Saturday, August 30, 2014

Satire is in the eye of the beholder

I love good satire. Problem is, readers don't often get it. Good satire is usually presented as a straightforward news article or opinion piece that can often be mistaken for your run-of-the-mill newspaper story. In satire, the subject is taken to an extreme, an exaggeration for what the writer hopes is a comic effect. Since there is so much craziness on the Internet already, it's hard to pick out satire unless it's labeled as such. This is why it is so helpful for Andy Borowitz to label his "The Borowitz Report" pieces in The New Yorker as "news satire." Here's a recent brilliant example:
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Across the United States on Wednesday, a heated national debate began on the extremely complex issue of children firing military weapons. 
“Every now and then, the nation debates an issue that is so complicated and tricky it defies easy answers,” says pollster Davis Logsdon. “Letting small children fire automatic weapons is such an issue.”
Logsdon says that the thorny controversy is reminiscent of another ongoing national debate, about whether it is a good idea to load a car with dynamite and drive it into a tree. 
“Many Americans think it’s a terrible idea, but others believe that with the correct supervision, it’s perfectly fine,” he says. “Who’s to say who’s right?” 
Similar, he says, is the national debate about using a flamethrower indoors. “There has been a long and contentious national conversation about this,” he says. “It’s another tough one.” 
Much like the long-running national debates about jumping off a roof, licking electrical sockets, and gargling with thumbtacks, the vexing question of whether children should fire military weapons does not appear headed for a swift resolution. 
“Like the issue of whether you should sneak up behind a bear and jab it with a hot poker, this won’t be settled any time soon,” he says. 
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If this appeared as a standard news article in the local paper, I can easily see my neighbor, Tea Party Slim, reading it over his morning java and nodding his head in agreement. "Yes, children shooting automatic weapons is an extremely complex issue." Slim also reads loads of stuff on the Internet, as do I, where it is possible to mistake satire for another example of human weirdness -- or vice versa. Each of us carries baggage from our political POVs. I see Borowitz's piece as a terrific satire on our gun nut culture. Slim sees gun ownership and the firing of automatic weapons as a God-given right via the Constitution. He can't laugh at this because he'll be laughing at some of his own deeply-head beliefs.

Are there conservative satirists? P.J. O'Rourke comes to mind. He pokes fun at me and my fellow Liberals and I admit it gets under my skin sometimes but it is funny. Tom Wolfe made hay satirizing the hippie culture, the Black Panthers and the New Left back in the 60s and 70s. Ann Coulter is too heavy-handed to be an effective satirist, but sometimes I've found humor in her Liberal-baiting columns.

There must be some contemporary conservative satirists I haven't read because, frankly, I'd rather poke fun at the other guy. That's my God-given right under the Constitution. However, if a person can't laugh at himself, well.... that's really absurd.

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