The world of satire is a funny, fictional place.
But every now and then, some unwitting soul mistakes it for reality. Which is how the imaginary Dr. Davis Logsdon of the University of Minnesota ends up fooling some of the people some of the time.
Logsdon is a much quoted and multitalented source who often drives the punchlines in “The Borowitz Report,” a humor column — clearly labeled satire — that satirist Andy Borowitz writes for the New Yorker magazine.
Here’s an example:
In June, Borowitz wrote about an Alabama man “whose brain was ravaged by severe amnesia,” yet somehow is able to function “in an extremely demanding legal job.” He quoted Dr. Davis Logsdon of the Neurology Department at the U Medical School.
Said Logsdon: “In all the medical literature, we have never seen an example of someone capable of holding down such a high-powered job while having no memory whatsoever of people he met, things he said, places he has been, or thoughts he has had. It’s the stuff of science fiction.”
The unnamed “Alabama man” in the photo with the column? Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
But who was this Logsdon guy who diagnoses from afar?
Borowitz fans are familiar with Logsdon and his unique résumé. In addition to being a neurologist, he’s been quoted as a presidential historian, economist, pollster, dean of education, fellow with the Pimp Research Institute, psychiatry prof, dean of a journalism school and more.
All the jobs are linked to the University of Minnesota.
And they’re all fiction. As is Logsdon.
But the U is real, of course, which leads to the question: Why Minnesota?
“I didn’t want to have my go-to expert be from someplace like Harvard or Stanford that might have too many connotations for the reader,” Borowitz said via e-mail.
“I wanted to choose a place that would seem as generic as possible. Being from the Midwest (Ohio), I think of Midwestern things as generic, largely because we’re in flyover country and people don’t bother to investigate what we’re actually like.”
Any reaction from the U?
“I’m not aware of any reaction, but I can’t imagine them being upset,” he said. “It only enhances the university’s reputation that they have one faculty member who is an expert in so many disciplines.”
To which the university responded:
“We are proud of Dr. Logsdon’s work and the visibility it brings to the University of Minnesota, which we would like to stress to Mr. Borowitz’s readers is in fact a very real place, with faculty, students and staff working hard to tackle very real and important issues impacting Minnesota and beyond,” said spokesman Evan Lapiska, adding that the university has known of Borowitz for years.
“As you may know, a talkative, self-promoting Midwesterner is hard to come by, and we just wish we had as much luck getting Dr. Logsdon to respond to other requests as Mr. Borowitz has had over the years.”
But he’s real on the internet
Borowitz’s humor might once have been limited to New Yorker readers. But over the years of Logsdon’s “existence,” the internet has upended the cultural landscape.
Borowitz pleads ignorance.
“I have no idea who did that!” he said. “There’s a very dogged Logsdon superfan out there.”
So maybe it’s inevitable that Logsdon sometimes gets mistaken as real.
A blog by a Bernie Sanders fan once noted “a remarkably skeptical piece” by Logsdon suggesting that Sanders’ “failure to become a member of either major political party excludes him from the network of cronyism and backroom deals required under our system to be elected.”
The blogger naively was quoting the Borowitz Report — although you can almost see how he believed it.
And there was the New Zealand physicist calling for swift action on climate change, citing Logsdon’s study about a “powerful new strain of fact-resistant humans.” They appear capable of receiving and processing information, “yet have developed defenses that, for all intents and purposes, have rendered those faculties totally inactive.”
Again, the physicist was quoting the Borowitz Report — although, again, you can almost see how he believed it.
Borowitz has created other recurring fake people who hold a variety of jobs, depending on the joke, but they hail from across the country.
Only Logsdon maintains an exclusive connection with Minnesota.
A time that ‘defies satire’
Borowitz said news satire long has relied on “quoting bogus studies, reports and research findings.” But these days, social media reposting can move a piece of writing far from its source, blurring the line between reality and comedy.
“I have some faith in mankind,” Borowitz said, “but I think mankind needs to work on its reading comprehension.”
Real headlines don’t help matters, he said.
“The Trump era defies satire,” he said. “Once millions of Americans decided it was a good idea to give a game show host nuclear weapons, there’s nothing left to invent. I’m more or less just transcribing reality now.”
In the silver lining department, the challenge of sorting satire from reality has encouraged more double-checking of sources and heeding of editorial labels.
Yet we still are left with the strange case of the unsuspecting Canadian chemistry professor.
Earlier this summer, two Minnesota educators were debating Logsdon’s existence, suspecting he was fake, yet initially befuddled by the Facebook and LinkedIn profiles. One ran a Google Image Search on the profiles’ photo and it came up linked to a man named Tucker Carrington Jr.
Turns out Carrington is a respected professor of theoretical chemistry at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. It also turns out he had no idea his face had been repurposed.
E-mailed about the situation, Carrington said: “I’d rather no one used my photo, but I am not sure what I can do about it. Thank you for informing me.”
For his part, Borowitz said he’s never heard of Carrington and had nothing to do with usurping his image. “Whoever did the various Logsdon social media pages chose that photo.”
Then he concluded with what he likely meant to sound reassuring.
“By the way,” he wrote, “the name Tucker Carrington Jr. would also be a great name for a fake expert.
“But since he exists, that disqualifies him.”