After the Boston Globe recently went full satire, we laughed. But that’s were the danger lies – in those who get the joke.
As a species, we have a rich relationship with laughter. It brings us pleasure. It heals us. It allows us to endure. When something is too depressing for words, too horrible to deal with, we laugh it off.
To lol is human.
Because of who we are, satire is a powerful tool. Author Jonathan Swift was an expert at wielding the weapon of satire, sometimes a little too well. I say “too well” in the same sense that the people at The Onion do it too well – in that satire can sometimes, by the unaware, be taken at face-value. Be mistaken for serious fact. As someone who writes satire on the odd occasion, it is a worry that my work will be taken at face-value for its clearly ridiculous premise.
Recently, The Boston Globe did something fascinating in the realm of satire. They created what I want to call “predictive satire” by publishing a fake front page after Trump wins the 2016 presidential election. They labelled it “an exercise in taking a man at his word,” referring to the ideas that Trump has been spouting these past many months.
While the mock-up is certainly of a “worst-case scenario” nature, that is kind of the point.
It delves into what Trump has been talking about and creates a realistic – if dystopian – future wherein all these ideas are realised. And it reads, to quote the Globe editorial, “deeply disturbing profoundly un-American.”
And it is.
There is, however, a danger to the easy nature of satire. Not to those who don’t get the joke, but rather those who do. I read The Onion and laugh. You may too. You may even read me on this very website. (Thank you). You may read The Shovel or The Science Post or any of the other number of satire news sites out there.
But getting the joke can make us ignorant.
We laugh, we click “like,” we retweet, maybe we even share it within our circle. And then we move on.
We laugh it off.
This is where participation is confused with action. Because you understood it, you feel involved. You’re on the side of the correct, and you’ve done something about it; thereby “that’s enough” feels enough. We’re all guilty of it, myself included.
But knowing the issue won’t change the issue. I realise the greatest of satire (and comedy) comes from the greatest of issues, issues that are unsolvable to the individual. But, think of satire as the crowbar, jimmying the window of difficult topics. It’s up to us to climb through it.
Next time you chortle at anti-vacc satire, or Turnbull’s train that only runs in election years, enjoy. But come voting day, or when a petition is circled, remember the time when that joke made you laugh.