade us? Obviously the company will only present testimonials that make the product seem worthwhile. The Onion mocks this process by presenting clearly falsified claims.
  4. Panacea: A panacea is a cure-all. Apart from providing foot-comfort, did you notice the other benefits of Magna-Soles? They benefit your back--and not only that--they can restimulate dead foot cells. (And you thought only God could raise the dead!) Isn't it absurd how companies present their products as meeting so many of our needs?
  5. Price: The Onion mocks the low, low price. You could spend thousands of dollars on something that works, or you could spend $20 on Magna-Soles. If Magna-Soles work, then why don't podiatrists go out of business?

Your paragraphs should look like the basic Academic (or Analytical) Paragraph:

CLAIM/OPINION: Identify an object of satire and briefly indicate its purpose.

EVIDENCE: Cite direct evidence, preferably using quotes, from the passage. Use multiple pieces of evidence if available. Quote only what is necessary (words, phrases, etc.). Only quote entire sentences if the full sentence is needed.

EXPLANATION/COMMENTARY: Explain HOW the evidence is satirical. Explain WHY The Onion is satirizing this marketing strategy; in other words, what is so ridiculous about it? Commentary shows your understanding. In this case, you must show that you recognize the satire and its purpose.


STUDENT SAMPLES WITH COMMENTARY:

NOTE: I have color-coded the claim/opinion in red and the commentary/explanation in blue. I have left direct evidence in black.

Testimonials are often used in advertising, and The Onion article uses them as a way to satirize the marketing of this product. This first testimonial, from Helen Kuhn, mentions that she twisted her ankle. When paired with MagnaSoles, her ankle seems to get better. But if anything is known about a twisted ankle, it's that it would be healed far earlier than seven weeks. Normal marketing advertisements use this strategy of testimonials that claim the product works, when really the person would have been fine without it. The article over-exaggerates this as a way to add satire.

COMMENT: This writer recognizes appropriate satire; however, note the vagueness of the claim/opinion: What do the  testimonials satirize? Always be specific. Perhaps say: The Onion presents a series of personal testimonials to satirize how marketers use false claims from allegedly "real people" to sell their product. The next area for improvement is the commentary. The point should be more fully developed. The writer should note that the personal testimonials are clearly misrepresentative, underscoring the marketers will (of course) always present claims that make their product seem ideal. You might ask: Why do we even pay attention to testimonials since companies will clearly only use--or create--ones that sell their product? This seems to be what The Onion is satirizing. So, to put it more simply, the writer here should explain WHY The Onion ridiculous overexaggerates here. What are they trying to say about marketers? This paragraph is common to a paper scoring a 4 or 5.


MagnaSoles and their "total foot rejuvenation system" continue to prop their product up on a pedestal of false claims and incorrect facts. "Only MagnaSoles utilize the healing power of crystals to restimulate dead foot cells with vibrational biofeedback...." In attempt to maker their insert more appealing to their audience, they completely misrepresent science. Their facts are just entirely wrong. It isn't possible to "restimulate dead foot cells." Once the cell dies, it cannot be rejuvenated or brought back to life. MagnaSoles then proceeds to say "...a process similar to that by which medicine makes people better." The senses of course can be enhanced, but that was not the claim stated. Cell life can only be renewed through cellular reproduction, not by any other means of exterior motivation.

COMMENT: This paragraph recognizes a beautiful example of satire that many readers miss (caught up, no doubt, in the scientific-sounding words). But note the vagueness of the claim/opinion. Try this: MagnaSoles and their "total foot rejuvenation system" continue to prop their product up on a pedestal of false claims and incorrect facts, which The Onion satirizes through an absurdity hidden behind scientific-sounding words. The added adjective clause indicates HOW the satire is incorporated, giving a more specific claim and understanding for the reader. Next, note that the commentary dwells on the fact that dead cells cannot be brought back to life. Excellent. But the writer should add further commentary explaining how this ridiculous absurdity included by The Onion satirizes marketers IN GENERAL. Remember, this mock advertisement satirizes how products are marketed to consumers. So, the writer should always address how this specific situation reflects a general pattern in real ads. Therefore, talk about how products make exaggerated claims in order to draw in consumers. We've all heard an ad say, "And not only that, but...." This paragraph is common to a paper scoring a 5 or 6.


The first strategy used by The Onion to satirize the product was the use of high profile scientific words that make the products seem more sophisticated and advanced. The article mocks the use of words such as "biomagnetic field," "reflexology," "Terranometry," and "biofeedback." Advertisers use these words words since they sound really scientific and the consumers really don't know what they mean. In reality, these words are just describing functions that every foot insole has. There is a mention of ContourPointstm which make this "new technology seem very advanced and rare since it is patented. This attracts the consumers who chase high end products.

COMMENT: This paragraph has a good, clear specific claim/opinion. Sufficient evidence is presented: Note how a series of words fitting a pattern is cited from different parts of the passage. Good! However, the commentary/explanation should be improved. The writer needs to explain WHY these strategies are ridiculous. WHY does The Onion mock the use of scientific-sounding words and patents? Especially note that the commentary/explanation in regards to the second point is not developed at all. What is so ridiculous about consumers buying products because they have a patent? This paragraph is reflective of a paper scoring a 5.  


In the passage, The Onion satirizes people's willingness to believe in well-marketed products even if they are ineffective. For example, a woman named Helen Kuhn is quoted a saying that she had twisted her ankle but after seven short weeks with MagnaSoles was cured. The irony, of course, is that a twisted ankle would normally heal after seven weeks anways, yet Kuhn insists that it was MagnaSoles that healed her, citing the fact that there was no hard evidence against the idea that the power of MagnaSoles healed her to insist it is true. This is indicative of an unintelligent consumer who will believe anything they are told, no matter how ridiculous, if it cannot be proven false--after all, there is no proof that unicorns do not exist, is there? Also mocked is consumers' willingness to believe advertiser's testimonials--a man, Geoff DeAngelis, is  quoted as saying that he believes in MagdaSoles because they are "clearly endorsed by an intelligent-looking man in a white lab coat." Though there is no more reason to believe this man based on the information DeAngelis gives than a man wearing a tinfoil hat raving about aliens, because the man appears intelligent DeAngelis automatically assumes what he says is true. This reflects a willingness to believe the authority of an advertiser and disinclination to look deeper into stated facts which are rampant in the consumer base.

COMMENT: This writer clearly recognizes elements of satire and effectively demonstrates an understanding as to WHY The Onion finds such marketing strategies ridiculous, even though they obviously work. Note how the writer uses analogies (unicorns, man raving about aliens) to show the absurdities. One flaw would be in the claim/opinion: What is meant by "even if they are ineffective"? However, the remainder of the paragraph implicitly clarifies what is meant. This paragraph is reflective of a 7. Correcting the minor vagueness and improving compositional skill (some sentences are a bit windy and rough) would move this paragraph to an 8 or 9 score.

 

 

 





Edward Wevodau
Colleyville Heritage High School
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