Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
November 17, 2008

On Satire

by Rick

Often being too naïve to understand what is satire, and often the butt of sarcasm in my youth, I am not a huge fan of satirical humor.  In this particular Friedman satire, I again was naïve, but was fortunate to have biklett #6, ndahi #8, annie #13, DM #33, and finally b #41 spell it out for me and maybe for some others here. 

Besides such personal psychological hang-ups, there is an additional uneasiness when satire makes light of a serious situation, or when it seems to attribute personal characteristics that are most likely untrue.  In these situations, the full embarrassing, uncomfortable and hurt of feelings of my youth return.

Many years ago, there was a weekly TV comedy series called “Hogan’s Heroes.  In case anyone doesn’t know, it was about a supposedly cool bunch of American prisoners held in a German prison camp in WWII.  Lots of entertaining satire, but even as a kid, I was overly scrupulous and somewhat uncomfortable about a comedy constructed from a scene of war and prisoners. 

More recently, hearing any jokes about the Iraq war and torture are never that funny to me.  An even more timely and stark example was hearing a satire of Al Sharpton singing “Barack the Magic Negro” on Rush Limbaugh’s syndicated radio show during the campaign.  No doubt, many ‘ditto heads’ thought it was very funny.  It was a good enough imitation of Sharpton’s voice.  I bet Sharpton was pissed, and I’m sure the attitude of the ‘ditto heads’ was simply “so what?”

With Limbaugh’s pathetic satire, everyone knew who the joke teller was, and since it was on commercial radio, everyone knew what corporation helped sponsor it.  The Friedman satire here on MOA was introduced bluntly and if one ignored the first hyperlink of the (fake) NY Times, then the Friedman article could be perceived as genuine.

Examining this fake NY Times website further, I wondered, ‘who is’ this guy named Harold Schweppes?  After further research, it was amazing to find so much more to the background story behind this satire. Printing and distributing 1.2 million copies of a fake NY Times is no small task.

Perhaps the real NY Times will be easier going regarding their intellectual property rights abused by some ’joker’ (hmmm…. registrar threatened with termination by ICANN for 10 inaccurate domain registrants out of 600,000 of their hosted domains?), compared to, for example, musical artists’ complaints about McCain ripping off popular recordings during his campaign.  I realize the latter was not satire but neither was it personal criticism of the artist.  Sometimes, imitation of another person or of his/her intellectual works is not comedy nor is it flattery.  Such a conclusion depends a lot on the awareness of the intended personal audience and his/her/their current frame of mind.

Well the NY Times charade/Friedman masquerade was quite a success.  Maybe hoaxes are what’s needed to sell newspapers nowadays.  The method has worked extremely well for Limbaugh, and he excuses any negatives by claiming his show is entertainment with an emphasis on humor.

I realize I should lighten up, at least a little.  Heck, I get upset when an anonymous blog poster debates, and even more so, if he/she delivers a personal attack anonymously.  And I suppose others here think I should be delighted with this latest satire, especially with me being no fan of Friedman, the NY Times, or the current over-protection of Intellectual Property.

I’m not, but so what?

Posted by b on November 17, 2008 at 18:23 UTC | Permalink



these times are so fucking dark, my friend - i take the humour i can get. tho i can understand your sensitivity - because at least one of the routines of the mass media - is, to fool people

this world wounds people so casually that the massacring of this & that people passes without notice. one of the aspects of my work here it to teach responsibility but it is also about value. i understand the strictures of psychoanalytic work but i try to take people back to their world where symbols possessed a real meaning & was a bulwark against disassociation - as is the symbolic order - before we are schooled

when we are connected to that order we have to give primacy to our instinct & if we really trust those instinct - as risk obliges you to - you cannot be fooled - or it becomes water off a duck's back

i'd suggest cruelty is a crux to capitalism - it is a system based on taking advantage. & the cruely we often feel when we are young is only the beginning of the beginning of that construction within ourselves

but speaking personally to you - i would say that a hypersensitivity to the hurt this world wreaks - is a virtue & that becoming immune to it - already marks a profound level of dissassociation

having said that, we need to smile, even laugh - i'd suggest the works of samuel beckett offers comedy that comes from our conscience without ever negating the complex humanity in which we live

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Nov 17 2008 18:43 utc | 1

Thanks for your words, Rick. As someone who is prone to being overly caustic and sarcastic, I'm reminded to take a step back and examine what I say and think more carefully.

