News Flash! Satire Confusion Syndrome Epidemic Spreads to the Left!

The headline reads:

Palin Says She’d Deport Christina Aguilera for Botching the National Anthem

Although nothing Sarah Palin has ever said or done suggests that she would ever advocate such a ridiculous thing, and despite the fact the headline appeared on a clearly labeled comedy site, with the story including such over-the-top statements as…

“Palin also levied criticism on the Obama administration for allowing “spicy Latin princesses” to do the jobs of American pop divas. “Unemployment is at nine percent, yet we have to suffer through a performance by a foreigner with a poor grasp of the English language? If I were president, I’d deport Ms. Aguilera back to wherever it is she’s from and give Amy Smart a call.”

..despite all this, prominent Angry Left blogger TBogg took the story completely seriously, and so did many of his followers, who piled on in a “boy-is-that-woman-ever-stupid-like-all-the-other -Tea-Baggers” orgy of contempt.

This, of course, is the B-side of the putrid record Ethics Alarms reviewed a week ago, when a group of addled, humor-drained Montana conservatives decided that a production of “The Mikado” was trying to get Sarah Palin killed. If I had to pick the dumber of the two incidents, the Missoula Mikado gets my vote, but the important lesson is that political fanaticism, hatred, paranoia and a burning desire to focus all of it on a favorite target—for the liberals, Sarah Palin; for the conservatives, the tormenters of Sarah Palin—caused the former to behave more stupidly than Palin on the worst day of her life, and the latter to top the extreme unfairness of those who tried to blame Palin for Rep. Giffords’ shooting.

The Left’s dislike for Palin has reached a toxic level where it has contaminated all reason and proportion. As Ken, one of the bloggers at Popehat, headlined his post on TBogg’s error: Fear Leads to Anger. Anger Leads to Hate. Hate Leads to Stupid.

TBogg’s use of the Palin satire as fact is not just an indictment of his own perception. It is also an insult to Palin, and a disservice to his loyal readers, many of whom will help spread the rumor that Palin actually suggested deporting Aguilera. This, in turn will make it harder for them to recognize future satire, while unfairly harming Palin’s reputation. If TBogg cared about fairness and manners, he would have apologized for his gaffe. Naturally, he didn’t.

He did perform a service, however, by proving that the Left is just as prone to hate-fueled humor insensitivity as the Right. It isn’t just that it is almost impossible to behave ethically when you are consumed with hatred. It is even hard to think straight.

16 thoughts on “News Flash! Satire Confusion Syndrome Epidemic Spreads to the Left!

  1. Comedy sites that aren’t The Onion have the responsibility to be DARN clearly labeled, because even the levelheaded can be hopelessly worn down by the stories we wish WEREN’T true.

    Nevertheless, I’m going to rethink my satirical headline “BARACK OBAMA CONSUMED BY RADIOACTIVE COCKROACH FROM EARTH’S CORE.”

  2. I find this inability to recognize satire deeply troubling, perhaps because I am snarky by nature and fear that the verbal and non-verbal signifiers that used to make ironic intentions clear are not being read as clearly as they were even a decade ago. I blame emoticons. (The previous sentence said mostly, but not completely, in jest.) Sometimes politicians (of all political stripes) say things that are stupid enough to seem to be satire. Sometimes comedy-writers don’t exaggerate enough, and the irony is lost because the story could plausibly be accurate. This isn’t one of those cases. This one really is on the reader to “get it.”

    Any ideas why this phenomenon seems to be occuring more frequently now? Cynicism? Over-sensitivity? Decreased critical skills in general? I don’t think it’s (only) a function of a polarized citizenry, as although the two most recent example you cite concern a controversial (polarizing?) figure, one could as easier cite dozens of other examples outside the realm of politics per se. Hypotheses?

    For what it’s worth, TBogg has taken down whatever he posted and replaced it with “Okay. It was a parody. Never mind.” Yep, that’s solves the problem. (<– irony)

    • RicK:I tend to think that being offended has become currency, so whereas people once wanted to be amused, now they want to be offended, or to believe the worst of others. I agree with you—it’s a symptom of something bad, like the disintigration of shared perception and community.

  3. I’d cut TBogg some slack in thinking the story was real at first. It’s not any more ridiculous then a letter threatening specific secret service agents if they don’t arrest staff of a play that comicallly mentioned someone unprotected by secret service .

