by Teh Nutroots & Damozel | We had an uncomfortable day or two last week when A-List blogger Andrew Sullivan read one of Z-List bloggers John Q's pieces which quoted from one of Sullivan's postings (getting it all wrong) and tactfully called him out for the stupidity of his misinterpretation at The Daily Dish. [Afterwards Mr Sullivan was good enough to post a second note noting that our resident neoconman's piece was rather amusing.] Naturally we're grateful.
Whilst we were all feeling low about having inadvertently taken in Andrew Sullivan, Jon Swift---one of the blogosphere's most distinguished (and sensible) political bloggers--- kindly dropped by and suggested that another time we listen to his advice on satire (which he set out in a piece from which we've excerpted below). We were really grateful for this as his is the balanced vision to which we and Fox News aspire but can never attain.
Swift's advice on satire is included on the piece he wrote on the New Yorker cover. We hope that other aspiring satirists will read and learn.
I loved the illustration, which I thought was a very powerful statement about how Barack Obama should not be elected President.... But I must say I also agree with many in the liberal blogosphere who believe that satire and most other kinds of humor should be avoided at all costs. I have long been opposed to satire, which just causes unhealthy confusion and, like fluoridated water, weakens our body politic. How can we fight an enemy that doesn't have any sense of humor at all if our media is distracting us with such esoteric and ill-advised attempts at comedy?
I don't even understand the point of satire. If the editors of the New Yorker actually believe that Barack Obama is not a Muslim, Michelle Obama is not a dangerous revolutionary and that they do not actually burn American flags, as Remnick now claims, couldn't they have just said that? Wouldn't it have been simpler and clearer to run the illustration with a a big X over it so that we knew what they were trying to say? We are not mind readers....Real Americans, I think, prefer straight talkers, like John McCain, who means what he says when he tells us that he doesn't know very much about economics, can't figure out how to use a computer and believes that we will be in Iraq for 100 years....
Atrios...points out that for satire to be effective, it must exaggerated beyond all reason so that even a moron will know it is supposed to be funny. Only satire that is way, way over the top has even a chance of making people laugh. Subtlety has no place in satire because it could easily be taken at face value.... It would be like an episode of MASH without the laugh track, which wouldn't be funny at all because you wouldn't know when to laugh.
Although liberals are often unfairly accused of being humorless, the truth is that they are so knowledgable about what makes something funny that they rarely find humor that meets their very tough standards. They are like connoisseurs of fine wine who are unable to drink anything that is not the finest vintage. When a liberal says, "That's not funny!" it is a cry from the heart from someone who longs to see something that really is funny....
Kevin Drum, whose expertise in comedy is rivaled only by his knowledge of politics, helpfully suggested that the illustration should have been in a thought balloon emanating from the head of John McCain. Of course, thought balloons are in and of themselves funny because the whole notion of a person having a balloon coming out of his head is very comedic. Just thinking about it makes me laugh as I type this. I think his main point, however, is that if you are going to use satire, you must make it very clear that you are distancing yourself from the ideas you are expressing. It is much easier to do this in person because you can express the ideas in a funny voice or contort your face or body in a bizarre way so that the listener knows that you are pretending to be someone else, but in print a device like a thought balloon can have the same effect. [More!!!]
One of Swift's commenters, Ignobility, added:
I agree with Atrios that satire cannot be too subtle. The Three Stooges, now, that's satire we can all get behind.
Which is the sort that our would-be (though failed) satirist JQ Public is qualified to perform.
Joe Shikspack said:
i believe your goal of the demise of satire is well on its way to achievement - the bush administration has done you an enormous favor by rendering both satire and farce superfluous.
Yes, that's just the problem, as Mr. Sullivan and we ruefully acknowledged. It's just not possible to express a view which is so extreme or illogical that no sane person would hold it. Indeed, one of our co-bloggers read Mr. Public's "satirical" piece aloud to her mother, and not only did her mother not find it at all funny, she commented at its conclusion, "Why, I thought that made a lot of sense."
Though of course the very few truly great satirists can transcend even the damage which the Bush and the extreme end of the far right have done to this form. It takes the courage of one of the true and rare sorts not to print the word SATIRE on the post or the page banner, and to smile blandly when people take you literally.