Like other literary devices, I think perhaps the right-ness of satire depends a great deal on the motive. It can be used caustically to hurt, ridicule, and put down, as you experienced in your childhood. You are 100% correct that this is not constructive.

However at times it can also be used to expose genuine evil for what it is, cutting through layers of deceit that other forms of argument could not. I believe we have some common ground so I'll use an example here I probably wouldn't otherwise.

Christ used satire in a number of his parables, so I have trouble condemning it entirely. The parable of the good Samaritan for example: total satire, like something out of a Hebrew version of The Onion. Most of the religious leaders of His day wouldn't actually have ignored and abandoned a mugged countryman, and likewise most Samaritans probably wouldn't have helped a Jew in those circumstances. But the story completely stripped the pretensions from His audience and exposed their real hearts and attitudes in a way nothing else could have.

Words have the power to build up or tear down. Satire is almost entirely the latter. It can tear down people, or it can tear down veils masks and veils over evil. Which are we using it for?

Posted by: Chemmett | Nov 17 2008 19:22 utc | 2

The MSM presents false reports, for wide eyed - thrilled! horrified! mesmerised! - consumption, aimed at what they see as the sheeples.

The presentation is so far removed from reality the distinctions between what is reportedly, allegedly, ‘real news’ or ‘fake news’ no longer pertains.

Humorist have been robbed, as they can no longer make fun in the ordinary way of pomp, lies, grandstanding, BS, ridiculous personal characteristics, etc.

Humor, satire, sarcasm, irony, have lost their bite, as they rest on a conventional, accepted division, between the ‘accepted real’ and the acid, cynical, joke register which comments on the ‘real’.

That division is down the toilet.

PUNCH folded in 2002.> punch since 1840

Posted by: Tangerine | Nov 17 2008 19:26 utc | 3

Not registered with U.S. media, the fake NYT stunt was a copycat action of a fake Vancouver Sun distribution in July 2007.

An organization describing itself as the Palestine Media Collective says it distributed 12,000 fake editions of The Vancouver Sun on Thursday to protest what it described as the paper's "anti-Palestinian bias".
"We felt that CanWest was not reporting fairly on the Middle East so we undertook this project," said Handel.

The Sun is published by Pacific Newspaper Group, a division of CanWest MediaWorks.

Handel said his group believes The Sun and other CanWest papers give too much space to the Israeli point of view and doesn't give enough coverage to the deaths of Palestinians.

The Real News Network has some coverage of the suppression that followed.

Satire yes. Bad satire? I don't know. I like satire and that's why I write RBN pieces here once a while. But it should not hurt people.

Posted by: b | Nov 17 2008 20:13 utc | 4

Being Irish, satire for me is a pretty simple concept - a defense mechanism you use to keep from blowing your brains out.

These days, sarcasm gets frequently misinterpreted as blase cynicism, which I can understand. And it's also sometimes *extremely* difficult to communicate a sarcastic point properly out there on the internets...

If you haven't seen the work of the Yes Men, you really should. They're freaking brilliant - guerilla theatre crossed with the Marx Brothers.

Posted by: Sacanagem | Nov 17 2008 20:16 utc | 5

Perhaps we need more words, or better understanding and use of the ones we have. We have spoof, satire, sarcasm and of course good old snark.

Somebody sent me a picture of a bird, a penguin I think -- couldn't be sure as it was covered in oil from a spill. The caption, forget it, the caption -- it wasn't funny. The concept and message was, well, sick, a cheap joke off another being's suffering. I'm sure there could be any number of satirical, snarky comments that could have put the shit on another´s foot, so to speak.

Or another angle -- I remember the early Candid Camera with the original creator of the idea -- Allan Foont?? -- they were never ugly or mean, which got lost later on with imitations that just went out to make people look like fools.

I don't know if I said what I wanted to, but my laptops battery is running down...

