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Olson: An Orchard in The Onion

Published: Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

If the story about Jonamac Orchard had appeared in the Daily Chronicle, Kevin McArtor probably would have been pretty angry with me.

But it was in The Onion, so it was OK.

“Haunted corn maze owner has another conversation with Zombie No. 2 about not touching,” was the headline. The made-up story talks about a supposed conversation between the “owner” of Jonamac Orchard and one of the zombies in the orchard’s haunted corn maze. You can read it online at TheOnion.com.

McArtor said he had no advance warning that his family business would be in the story, and he doesn’t know who wrote it.

“Apparently from what I’ve learned since then, they have freelance writers, and I’m assuming there’s one in the area that’s been out there or has some connection with us,” McArtor said.

The Onion is a satirical humor newspaper. Its writers make up stories in order to make people laugh. However, the great thing about The Onion is that the stories are usually have some basis in reality – hence the newspaper format.

You can tell when someone hasn’t heard of The Onion because they’ll mistake the stories for real reporting. The paper has fooled the likes of China’s People’s Daily newspaper, which reported an Onion story about North Korea’s Kim Jong-un being voted “sexiest man alive.” The Iranian state news agency fell for a story that said rural white Americans preferred Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to President Barack Obama. On the home front, ESPN sportscaster Steven A. Smith got all worked up about a story about him having “the sex argument” with a 9-year-old son he doesn’t have.

McArtor, however, has been an occasional reader of The Onion for years, so he got the joke. Perhaps coincidentally, the made-up news story was grounded in fact about the orchard’s corn maze.

“It was kind of funny that they have a great picture of a zombie, and this year one of our sets is called our ‘Zombie Quarantine Area,’ ” McArtor said.

Zombies are as hot now as vampires used to be, and the maze now includes a section populated by actors playing zombies, McArtor said. There’s a chain-link fence and a guard who opens the gate, and people have to escape while being menaced by the undead.

But not touched by them. That is one of the things they stress to the 40 to 50 actors who help haunt the orchard’s 10-acre corn maze before the start of each season, McArtor said.  

“I’m pretty sure [the actors] don’t touch people,” McArtor said. “They get touched, certain people will try things. We have more trouble with that.

“So it was kind of funny in that zombie piece … they took that tack with the article.”

Personally, I’m kind of jealous. I’ve been reading The Onion since the 1990s and have several collections of their stories. It’s great satire. It was exciting to see a place I knew in one of my favorite lunchtime reads.

It’s also good free advertising for the 105-acre orchard at 19412 Shabbona Road in Malta that McArtor’s father, Jerry McArtor bought in 1984. Today, Kevin runs the family business, along with his wife Denice, sons Max and Jake, his niece Jenna Spychal and her husband Mike. The haunted corn maze is open tonight from 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., and Friday and Oct. 26.

The maze can be scary for people, and it’s not recommended for young children who might scare easily. General admission is $10, $8 for those younger than 12.

The story in The Onion, though is totally made up, including the punchline at the end about “the wolfman.”

“I’m hoping nobody thinks we had to fire somebody for exposing themselves,” Kevin McArtor said.

Right. Again, totally made-up.  

Hey, dummy: There are some news story topics that I’m just finished with.

Sports stories about how the NFL is so greedy and evil for having games on Thursdays, jokes about how bad Congress is (we elect these people, folks), anything containing the term “Obamacare,” and any story that wants me to relive the Cubs’  postseason collapse of 2003 are good examples.

Right up there on my list are these stories about how Americans are dumb.

You know these stories – The Associated Press had one this week. Some international group administers a test to random groups of people in countries around the world. They always seem to have the same end result, that Americans are dumb compared with people from Utopian states such as Japan, Finland, Belgium or South Korea.

The beginning might as well be, “Hey dummy, did you know you’re dumb? The Finns are way better readers than you.”

Spare. Me.

Comparing the United States with Finland, Japan, Belgium or most of these other countries with small, mainly cohesive populations, is silly.

There are 5.7 million people in Finland. The U.S. absorbed that many people between 2007 and 2012.

Japan’s a larger country, of about 127 million or so. They’re also famously xenophobic – their society is almost entirely comprised of Japanese and it’s near impossible to become a naturalized citizen. No one’s coming there to seek opportunities because that is not allowed, by and large. People don’t assimilate into that society, they are born into it.

There’s no country on earth quite like America, and the world knows it – that’s why people historically have come here in search of opportunity and still do today. When they get here, maybe they don’t arrive ready to score high marks on a reading test or a test of solving problems with technology.

But could such a dumb country could be the world’s No. 1 exporter of culture, the home of great technological innovators and the country where many of the world’s brightest come to get an education?

Do we need an educated workforce? Of course we do. Complacency when it comes to public education is unacceptable, and the ability to better one’s lot depends in large part on their access to education.

I also have seen the funny bits on TV where they walk the streets and find people who say they support the Affordable Care Act but not “Obamacare” (see above). Not everyone is Albert Einstein or Walter Cronkite.

These tests, though, where they tell us Americans aren’t too bright and bring forward other banal conclusions, such as “those with college-educated parents did better than those whose parents did not complete high school,” seem like an opportunity for America-shaming.

I’ve read that story enough, thanks.

Eric Olson is the editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841 ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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