Saturday, July 15, 2006

Sarcasm vs. satire - what's the difference?

I got to thinking about this while I was reading Arianna Huffington's recent blog post about Donald Rumsfeld.*

Sarcasm's chief weapon is irony - as is satire's. Sarcasm isn't always witty - and neither is satire. However, sarcasm's intent is to ridicule - whereas satire isn't always intended to be mean-spirited. A-ha! Now we're beginning to see a difference!

The REAL deal that separates the simply sarcastic person from the satirist is motivation. Satire stakes a claim in that most fabled patch of land, the moral high ground. Sarcasm, on the other hand, makes no such pretension - it's totally amoral. can say that sarcasm is a tool of the satirist, but not vice versa. Which brings me back to Ms. Huffington, who doesn't appear to be a self-defined satirist like her compatriot in arms, Bill Maher.

But if what she wrote about Rummy isn't straight-up, gimlet-eyed satire, I don't know what is. Why is it satire, you ask? She uses his own words against him in ironic context, as in:
When asked when he thought the Iraqis would be ready to meet the security needs that would allow for the reduction of U.S. forces, Rumsfeld said, "I don't talk deadlines" -- a snappy rejoinder we can add to the list of other Rummy don'ts: "I don't do numbers." "I don't do predictions." "I don't do diplomacy." "I don't do foreign policy." "I don't do quagmires."

And she's made her opinion of Rumsfeld highly clear - not only that she thinks he's doing a bad job, but also from a moral base of operations:
There was a time when Rummy's surrealistic take on things was quaint and quirky, chewy nuggets that could be appreciated, if not enjoyed, as the mental musings of a sui generis mind...But those days are long gone, buried beneath a cascade of body bags and on-going horrors. Quaint and quirky have given way to delusional, as Rumsfeld has crossed the line into a place with little connection to reality. Call it Rummy's Disease, an affliction that is apparently highly contagious.
Some may call her a mere political commentator, but that's selling her short. She's much more, and her subversive use of satire is a considerable part of her charm.

* Full disclosure - I've got my own beefs with Rummy, and in fact I'm releasing a full-scale assault on him next month in the form of a "Creative Investigative Report" called The Rumsfeld Diaries. If you want to find out more about it, or get on the notification list once it's available, just email me.
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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.