Wednesday, July 16, 2008
I'm beginning to fear that we're living in a literally illiterate society. How else do you explain the bizarre uproar over the newest issue of the New Yorker? For those who don't know, it's a cartoon picture of Barack Obama dressed like an imam fist-bumping Michelle in a terrorist get-up. The American flag is behind them, tossed in to a fireplace located underneath a portrait of Osama Bin Laden. This entire sordid scene is located in the Oval Office. The Obama campaign came out immediately and attacked the cover. McCain's campaign fell all over itself to join in the assault. "It's offensive!" they cried. So now it's time for me to mount my soapbox and make an announcement. Of course it's offensive. That's kind of the point. That's what satire is. The prime example of satire in western culture is Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal, or, in its almost never used full title: A Modest Proposal: For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick. In it, Swift proposes that the best way for the vast number of poor people in Ireland to deal with their poverty is by selling their children to the rich as food. This is, of course, a ghastly prospect, which is kind of why Swift did it. See, he wasn't attempting to comment on the poverty of the Irish. He was attempting to illuminate the attitudes those who through their own cruelty or negligence allowed the Irish to get where they were. He was saying, in effect, "You've taken everything from them, why don't you eat their children now, too?" This is the problem with satire, though. At least, it's the problem with good satire. The people most likely to be offended by it are the people being targeted by those the satirist is attacking. This morning I heard a snippet of an interview with Obama. He was being asked about the magazine cover and said something to the effect of, "Well, when you're running for President you develop a thick skin." If I may presume to address the candidate: THEY AREN'T ATTACKING YOU. THEY'RE ATTACKING THE DUMBASSES WHO SAY, "DON'T VOTE FOR OBAMA 'CUZ HE'S A SEEKRET MUSLIM TER'RIST!" Ah, I feel better. Anyway, I like good satire, although I think that by its very nature it's one of the hardest forms of writing. See, a good work of satire is almost indistinguishable from the original piece or attitude it mocks. Too much overcharacterization takes it out of reality, while too much time with tongue placed firmly in cheek ruins the mood and makes it obvious (and usually not funny). For instance, I am utterly convinced that Snakes on a Plane is one of the greatest satirical movies of all time. But, um, that’s a story for another day... -------------------- On a similar note: While perusing Gibbons’ The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire the other day (because one doesn’t really read that particular book. It’s just too friggin’ long...) I ran in to this particular line attempting to explain his conclusion that the persecution and martyrdom of Christians in the height of the Roman Empire just wasn’t as bad as we’re lead to believe: The total disregard of truth and probability in these representation of these primitive martyrdoms was occasioned by a very natural mistake. The ecclesiastical writers of the fourth or fifth centuries ascribed to the magistrates of Rome the same degree of implacable and unrelenting zeal which filled their own breasts against the heretics or the idolaters of their own times. It actually fits quite well with the idea of misplaced assault against satirists. I actually found this quote by James William Johnson while looking up some stuff on A Modest Proposal: “human depravity is such that men will attempt to justify their own cruelty by accusing their victims of being lower than human.” In situations where the “victim” is an immobile “enemy,” they’ll often simply accuse their enemy of doing whatever they themselves are working on doing, or barring that, accuse their opponent of whatever will get their followers the most riled up. I added this link to Acquire the Evidence to the right side sidebar. The stuff in it is a little old, but it’s instructive. I first heard of BattleCry a few years ago and didn’t like them from the moment they first arrived on my consciousness. In fact, I wrote a post about them last spring. Anyway, back in Ought Six, BattleCry was busy getting ready for a big event in San Francisco, which I believe was the event that brought them to my attention. They had a big ol’ rally/concert thingy, then marched on city hall. Meanwhile, they were given a permit that said they couldn’t play loud music before ten o’clock in the morning because otherwise the people in the area would be kinda pissed. And they called this persecution. Here’s something to keep in mind. Whenever someone is playing the persecution card, try to find out why and what they’re calling persecution. Because, you see, Jesus said something like, “The world hates me, so it will hate you, too.” Here in America, though, we really don’t. Really, ever since Constantine that hasn’t been the case anywhere in the Western world, save France during the period between the Revolution and Napoleon. What hasn’t disappeared along with the persecution, however, is the need by some people to define themselves according to their enemies. In fact, I personally have run in to Christians since leaving the church who will declare me their enemy just to show how magnanimous they are in loving me, their enemy. I haven’t declared myself anybody’s enemy. I’m not evangelizing (at least intentionally) to anybody. I’ve specifically said that my plan was to hold off on “going public” so I could make sure I didn’t just become an angry evangelist for anti-Christianity. But there are plenty out there who want me to be their enemy. They don’t have a purpose without one. -------------------- On a totally different note (and not at all related to the subject at hand), I got this comment from Jake today: I'm just visiting from Slacktivist. I haven't read any of your posts yet, and I really would like to, but unfortunately the light letters on dark background scheme actually makes it very uncomfortable, verging on impossible. I know I'm not the only person around who has this problem and I wondered if you would be at all open to changing the colour scheme of your blog? For the record, the white on black color scheme is a remnant of an older blog color scheme from back in the day when all we had was CRT monitors. White words on black screens was better for the eyes on the ol' radiation guns. Now since most people have gotten rid of their CRTs its not as big of a deal. I actually don't like it as much with flat screen monitors, either. Still, I haven't quite gotten around to changing it due to, um, inertia, I guess. But so anyway, anybody who wants to voice an opinion on the color scheme is welcome. I probably will change it, and change it to whatever I want, but I like to give the opportunity for input. It makes me feel like less of a despot.