    That said. It was completely inappropriate to not check the information out and verify it before writing anything up.

    A retraction and apology with no jibes (ex: I saw a crazy story, and did not vet it. It was really satire. I screwed up. Sarah Palin never said these things. Full Stop.) is necessary.

  4. The current desire to be offended…it’s a head-shaker, all right. We’ve always known that there are those poor unfortunate souls (left-wing and right-wing) who go ’round diligently searching for something about which to be indignant. Their problem, of course, is interior, not exterior.

    “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves…”

    But with the advent of so much instant communication, the phenomenon does appear, at least, to be increasing. It’s like the ancient carp about the old Quaker farmer who told his wife:

    “The whole world’s mad but thee and me, and at times I have my doubts of thee.”

  5. I agree with tgt. Satire is often hard to recognize as satire: for example Tina Fey’s recitation verbatim of Palin’s words was taken as satire when in fact it was a literal quote. And there’s the classic of misread satire, Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” which gives no clue as to whether it’s to be taken seriously; the reader must decide for himself.

  6. I think I would disagree with your ordering. I am well aware that the Onion is satire (and have for over 20 years), but I had to look up “The Mikado” and even after I did, couldn’t quite make out what the problem was. I obviously don’t follow the theatre, but most people don’t and I think you overestimate how well known and common knowledge that play is.
    One problem with The Onion, is that it is NOT clearly labeled as a humor site. In fact, it is labelled as “America’s Finest News Source” and the only disclaimer on the front page is that the Onion is not intended for readers under 18 years of age. You might think that you should be able to detect the satire from the outrageous article titles, but look at some from today’s “The Onion”.

    “College Basketball Star Heroically Overcomes Tragic Rape He Committed”

    “Egyptian Populace To Hopefully Get Something Better Than Democracy Out Of All Of This”

    “Bard College Named Nation’s No. 1 Dinner Party School”

    “Republicans Vote to Repeal Obama-Backed Bill That Would Destroy Asteroid Headed For Earth”

    Tell me that those look like obvious satire in today’s world. They wouldn’t be out of place on any political blog, and wouldn’t even raise to many eyebrows in today’s paper. Today’s news is so laced with feel-good, pointless articles and opinion pieces, that it does make it harder to detect the satire. It may be that today’s media is already an unintentional satire of itself. Satire of today’s news may be redundant.

    • Satire is still important for pointing out how ridiculous our news system has become and the ideas that have been mainstreamed. Those headlines are 100% completely ridiculous. That they wouldn’t be out of place in common discourse is an indictment of our common discourse. We need satire to let us know when we have become self-parody. Labeling the onion would be giving in to the hysteria. If you can’t tell satire from reality, reality needs a makeover.

      I agree on your points about the Mikado. I don’t follow theatre, but I do see a couple plays a year. The Mikado didn’t even ring any bells, and without context, I would have had no clue who Gilbert and Sullivan were. Jack said that the Mikado should be as well known as Hamlet. I’d bet that a significant portion of the population couldn’t tell you the plot or setting of Hamlet, or even name a second character in the play. “Macbeth, right?”

      I understand someone going to a show they’ve heard is a light comedy, not understanding the humor (my ex-wife didn’t even get “Heathers”), and then doing something stupid. This was more an indictment of the news staff who should have known not to take comments at face value.

    • I think they are obvious satire. To say otherwise is to excuse and endorse witlessness. Each headline i based on irony, and if someone can’t detect irony, then he has a problem. He has no business making his deficit my problem. The Onion shouldn’t have to label itself as satire. Satirists have to be competent at what they do like everyone else.
      Competence for a humorist does not require explaining that its a joke to the humor-challenged.

  7. It would seem to me that some website labeled “The Onion” would immediately tell one that “tongue-in-cheek” is liable to be the staple. Likewise with sites and/or magazines named “Mad” or “Cracked”! However, with so many weird sites out there (your’s excluded of course, Jack!) it’s not too great a leap to see why inexperienced young people have trouble telling what’s satire and what’s not. After all, the entire pop culture has “gone weird” to such an extent (not to mention the educational and political systems right along with it) that it’s a wonder that any of them can tell up from down or fact from fiction. Nor do I doubt that this is what any number of unscrupulous commentators rely on.

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