Saturday, November 29, 2014

The perils of satire

Posted By on Sat, Nov 29, 2014 at 1:03 AM

We all like to think that we have a sense of humor, and that an appreciation of satire - the sport of kings - runs through our veins. But really, it isn’t so.

People have rightly made fun of Facebook for adding a “Satire” tag to stories from The Onion, and we have all had a chuckle over that, but how often have you seen folks all a twitter over over something that Reality Show Governor Sarah Palin has said, or Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, or Governor Rick Perry, or Barack Obama or anyone else they despise.

They go to town on such comments, either laughing their heads off - figuratively - or indulging in bouts of Internet outrage . . . all without bothering to check the Google Machine, and finding out if the comment is even real. In most cases. the quotes are completely made up. In many cases, they find quotes which justify their own way of looking at the world.

After all, it just stands to reason that Sarah Palin would say this:

“Thanksgiving is for real Americans not Indians. We founded this Christian nation. Why if it wasn’t for the God-fearing pilgrims, the natives would still be running around in loin cloths shooting at things with their arrows.”

Or that Thomas Paine would have written:

"It is the duty of every patriot to protect his country from its government."

Or that the ever-lovely Michelle Bachmann would have said:

“If dinosaur bones have been buried for millions of years, then why are they so clean when they're in museums? They would be dirty. And if the dinosaur bones are real, why do they need wire to keep them together? Real animals don't need wire. And they're dirty.”

Or Thomas Jefferson?

"When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government."

Or Winston Churchill, beloved of so many conservatives:

“If you're not a liberal when you're 25, you have no heart.  If you're not a conservative by the time you're 35, you have no brain.”

Cuz if conservatives, frankly, were as smart as they’d have us believe, they’d know that Churchill’s wife was a lifelong liberal, and in no way would he ever treat her so badly as to talk this way.

But things sound good to our personal prejudices, so we leap at them. In fact, all the above quotes are fake, and yet you can find them on the Infernal Internet, with posts from folks reacting as if they were torn from the front page of the daily newspaper.

In such cases, sadly, the figures to be mocked may not be the political figures who have the fake quotes attributed to them, but the folks so eager to believe that they leave their common sense in their back pocket before they joyfully attack their keyboards and share their feelings with the world.

“Satire is what closes Saturday night,” said George S. Kaufman many years ago, meaning that folks generally don’t get the joke.

In 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick. I have long debated whether or not to steal Swift’s idea about selling Irish babies so the rich could eat them in one of my own satirical “New Alerts” on Facebook, but I have always been afraid that:

A lot of silly Internet outrage would be hurled in my direction and,

BNobody would get the reference,which would depress me greatly.

I have been writing humor since the early 1970s, when I was Humor Editor on our school paper, and have tried to keep my hand in over the years, with varying degrees of success. Sometimes I’m pretty good at it, sometimes I stink. But then, Sturgeon’s Law holds that ninety percent of everything is crap, so I’m not too terribly worried.

Far from being influenced by The Onion, though, I have found inspiration in the writings of Fran Lebowitz, Leonard Wibberly, Art Buchwald, and Mad magazine.

I wish that more people read humor, or at least read more that isn’t Internet related. I think they’d be able to tell when something is real, satirical in nature or just plain bullshit designed to appeal to both their ignorance and their political prejudices.

Then Facebook would be a “cool” place to hang out again.
Quote of the Day

What harshness is needed, I asked myself, to lose the trust of animals? Refinements of torture are vain and never exile an animal long from us. A kindly gesture bestowed by us on an animal arouses prodigies of understanding and gratitude. - Colette, “Journey for Myself”


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