To Combat Mounting Stupidity
By Victor Adams
Satire: most commonly defined as the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to criticize stupidity or vice, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.
The concept appears to be making a comeback. The question is why.
Possibly because it’s the most effective and least offensive way of pointing out what an entire society sees but doesn’t have a platform to voice. Going back to Don Quixote and The Pilgrim’s Progress and continuing up through Catch-22 and the scarily relevant 1984, the authors poked fun at or warned people where current sentiment would land the society as a whole.
Especially in today’s cancel-culture and ever-changing narratives, words have lost their meaning. It doesn’t matter what you say, it matters how a person feels about it. If I make an offhand comment that I hate rocks, those simple words can be transformed into anti-Metamorphic bias. I’ve said some pretty nasty things about Igneous rocks, too. In fact, I don’t like a single rock type. Does that make me a geological bigot? Can I get sued and cancelled for that? Probably. And no, rocks aren’t a metaphor for something else. I’m just talking rocks here. But the assumption that it is a dog whistle for something else and more than just an offhand joke. That is the stringent, humorless mentality satire requires to thrive.
As a general rule, Americans were willing to make a trade-off. We didn’t mind that our leaders were mostly inept as long as they stayed out of our lives. What we’ve seen in 2020 is a break of that tacit contract. Once anathema to Americans, censorship, disguised as political correctness, is being normalized and ignored by our leaders. Not introduced. Normalized. Facts are being bent to fit into “narratives” rather than the other way around. An offhand joke, as our beloved John Cleese found out, can now land you in hot water.
And it’s that State, our 51st State, the State of crazy, that’s driving the return of satire. An effective satire paints a scene, or in the case of books, a small world, from the comically cynical point of view. This makes it perhaps the safest way to communicate the imperatives.
In Gilbert & Sullivan’s operetta, H.M.S. Pinafore, the song “When I was a Lad” tells the story of the ruler of the British Navy. As a young man, he gained a partnership in his professional firm, and according to the score, “that partnership was the only ship I ever had seen”. His success at unthinkingly following party doctrine lands him in Parliament, at which point, the song continues: “I thought so little, they rewarded me by making me the ruler of the Queen’s na-vy”. The song concludes that; “stick close to your desks and never go to sea, you all may be rulers of the Queen’s na-vy”.
While that score, written in the 1870's, is still relevant to our local and national leadership, it makes a much more memorable point than just shouting that these people are incompetent.
The problem with shouting that things have gone crazy is that you’re shouting into a hurricane. Everyone else is shouting, too. As more and more people search for something besides red-faced TV pundits, they find their release in mocking those people. The seriousness over who can use which bathroom is so absurd it begs to be pilloried.
Suppose I go on TV selling the idea that lawsuits are out of control. Like many pundits, my face expands and turns purple like that bad-guy in Big Trouble in Little China. Maybe you believe me, maybe you don’t. Most likely, you just wanna see if my head explodes.
But if a character in my novel gets bad broccoli at a restaurant, he isn’t as powerless as he used to be. He can sue the restaurant because he had the expectation of a better meal. A meal that would make him happy. Ergo, a bad meal violates his right to the pursuit of happiness. That is the whole basis for a new type of legal tort: the Expectation tort. If you rear-end someone on their way to work, you just violated their expectation of getting to work. Suppose they could sue you for that, on top of everything else.
So with that in mind, with the possibility of expectation lawsuits on the horizon, don’t you think it’s time we take a look at the state of the legal system?
Isn’t that idea, a bit of hyperbolic satire, more persuasive than a purple-headed child yelling on television?
So support humor. Support satire. Because in a world without it, the comically absurd becomes serious business. Better still, it’s hard to support a ridiculous position if everyone is laughing at it.
Victor Adams, author of the satirical novel The Last One Out, is a former top-10 franchisee and independent business owner. He sold his U.S. businesses and retired to Cartagena, Colombia in his early 40s.