Politics of Satire
“Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own.” (Swift)
American consumers obviously love their comedy. They are not much interested in the subtle satire and wit of Voltaire or Swift (or even say Vonnegut, sort of a stoned swift); they are interested in the Simpsons, SouthPark, Colbert, SNL. The stars of Friends, or Seinfeld, Cheers, etc--hardly Voltaires, they--all became millionaires owing to America's comedy addiction. In blogland, many ostensibly political blogs--DailyKOS, TPM, the Onion--specialize in a sort of biting humor--Hunter S Thompson meets Sandra Bernhardt or something. Satire, and comedy as a whole, offers escape to the Herd--they prefer a Feste du jour to some gloomy boor like Macbeth. Similarly, many cynics would rather watch Tina Fey doing Sarah Palin as Annie Oakley, instead of Ms Palin doing Annie Oakley (tho' Annie with a lot of back-up).
Satire, however, functions as a type of deception more often than not. Fey may effectively caricature Palin, as Ackroyd caricatured Nixon and many others back in the day, but the comic mockery does not really address any specific policies or ideas. The comic actor's merely a speaking cartoon, in effect: the comedian-cartoonist often produces powerful reactions and responses, especially among the tribe of the Gullible. That satire is not "true"--in the sense that a historical record is true--does not imply a need for censoring satirical writing or broadcasting, but at some point cartoon politics often verge on a type of nihilism: the jokes and wit-contests--or "snark" as some of the wannabe Voltaires now term it--replace any sort of serious or even semi-serious discussion. Much easier it is for hicks or college-boy hipsters to crack jokes about the bailout and depict the Demopublicans as corrupt buffoons than to discuss credit default swaps.
Students could do worse than read Candide or Cat's Cradle (at least after their history and science lessons), or Cela, the spanish Voltaire (nearly). The great satirist does reveal the nasty business in a way the historian does not (or the preacher). But the Onion is no Candide, or at best it's like endless mini-Candide episodes. Neither is SNL. Everything is parodied and ridiculed (parody sort of the stock in trade of satire, though again parody falls in the set of satire, and satire in the set of comedy....verstehen sie??). One sees this parody-mania on the DNCocrat sites such as DailyKOS as well, where it takes a more gonzo form. Why discuss the very troubling problem of misrepresentation in regards to WMDs, when Cheney or Lieberman can be put in a dress and made to dance across the boards, or McCain stampted with 666 on his forehead??
Facts, evidence, rational analysis are pushed aside, and the insta-Voltaires take aim (and they are assisted with squads of cartoonists, or video-spinners armed with powerful graphix arsenals, quite beyond that of any berlin dadaists). The cartoon itself will work as a weapon, and a weapon of misinformation (Freud had some interesting if typically vague thoughts on comedy as a type of weapon, and jokes in particular). Pop-culture as a whole--including pop-satire and irony, endless comedy, pop-musical noise, movies, schports, fads, etc.--tends to demolish empirical accuracy and rational political discussion, whether in the comments boxes of KOS or the Fray, or prime-time. That may be what the Producers want--comedy moves their product.
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