Posted by: | Nov 17 2008 20:43 utc | 6

that was me at #9 with the last juice on the laptop

Posted by: Chuck Cliff | Nov 17 2008 20:45 utc | 7

considering how i totally freaked out over that newyorker cover i think i'll hold my tongue ;)

Posted by: annie | Nov 17 2008 21:25 utc | 8

Rick: I just recently had a very negative reaction to a piece of cinematic satire. The movie is called War, Inc. starring John Cusak, Marisa Tomei, Hillary Duff, and Ben Kingsley.

Basically it's one of the most offensive movies I have ever seen. It's offensive because the critique of privatizing war is completely undermined by the hollywood plot formula of including a lover-interest (Marisa Tomei, who plays a journalist) that needs to be saved by the protagonist (John Cusak, who plays an assassin with a conscience).

the scene of parodying a beheading video is just one hint of the depraved environment hollywood "do-gooders" like Cusak have to work in. it's an absolutely shameless attempt to use satirical humor to process the atrocities we brainwashed civilians know peripherally are occurring half a world away, but are too ignorant, arrogant, and complacent to do anything about.

Posted by: Lizard | Nov 18 2008 0:00 utc | 9

Rick. You are just fine as you are. You're opinion? Always of value.

Posted by: beq | Nov 18 2008 0:36 utc | 10


Posted by: beq | Nov 18 2008 0:36 utc | 11


I have enjoyed your satires. First, I/We know the source – even if I first don’t catch on right away, and also, your satires have not been over-the-top with personal attacks or with an addition of unwarranted attributes. Third, you seem to know your readers well enough – that is, their frame of mind/reference.

Again, I wish to thank all the regular posters here. I learn something from everyone –especially those posters that I have given a hard time to of late, like Debs and annie. And also, ‘I need to practice what I preach’ a bit more myself.

Posted by: Rick | Nov 18 2008 1:28 utc | 12

Isn't satire part of "Fair Use" under US Copyright law?

Posted by: Obelix | Nov 18 2008 2:25 utc | 13

I really enjoy this site! Every time I come here I find stuff to read over for days. I also happen to be one of the slow ones to catch on to satire, unless it's outrageous satire like Monty Python or something. But even I was quick enough to see the Friedman article for what it was. Maybe because of the constant references to 'Friedman units' elsewhere on the web. I think it's more that none of these knuckleheads ever sees themselves as less than perfect. I remember reading the sentence about 'no business holding a pen, at least with intent to write' and knowing without reading any further that this was not Thomas Friedman writing. I guess I must be getting older, or something...

Posted by: JimT. | Nov 18 2008 2:27 utc | 14

Me I agree that no one should force a change to their character to communicate anywhere much less a 'free space' such as b's MoA. That said some of us can't get through the day unless we use irony in one of it's many forms to make the repugnant state of affairs a little palatable.
I am as as close as it comes to being the opposite of Rick in that the very things Rick finds irritate him such as making humour out of an awful situation are what I need.

But the sort of clear cut black and white stick to the rules continuum where truth can only be found in what is believed to be an exact account of events as they occurred as composed by a disinterested observer is exactly the stuff that irritates me the most. I have come to believe that truth is far too relative for it to be found in any single account no matter how disinterested or objective an observer believes he/she is. So for me an insight into truth can only be found by absorbing a range of different accounts from a range of different viewpoints most of which are unashamedly subjective, a good thing as it indicates where the observers prejudices lie much more accurately than a so called 'objective account' can.
Hyperbole including gross exaggeration is a necessary part of the process for me yet I know from many passionate debates that some other MoA readers can become so fixated on the need for literal truth as they see it, that they will expend a great deal of effort arguing against a point of view they may otherwise be receptive to because some number isn't 100% correct in their view.
Whereas for me who believes one murder or rape is one too many, the actual numbers of humans killed during amerika's illegal invasion of Iraq is almost an irrelevancy. The number can be inflated for hyperbolic emphasis without any loss of 'truth'.

Humourous, ironic, sarcastic, snarky or even vituperative accounts are an essential part of the synthesis I like to process to determine 'truth'.

