Combat! blog has returned to Missoula, where the weather is suspiciously nice and normalcy resumes. I should warn you that we will only be operational for a short time. On Friday I drive down to Jackson, Wyoming to hang out with Stubble and his girlfriend, and I won’t get back until Tuesday, so this is pretty much the only regular blog post for a week. But how fine it is! Last week, the White House redistributed a column headlined “Trump’s budget makes perfect sense and will fix America, and I will tell you why” in support of its proposed budget. The column, by Washington Post humorist Alexandra Petri, was satire. Petri suspects that they didn’t actually read it but assumed from the headline that it supported their position. In this way, the Trump administration continues to operate as your aunt’s Facebook feed come to life.
I would describe The Borowitz Report as very gentle satire. While The Onion and its imitators have pushed satire toward surrealism with farfetched premises, Andy Borowitz has staked out territory closer to real life. His satire is dry. Often, his premises are not exaggerations of popular values but expressions of them, as in Stephen Hawking Angers Trump Supporters With Baffling Array of Long Words. Where The Onion’s premises are audacious, Borowitz’s are so plausible that they were routinely mistaken for actual news, before The New Yorker began labeling them “satire from Andy Borowitz.” But today’s report takes dry to a new level. With Americans Overwhelmingly Say Lives Have Improved Since Kellyanne Conway Went Away, the hygrometer is bottoming out. My throat may become too parched to laugh.
The classic example of political satire is Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” in which the Irish author, writing ironically, suggests that the poor families of Ireland might ease their burden and contribute to society by selling their children as food for English aristocrats. This was in 1729, after which England immediately began treating the Irish well. Either that, or right-thinking people agreed Swift was a genius and went on treating poor people like dirt for the next three centuries. I mention this gap between reception and effect on the occasion of this hilarious McSweeney’s piece by Jeff Loveness, titled This is the Political Satire That Finally Stops Trump. A taste:
I tweet my “Jabba the Trump” meme for the world to see. The knife of satire twists deep. In a moment, I am flooded by dozens of retweets, ranging from friends who share my political opinions to strangers on the internet who also share my political opinions—the chorus of America itself. My tweet lights the spark, and the fires of rebellion burn bright.
You think it’s going to be one-note, and it kind of is, but the crescendo is so strong that we don’t miss the melody. It also makes an uncomfortable point: Now that Trump has ascended to power through sheer absence of shame, what can mockery and ridicule accomplish?
One of the best features of satire, in my opinion, is how it encourages the uncharitable reader[/ref]or auditor, or viewer, or whatever[/ref] to attack at the wrong moment. It’s like a boxing feint. I first encountered this New York Times story on the Bindle Bros. of Brooklyn—an artisanal bindle company that uses “locally grown, naturally fallen” sticks to make $350 bindle bags—shared on Twitter with the comment “come on, Williamsburg.” The commenter had even retweeted the story from an original sharer who presented it as satire, but no matter: it fit his sense of hipster affectation, and he leapt to scorn it.
If you told me twenty years ago that conservative commenters would one day compare everything to the historical struggles of Jews and African Americans, I would have laughed and gone back to hacky sack. But here we are in 2014, and those right-wing pundits who are not still beating the straw man of political correctness are casting themselves as an oppressed people. Case in point: Ben Shapiro’s argument that The Colbert Report is analogous to a minstrel show. I quote:
This routine, in which Colbert plays at conservatism in order to portray it as unendingly ugly, should be labeled for what it is: vile political blackface. When Colbert plays “Colbert,” it’s not mere mockery or satire or spoof. It’s something far nastier.
Vile, I say—vile! Also, Shapiro put an enormous picture of a white comedian in blackface at the top of his column, because he had to.