Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Shortage of Decent Satire?

Slate has an interesting article on the decline of television satire, The Satire Recession: How Political Satire Got So Flabby. The allegedly comedic trainwreck which prompted the piece is CNN's "Not Just Another Cable News Show," which, according to Slate, really is just another cable news show. More to the point, it (like Saturday Night Live often does) relies excessively on ad hominem attacks - basic mockery of a person without any insight into the underlying issues which prompt the mockery. And a lot of people are okay with this, because it allows people to feel edgy and countercultural without getting into any messy thought involved. It's pseudo-satire, which, as professor Russell Peterson of the U. of Iowa notes in his new book,

"... is often embraced by its supposed victims, who are eager to get credit for their good sportsmanship and to show they are impervious to such 'criticism.' "

Online satire is a different beast altogether, of course, largely because most websites, even the Onion, don't have to please core advertising demographics to the same extent that TV shows do. But if you write satire online, ask yourself: how comfortable would my targets be with what I'm writing? How strong is my criticism? There's nothing wrong with silly humor, but satire is, at its core, distinguished not by its subject matter but by the fact that it is a form of genuine criticism. Today, too many people assume that any humor dealing with politics or political figures is satire. The real stuff is supposed to be cutting and subtle, something that's only possible if you spend time getting to the deeper issues. It should push boundaries, at least occasionally, and have the capacity to make people uncomfortable. Otherwise, its value as a tool of social change is greatly diminished.

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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.