Saturday, December 29, 2007

On Language: "Satire"

Brilliant Satire? Rape Only Hurts If You Fight It (This link is the best-formatted reproduction I could find)

Rape Only Hurts If You Fight It

John Petroski
Opinions Editor

Most people today would claim that rape is a terrible crime almost akin to murder but I strongly disagree. Far from a vile act, rape is a magical experience that benefits society as a whole. I realize many of you will disagree with this thesis but lend me your ears and I’m sure I’ll sway you towards a darkened alley.
In actuality, rape’s advantages can very much be seen today. Take ugly women, for example. If it weren’t for rape, how would they ever know the joy of intercourse with a man who isn’t drunk? In a society as plastic-conscious as our own, are we really to believe that some man would ever sleep with a girl resembling a wildebeest if he didn’t have a few schnapps in him? Of course he wouldn’t, at least no self-respecting man would, but therein lies the beauty of rape. No self-respecting man would rape in the first place, so ugly women are guaranteed a romp with not only a sober man, but a bad boy too, and we all know how much ladies like the bad boy.

Dishonest speakers often use words incorrectly on purpose to take advantage of certain connotations. "Satire" is one of those words. Sarcasm, hyperbole and contrariness are similar to sarcasm in that none of them are meant to be taken at face value, but satire alone is considered valuable political discourse. So it's no surprise that hyperbolic and contrarian speakers appeal to satire in attempts to sort-of kind-of but not really disown their own writing.

The above piece was defended as satire. Satire of what? It's impossible to plausibly explain what is being sent-up. People who believe that rape is a "magical experience that benefits society" are in short supply and any satire of those few individuals is an exercise in irrelevance.

The latter excerpted paragraph reads less like satire than like the slight hyperbole of an annoying college-age Limbaugh-wannabe provocateur -- a fairly accurate description of the author. It is mean-spirited in a non-satirical manner, especially when you consider that his "satire" is similar to his serious writing and that his writings on women and humanity in general are full of contempt.

"Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I do not endorse, support, or condone rape. That aside, I chose to satirize rape in order to illustrate that no one pays attention to news unless it's sensational," Petroski said.

This explanation by the author is nonsense. The piece does not satirize rape, it does not satirize rapists nor does it satirize the news. His explanation, that it satirizes rape itself, is the most far-fetched of the three already unbelievable interpretations. What it even means to "satirize rape" is beyond me.

Clearly the author enjoys tweaking people and playing the provocateur, his other writing makes that immediately apparent. Unfortunately provocative hyperbole is not satire, it's petulant childishness.

This sort of writing reeks of the typical college conservative fair: mean-spirited attacks divorced from any real politics or philosophy. Which brings us to Ann Coulter, whose work at the Cornell Review helped define the template for hyperbolic gasbags masquerading as satirists.

My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building.

Editor & Publisher magazine defends Coulter as "satire."

Ann Coulter writes highly charged political commentary that's laced with trenchant satire -- satire that can be traced all the way back to Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal," written in 1729. No one really believed that Swift was seriously advocating that the impoverished Irish relieve themselves of the burden of their children by feeding them to the rich.

Ann's hyperbolic style of delivery delights her conservative audience, much to the displeasure of liberals.

Ann Coulter is the next Jon Swift? Probably not. What Jon Swift wrote was an inversion of what he actually believed; what Coulter's writes is a slight exaggeration of her real views. (At best, according to her it is exactly what she believes) Had Jon Swift been a Coulter-style "satirist" he would have believed that while feeding children to the rich may be a bit much feeding their non-essential parts likes ears and feet to the rich is perfectly acceptable.

David Horowitz is also confused about what "satire" actually means:

I began running Coulter columns on my website shortly after she came up with her most infamous line, which urged America to put jihadists to the sword and convert them to Christianity. Liberals were horrified; I was not. I thought to myself, this is a perfect send-up of what our Islamo-fascist enemies believe - that as infidels we should be put to the sword and converted to Islam. I regarded Coulter's phillipic as a Swiftian commentary on liberal illusions of multi-cultural outreach to people who want to rip out our hearts.

Let's review once again the Swiftian formula: take opinions opposed to your own, exaggerate them and present them as your own opinions as a way of mocking true adherents.

Now let's feed Ann Coulter's dreck into that formula. Ann Coulter wrote that we should invade Muslim countries and forcibly convert them to Christianity. The subjects of her "Swiftian commentary" should therefore be people who honestly beleive something similar. People like Norman Podhoretz, Michael Ledeen and other neo-conservative hawks. Yet oddly enough Christian warrior hawks are a large part of her fan base, which is composed mostly of people who agree with her expressed opinions at face value.

Reading David Horowitz it's clear he has no idea what satire is. He can't decide whether it is funny or serious, taken at face-value or as the opposite. Ann Coulter said of 9/11 widows "I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much." In the following interview Horowitz describes these and other comments as "satire" -- then defends them as accurate and "a service."

HOROWITZ: When Al Franken does satire, people understand it's satire.

RUTTEN: Do you think this was satire?

HOROWITZ: Yeah, I absolutely do.


HOROWITZ: I think this is serious. I think that Ann has done is a service.


RUTTEN: David -- David, two-thirds of this book, not about the war in Iraq. About her opposition to stem cell research, the theory of evolution, public school teachers who she accused of mass child molestation.

HOROWITZ: I agree with her.

"I agree with her."

Someone needs to explain to David Horowitz, speaking slowly and with small words, that agreeing with satirical comments is a bad thing. You cannot claim that something is satire and in the same breath claim it is serious and agreeable. Unless you are dumb like David Horowitz.

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