Especially with conservative websites tv and media. I have found I can get much more insight into greedheaded redneck desires, conservative ambitions 'n stuff from studying their bullshit like drudge or fuckface oreilly than wading through any amount of turgid wall st journal stories.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Nov 18 2008 2:33 utc | 15

The great thing about the Friedman spoof, was its believability, that it posed so well to his style of writing. One can easily imagine that were him to actually embody or take much of his own advice, that he might in an epiphany write such a thing. Rather a lot like Tina Fey playing Sarah Palin, by simply repeating what Palin had said, and saying it exactly how she would have said it.
I suppose that its necessary that such humor also plays upon our degree of gullibility, or what we are willing to believe. A spoof that is obviously a spoof isn't nearly as effective in that it has lost our active participation or psychological engagement. Becoming a bland imitation by comparison. Unless its slap stick, or physical comedy, which can be just as effective.

Posted by: anna missed | Nov 18 2008 3:00 utc | 16

ps whilst everyone else is demonstrating such genorosity of spirit I suppose there is a need for me to stress that my self described difference from the way that what for want of a better term I shall call 'the literalists' does not imply any sort of superiority/inferiority. Just difference.
If we all thought the same things in the same way here, there wouldn't be a helluva a lot to discuss.

Xtians excepted of course. Keeping the sanctimonious superstititous god botherers off the board would be a big plus.

(NB this is a crude piece of irony which many will find offensive since it is something I 'could' say and while it carries an extra frisson for exactly that reason i it shouldn't be taken seriously, but provides symmetry by counterbalancing the opening sentences.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Nov 18 2008 3:08 utc | 17

If you want to talk offensive in current comedy, what about>Sarah Silverman?

Posted by: anna missed | Nov 18 2008 3:10 utc | 18

Debs, I think your point is very well taken, in that the truth is indeed relative to a constellation of effects. There are all sorts of truth, historical truth, emotional truth, feelings of truth, and etc. All of which contribute in addition to the truth of facts, which in itself, can be de-constructed ad infinitum. All to often we are taken in by the crude notion of "pragmatic" truth in which events are construed according to their utility.

Posted by: anna missed | Nov 18 2008 3:47 utc | 19

Debs,”Hyperbole including gross exaggeration is a necessary part of the process”
You mean exaggerate like this?

Posted by: Rick | Nov 18 2008 3:48 utc | 20

Since the US (and world) have become so very polarized in the past decade or so, a criticism that I keep hearing from both sides is that the other has "no sense of humor". I've actually thought about this before and come to many of the same conclusions Rick has. I remember an anthropology class once when a professor posited that when human's earliest ancestors ran across another member of their species who was noticeably maimed or deformed, their response was to throw back their head to the heavens and laugh.

I don't think I'm especially dour, but seeing the likes of Palin skewered by the left has made me as uncomfortable as the tastelessness peddled by the likes of Limbaugh on the right... it feels hateful and schoolyard-ish to me. It makes me squirm a little even when it's "my side" and I don't, in principle, disagree with what they are saying. I'm afraid of becoming that laughing proto-human, I guess.

b made a thread with that awful picture of McCain during the debates and I wrote a response with links to some simarly awful pictures from all around the political spectrum as a complementary joke. Then I remembered somebody posting my picture once in a hateful jab and I had to delete my post before I sent it (wasted a good hour of my life on that one). I just saw myself doing something that I felt was contemptible when I was on the receiving end of it. Maybe that's what humor is. It's like looking in a mirror. After a three day long bender.

McCain told everyone to "lighten up" about his little ditty about bombing Iran. Maybe I should just "lighten up". Or maybe I should just take that three day long bender and give myself a good, long, deep stare, throw back my head to the heavens and laugh.

Posted by: Monolycus | Nov 18 2008 4:02 utc | 21

lizard - right on. what a huge letdown that movie was. pissed me off that i stuck it out to the end, waiting for some fleeting sign of subversive redemption. however, the joke was on the viewer, i feel, and at the expense of iraqis slimed via some terribly lame & predictable stereotypes. why were they the object of such overblown ridicule? women didn't fare much better.

at the end, i was outraged at how bad the movie was - not at the killing machine

juan gonzalez busted out some fragmented english to glean some similarly fragmented insight from cusack about his intent

Well, John Cusack, obviously you’re dealing with weighty and tragic situations, but you’ve chosen satire. Why the satire approach, did you feel was necessary?

