The headlines seem too preposterous to be true:
“Donald Trump proposes gigantic wall to keep out the Mennonites.”
“New policy seen as ‘attack’ on traditional Mennonite cousin-marriage.”
“Mennonite man leaves record $.10 tip at local diner.”
The articles on The Daily Bonnet aren’t true, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a good deal of truth just behind the satire.
Andrew J. Bergman of Steinbach, Man., started dailybonnet.com as a hobby on May 19. He typically writes about theology and serious matters on his personal blog, but when he wrote a satirical piece about the local city council, several people said they liked it, inspiring him to write about Mennonite cultural quirks and political matters in the news.
Every day he posts one or two fictional news articles that he writes. In short order, he amassed more than 2,000 enthusiastic followers on Facebook.
“I made this website and put five articles on there, and suddenly people were sharing it,” he said. “I think now I have 275,000 views already. That’s crazy.”
Bergman, who attends an Evangelical Mennonite Conference church in Steinbach, admits he’s focused on cultural quirks of small-town Manitoba Mennonites, but he also throws in American jabs and datelines from other communities with concentrations of Anabaptists.
“If you come here, it’s probably not as peculiar as the website makes it out to be. I exaggerate things,” he said. “But I guess [Steinbach’s] probably been a running joke in Manitoba forever.”
One article “reports” on a municipal referendum on whether residents will acknowledge each other in liquor stores. The town of about 15,000 really was among the last in Canada to allow alcohol sales, and its actual referendum drew national attention.
“Some satire is really harsh and mean-spirited sometimes, and I suppose there are some people who don’t like satire, but I try for that fine balance of playfulness,” Bergman said. “. . . Hopefully people take it that way. There’s subtle political points being made. That’s a challenge to keep it appealing, fun and humorous.
“I thought a challenge would be continuing to come up with ideas. So far I’ve been able to come up with more ideas each day than I can write.”
On the surface, exaggerated concepts seem designed only for humor, but satire can also be an informative tool about the state of the church and other communities people construct.
“I think it’s actually really important. It allows us to safely criticize things and expose hypocrisies, quirks or problems,” Bergman said. “And if you do it in a humorous way, people can hopefully get the point, and hopefully it changes in some small way people’s understanding of things.
“If you can take something you view as very serious and make it ridiculous, maybe we can set our priorities — that they can become clearer about what is important and what isn’t. Some things kind of fall away when you poke fun at them.”