Things That Aren’t Actually Satire (And Why it Maybe Doesn’t Matter, Anyway)

I have always been a fan of satire. For quite a while in high school Gulliver’s Travels was one of my favorite books, despite the horrid third section that people sometimes pretend doesn’t exist (this may be because the first time I read it all the way through I was reading Asimov’s annotation, and the fact that he spent most of that section making snarky comments in the margins made the whole thing much more bearable). I also grew up watching Dinosaurs, a television show from the nineties that I only recently realized is actually a fantastic example of modern satire.

There is a trend, however, whether recent or not I don’t know, for people to make offensive jokes and perpetuate stereotypes under the guise of being satirical. There are a few problems with this.

First, what they are doing is often not actually satire.

Second, if it is satire, then that doesn’t make it less offensive or harmful. Satire is used as a criticism; if what you are criticizing is marginalized groups, it can still technically be satire, but that doesn’t make your criticism valid. Calling your hatred satire also doesn’t make it criticism. If you are targeting marginalized groups, calling your hate (or your hate-infused “criticism”) “satire” doesn’t make you anti-establishment or anti-majority (and of course, you can be anti-establishment without being particularly progressive). South Park is maybe one of the strongest examples of “satire” being used to excuse bigotry, in my opinion. A recent episode targeted trans individuals. I will admit I did not watch it, but I do know that it resulted in a lot of anxiety and an increase in bullying for some trans people I know.

Similarly, people will often excuse slurs and other types of speech attacking marginalized groups with phrases like “not bowing to political correctness”. The idea is the same: that somehow they are the ones defying oppressors, that they are being somehow fresh and progressive by regurgitating the same hate speech that people have heard a thousand times before. That they are opposing an oppressive status quo, when in fact they are supporting the oppressive systems that are in place. But the part in Gulliver’s Travels where Gulliver visits Japan isn’t magically better because Swift was writing a satire, and no matter how many times you say that you are being satirical or fighting censorship, your bigotry is still bigotry, and it is still hurting people. If you want an example of this phenomenon, go read just about any comments section–it’ll come up eventually. Over, and over, and over again.

Satire is a useful tool for political and societal criticism. But it is only satire if it is actually criticizing something, and being criticism does not somehow protect something from being wrong or offensive.

So, with all of this in mind, on December 8th I will be posting “Things that Are Actually Satire: Dinosaurs”.



On Ferguson

I have spent the last three days watching social media and mainstream media talk about Ferguson. Recently reports have surfaced that Mike Brown may have been responsible for a robbery, although it seems that the police officer who shot him did not know this.

Because I am not black, I should be deferring to black people on this tragedy and the racial issues surrounding it. I am trying to do that, and there are many things that have been written by black people about this, many of them very good.

I have a few things that I really want to say however, and I am going to say them.

This is no longer just about Mike Brown.

I do not mean to minimize the tragedy of his death or suggest that it is irrelevant or that justice should not be sought. I also do not mean that the police brutality that occurred was not racially based; it most certainly was.

What I mean is this:

The circumstances of Mike Brown’s death are no longer the only issue here. Even if everything the Ferguson Police Department was saying about him was true, and he attacked the cops and took their guns–and I do not believe that it is–that does not excuse what followed. Neither do the riots that apparently occurred early on.

Peaceful protesters, acting off of what they knew, were shot and teargassed by police using military grade equipment. The lack of information from mainstream media that these protesters and those of us outside Ferguson had was due to Ferguson police department shutting out the media. They assaulted reporters. They shot a pastor while she was praying.

There are no circumstances which can excuse what was done.

I realize that I am not providing sources in this post. To be honest, I am too tired. I have been watching this all week and I do not have the mental energy to go back through everything I reblogged, but my previous post does contain some good information.

I apologize if I have stepped over the line as an ally with this post. I have tried to keep the focus off of myself as a non-black person and to follow the sentiments and tone I have seen from many black people. Let me close with this:

Do not let this die. Examine the media and how it reported this. Why is the reaction of the media to focus on assassinating the character of the victim? Why do we worry more about this victim’s character than the circumstances of his death? (You know why.)

And do not forget that this has grown far beyond that now. Do not forget Ferguson. Do not stop fighting. 

Remember that when one person is killed, we are all diminished. That injustice effects us all. That actions like this that infringe upon basic rights like free speech will not stop with black people. Remember also, however, that white people are not the ones who will suffer for any violence we commit. Be careful in how you address these things, because if white people make them violent, black people will suffer.