Thursday, April 20, 2006

Figuring out how far is too far

Between the Danish cartoon controversy and the various vicissitudes of the award-winning South Park in the show's struggles with Scientology, the network, and pretty much everyone else, you can see broad outlines of a dialogue that is likely to shape how satire is produced and received for a while. Basically, the question is how far is "too far"? The consensus of the general public and the media seems to be that there is a line which should not be crossed. The discussion is taking place in real time, on the battlefields of Op-Ed pages nationwide and Comedy Central, but it's also taking place at centers of ethical and journalistic studies. The Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada is hosting a panel discussion on the issue, boasting (of course) journalists, clergy, and satirists. It seems a well-planned seminar, but the underlying question, "what are the use of limits in humor to make your point," does presume that there are limits in the first place.

Still, much better to have thoughtful discussions like this than to start randomly clamping down on satirical material you don't like, an action which more people seem willing to take these days given the heightened sensitivity overall. A student-run satire paper at the University of Wisconsin, The Second Supper, found its hardcopy circulation cut by more than half after publishing an article some members of the student government found offensive. Most astonishing was the contention of a student VP who felt this restriction "doesn’t violate free speech because it did not completely ban [the paper] from campus". This glib and egregiously misinformed defense of what is evidently a punitive measure would seem ludicrous, except that it's all too easy to see others excitedly recycling the argument. Would it be "acceptable" for half the cable markets in the US to pull Comedy Central off the air following an offensive episode of South Park? Maybe that will be covered in the next panel discussion.
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Blogger Shallow Throat said...

I realize that most people who object to satire do so because they or their organizations are being ridiculed, but does it ever seem that they simple do not get it? Perhaps a bit of both?

Is there a line one mustn't cross when writing fiction? If it's fiction, isn't it also art and political expression?

So on top of not understanding the satire, these people fail to understand the First Amendment as well.

11:26 PM  
Blogger E.F. Watley said...

Yes, I think there are similar lines in fiction... just ask Salman Rushdie. I also agree that some people object to satire because they don't get the humor. Of course, technically satire doesn't have to be humorous, though that's a definition which people would increasingly argue with today.

3:14 PM  
Blogger Allen Voivod, Features Editor said...

I can't verify this, but I think it was Jonathan Swift who said that there are things which are undoubtedly sacred, but the abuses of those things are prime targets for satire (I'm paraphrasing).

And yes, they don't get it. They may never "get it," and I believe the motivation of the satirist is either to make them get it, or make enough people get it that they throw the ignorant non-getting-it hypocrites out of their positions of power. My two cents.

10:10 PM  

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Satire pervades the web, seeping into mailboxes and mainstream news like a spilled cup of coffee. It stains and it won't go away.

The Bitter Cup is a collaborative blog for members of HumorFeed, a collaborative of satire and humor sites that has been making trouble since 2003.