Monday, July 14, 2008
How to know satire is working
Some people will get it.
Some people won't.
The "people who don't get it" are usually the ones who "the people who get it" are laughing at.
Some people will say, "While I get it, others won't. So it will have the opposite effect that it intended." These people are the "smart" people who publish newspapers and appear on TV and usually act like they know more than you or me.
Some people will say, "This is untrue and shameful," and they will be correct, because the untruth and shamefulness is at the heart of the humor. However the people who say, "This is untrue and shameful" are usually the people at whom the humor is aimed. Or they are the friends, or employees of the people at whom the humor is aimed.
Some people will say, "It's not funny." Satire is not necessarily funny. Satire is usually not funny to those being satirized.
Satire can use humor, but it can also use exaggeration, derision, parody, ridicule, irony, magnification and misrepresention to hold human faults and follies up to censure.
Good satire should make anyone who witnesses it, gasp.
Here was Jonathan Swift, from A Modest Proposal, on the problem of Irish overpopulation in the 18th century:
I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.
So, the New Yorker cover, of Barack Obama as a radical Muslim, and Michelle Obama as a resurrected Black Panther, meets all the tests of satire.
It holds up for censure, uninformed right-wing xenophobes, the press who bolsters the rumors spread by right-wing xenophobes, politicians, political writers, candidates, pundits and a less-than-rigorous fourth estate.
When the days after its release are spent with panelists on political talk shows debating the tastefulness of the cover, its effect on politics, its reflections on the judgment of the editor and the cartoonist, when the Obama campaign said that most readers would find it "tasteless and offensive, when the New York Times mistakenly thinks the cover is a joke about Obama, when Colin McEnroe calls release of the cover "nightmarishly bad judgment", when fellow cartoonists feel that the cartoon should have had a title, or shown a right-winger painting the picture, or was simply "shallow and non-contextual," when people like Democratic analyst Tanya Acker says, "if it were clear it were satire, or rather if the Obama's didn't so often have to address a lot of the rumors that were here being satirized, then it would be a lot funnier," then, you know the cover has done it's work.
Has it shocked people? Yes. Have most people understood the satire? Yes. Have many people, too ignornant, or too connected not appreciated the satire? Yes. Will it be remembered along with other, famous, satirical magazine covers? Yes. Has the New Yorker been a rare example of a magazine which has opposed the heinous actions of the Bush administration since it took office, and been a defender of Barack Obama since the beginning of his candidacy. Yes. Has the cover gotten people talking? Yes. Will it sell magazines? Yes.
Then the cover has done its work.
I can't imagine that in the dark recesses where right-wing zealots, racists and intolerant xenophobes gather that there will be a surge in New Yorker subscriptions. But if there are, then the cover has done it's work.