Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The media fails to get it, once again

When you have even a modicum of fame, it's important to realize that not everyone has a well-developed sense of humor or irony. Case in point: former Jeopardy UberMensch Ken Jennings has a web site and blog. On July 19 he posted an entry supposedly taking Jeopardy to task for being stuffy and boring. Anyone with two neurons to rub together saw it as a friendly joke. The New York Post was either a neuron short and mistook it or they are deliberately trying to stir up trouble, reporting it as real. And then Fox got into the act, reporting on the Post story. Now Ken's getting posts on his message board about how "ungreatful" [sic, I think it's like "double plus ungood" in newspeak] he is. Mr. Jennings seems perplexed by this:

"I wonder at what level the sarcasm-meters broke. Like, did Michael Starr know it was a humor piece, but his piece fooled Fox News into thinking it wasn't? Or did Fox News know but fool the drive-time deejays? Or did the deejays know as well, but fool their dumber listeners?"

The cynically minded might suspect that it's all a publicity stunt for his upcoming book. But I think it more likely that Jennings, for all his knowledge, has simply fallen afoul of the irony-impaired.

(A tip of the hat to Muskrat for the scoop.)

[Edit] This is unbelievable: CNN has jumped on the bandwagon. While CNN at least acknowledges that Jennings has said this is a "humor piece", they still tried to get a comment from the folks at Jeopardy. CNN may not be as irony-impaired as the Post, but they appear to have no compunctions about running the story. If it's tongue in cheek, it really doesn't deserve reporting on CNN; if it's serious, it's just fanning the flames of a manufactured controversy. The tone of the CNN article is so deliberately balanced that clearly they're trying to have it both ways - benefiting from the rumor of controversy while maintaining a veneer of plausible deniability - "we knew it was a joke, see?" I know a few good humor pieces, just as well written as Mr. Jennings' entry - care to share the national exposure?
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Monday, July 24, 2006

Onion Going Corporate?!

Don't know how I missed this last week...oh yeah, I was gone camping, and going through the equivalent of delirium tremens due to being away from the computer for four days.

But I digress. Rachel Sklar, former blogger for FishbowlNY who now calls the Huffington Post home, posted a little rumor about that venerable satire brand The Onion. If it's true, it would make a certain giant media company the undisputed king of satirical content. Which one, you ask? Sorry, you'll have to click for the answer.

And as for Rachel herself, she shows a nifty penchant for spoofery with this clip making fun of the George Bush/Andrea Merkel massage moment. Rachel, where do I send my resume?
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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.

Aaaaaaand...you 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.