Well, I think, you know, all satire or absurdism does is take current trends to the logical conclusion, you know, if you follow it a couple weeks or a couple years down the road. And some would argue, I think rightfully so, that we’re already there. So, you know, I think at times you have to put a different lens on it in order to kind of process the information, I think. And, you know, there’s a great tradition of satire mocking power elites and — you know, whether they be kings or corporate kings — and you know, shaming them and naming things and calling things what they are.

oh well.

ya know, sometimes i get tired of thinking in such an analytical sense, always being so skeptical and critical, coming across as negative more often than naught. if he sees a greater meaning in it, so be it. what does my opinion matter. relax & accept the absurdity of it all.

just maybe i can get some of what jeremy scahill was smoking:

And I think that John is really to be commended for doing what is actually not a satire; it’s a very powerful commentary on the way things actually are in Iraq right now and with the US war machine. It’s sort of a combination of A Clockwork Orange, Wizard of Oz, or a sort of, you know, political Muppet Show, so to speak, that actually says a lot and has a very stark commentary on the way things are.

Posted by: b real | Nov 18 2008 4:18 utc | 22

Hogan's Heros a satire? Umm . . . . no.

Try again. Start with the Classics, say, Johnathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal." Then read about what the English were actually doing in Ireland at the time, which (at the time) was more or less common knowledge.

You'll get it.

Posted by: Gaianne | Nov 18 2008 5:17 utc | 23

b real: ...the joke was on the viewer yeah, would have to agree.

and thanks for the snippets. i wonder if John C. really thinks he was "mocking power elites" by participating in the creation of this steaming pile.

i do however give the film credit for providing the perfect image of what shoving so called "western democracy" in the face of those poor foreigners around the world who experience the geographical misfortune of having their homeland occupied by the grotesque marriage of soulless corporate interest and obscene military strength looks like:

hillary duff with a machine gun.

Posted by: Lizard | Nov 18 2008 5:41 utc | 24

Gaianne: have you read Cormac McCarthy's The Road? it's got some baby eating going on, but it sure ain't satirical baby eating.

Posted by: Lizard | Nov 18 2008 5:45 utc | 25

We often confuse satire ( a literary composition, in verse or prose, in which human folly and vice are held up to scorn, derision, or ridicule. with parody (humorous, satirical, or burlesque imitation, as of a person, event, etc.. (definitions courtesy of dictionary dot com)

These are not straightforwardly interchangeable concepts. That is some satires are constructed from a parody but most parodies are not satirical. As Gaianne said Swift was a satirist whose most famous work for us has to be Gullivers Travels. An 18th century reader would be both amused at the digs at contemporary society and probably like Swift who was a clergyman, appalled at the slipping ethical standards of that society that were the butt of his satire. Most of us know the tale of Lilliput even if the other three travels are unfamiliar, because few if any of us have read Gullivers Travels and if we did most of it would go past us 'straight through to the keeper'. Walt Disney has made the story of Lilliput far from any satire.

Yet if we read my favourite english novelist, Lawrence Sterne, who was like Swift, an Irish clergyman we would laugh at the humour even if we didn't appreciate that the jokes were based upon parodies of Cervantes and Rabelais.

It would be true to say that Hogan's Heroes was a parody of POW camp life, well the allied fantasy of what POWs were meant to be doing. That is bent on escaping while sabotaging the Nazi war effort, which of course very few were doing. From POWs I have spoken with most they knew were more concerned with the usual mundane stuff getting enough to eat, staying warm, or cool, worrying about their position in the male hierarchy. Of course the ones in the Pacific Theatre had far more basic concerns.

I remember that at some stage during the 60's Mad magazine did a take on Hogan's Heroes where the german camp's prisoners were jews and gypsies in striped uniforms. That was a satire using parody as it's form.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Nov 18 2008 6:55 utc | 26

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