If I had a nickel for every time someone said, “Mr. Ward! Please put the satire down and walk away!,” my bank account would be bigger than Bill Gate’s.
You see, satire, and her crazy twin sister hyperbole, are always dangerous endeavors because the author has to rely on the reader to participate in the process. The writer must believe the reader is intelligent enough to be in on the joke.
And that’s a lot more dangerous than handling a loaded weapon.
To wit, one of my adoring fans, clearly accustomed to being spoon fed everything, tried to tell me, “If you have to explain satire, it doesn’t work.” Wrong! The fact that it takes a little time, effort and reflection to understand it makes it a much more powerful tool.
Here’s a good example.
Upon receiving my restaurant gazpacho, I’ll blow on it a couple of times, call the waiter over and say, “You know! I blew on this soup twice and it’s stone cold.” It’s in the moment where the waiter isn’t sure if I’m serious or not that the joke works. Then my longsuffering wife just shakes her head.
Jonathan Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal,’ where he proposed the Irish eat their babies in response to the Potato Famine, is the pinnacle of satire. If you haven’t read that brief passage, please do so! It actually embarrassed the British government into doing something about the suffering.
New Yorker magazine’s Andy Borowitz is the current king of the art as he regularly skewers Donald Trump, and Steven Colbert’s faux conservative commentator is another superb example.
Good satire employs just enough humor to make the reader wonder if the author is sincere.
Hyperbole, on the other hand, is even more perilous because the humor isn’t subtle at all. And any time you bash a reader or viewer over the head with their own shortcomings, you’re basically taking your life into your own hands.
Norman Lear and Carroll O’Connor employed hyperbole to perfection as Archie Bunker exposed the average ’70s white male bigotry for all to see. But the sad truth is, ‘All in the Family’ would never make it on the air today.
So, I was amazed when the Aurora Public Library embraced this almost lost art by displaying a piece by poet George Miller entitled ‘Hajib is Jihad.’ The poem, superimposed on a Confederate flag, quotes a parent proud about his son ripping a hajib off a Muslim girl.
Yes! It is the kind of thing you have to think about for a few seconds, but when you consider the venue – a library – you quickly understand the point of the powerful piece and smile. C’mon! Does anyone really think a library would promote that kind of prejudice?
Wait! Don’t answer that. It would depress me far too much.
The real problem is, we’re letting stupid people take over by dumbing everything down to the point where we don’t offend them. And when the folks who fervently believed the library was condoning bigotry started shrieking and rending garments, the library board surrendered faster than an Italian army in a North African desert.
Even Beacon-News columnist Denise Crosby wrote “It took me a couple of read-throughs, though. And I had to think about it. Hard.” Really? A journalist who doesn’t get satire? Though, having worked with Ms. Crosby at length, I probably shouldn’t be surprised.
Then Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin just had to leap into the fray and fan the flames. “As mayor of this multicultural city, there is no way I can stand by and see something so derogatory in a public library. I had to speak out immediately.”
No, you didn’t! Not everything requires your attention!
So, the author’s intent no longer matters? Is it really all about us, our delicate sensibilities, and our stilted interpretation of those words? Yikes! Apparently, the movie ‘Idiocracy’s’ dire forecast is coming to fruition far faster than I ever thought it would.
Denouncing that display may have been politically expedient, but I know Hizonner understands satire and I couldn’t be more disappointed in his reaction. Those are exactly the words that should be exposed for exactly what they are, because bigots always scurry back into the dark corners whenever you shine the light of day on them.
After penning an apology that didn’t appease the pitchfork and torch bearing crowd, Library Board President John Savage threw his staff under the bus in a second contrition effort to save his scrawny butt. But the only thing that accomplished was getting Communications Director Amy Roth to resign.
Mr. Savage, you are a coward and poor excuse for a human being. I generally would’ve applied satire there, but I’m sure it would’ve gone right over your head. And does anyone really think the Aurora Public Library will ever try to make this kind of bold statement again?
For a brief second, I almost thought libraries were relevant again. I was clearly mistaken.