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”.