Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

The definitional war on satire

Jerry Stratton, May 14, 2015

Censor Charlie Hebdo

“It is necessary to censor satire,” saith the anointed.

When I started The Walkerville Weekly Reader back in January of 20001 I did so partly because I knew that satire was in for trouble. I’d already written in What Your Children are Doing on the Information Highway that there was no satire so crazy that someone, somewhere, wouldn’t believe it, and that the Internet ensured that that gullible someone would in fact read it.

My formula was and remains pretty simple: start with something that might, maybe, be true, and slowly bring the pot to boiling until the final line is completely ridiculous. Basically, juxtapose actions and intentions2; then, throw in a pop-culture reference or two.

Many satire sites make a good living doing nothing more than repeating real-world actions, comparing them to a person or organization’s stated goals, and then constructing the logical conclusion—perhaps tossing in obscure pop-culture references at the same time.

We here at the Reader wouldn’t know anything about that, as we do not make a good living.

What I did not understand was that the elite would start questioning the very purpose of satire. Certainly, I understood and understand that many people dislike the idea, but I would never have expected to see the following description of when satire is appropriate:

Normally satirical works would be welcome on our marketplaces. However, we feel that there are situations where satire is inappropriate. For example, we do not think that a game released today that satirizes police killings of minorities in the USA would be appropriate. Regardless of how one feels about an issue like that, we feel that it is too current, too emotionally charged on both sides, and too related to real-world violence or death to make it an appropriate matter for satire.

If satire is inappropriate for current events that people care about, there is no purpose to satire. If satire is only appropriate after debate has ended on a topic, then what is the use of it?

At the time, I thought it was just the misguided views of an insular industry, in this case tabletop role-playing. But a few months later Garry Trudeau argued for a similar reigning in of satire after the Charlie Hebdo murders.

But that’s Garry Trudeau, and he stopped being relevant years ago. There was a bonus to that, however: he said those things at an award ceremony for the George Polk awards. I’m using the Polk awards in my latest novel, and I was uncomfortable with it. I wasn’t sure they deserved it. Now, I’m very happy with the choice.

And a few weeks later, I was very happy I hadn’t chosen the PEN awards, because then I’d have to do more rewriting. PEN has chosen to give their Freedom of Expression Courage award to Hebdo. And a miasmic swarm of authors have come out against the award because, and I’m deadly serious here, the narrative of the murders goes against their own narrative of what’s wrong in the Middle East.

Puncturing narratives when they don’t match reality is, in my opinion, precisely what satire is best at.

  1. The site contains earlier material because I’d included it in It Isn’t Murder If They’re Yankees as a then-fictional local half-size newspaper.

  2. I’m very proud of that screenshot. It’s some of my best reporting.

  1. <- Spin Cycle
  2. All the President’s Men ->