Satire is dying. As someone who enjoys both writing and reading it, I cannot recall a worse time in America for satire. And the reason is simple: Satire just can't keep pace with how bad things have actually gotten.
I'd been noticing for a while that much of the satire I was reading sounded too believable -- a phenomenon known as "Poe's Law" -- but now the actual news has started to sound unbelievable. Representative Todd Akin said of unwanted conceptions resulting from rape, "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down."
When I first saw this quote, I wasn't sure if it was real or satire. Further research revealed it to be real. Friends shared links to satirical articles in response to Rep. Akin's comments with headlines like "PREGNANT WOMAN RELIEVED TO LEARN HER RAPE WAS ILLEGITIMATE" and "REP. STEVE KING: I'VE NEVER HEARD OF A GIRL GETTING PREGNANT FROM STATUTORY RAPE OR INCEST"
And then I found out the second headline wasn't satire from the Onion, but was an actual news headline. For every satirical headline like "REPUBLICANS CONDEMN AKIN'S COMMENTS AS BLEMISH ON PARTY'S OTHERWISE SPOTLESS WOMEN'S RIGHTS RECORD," there was an actual headline like "HUCKABEE SAYS HORRIBLE RAPES CREATED SOME EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE."
I have studied satire for many years and even I am now losing the ability to tell satire apart from actual news. I know I'm not alone here. Last week, on Aug. 23, the
The next day, Aug. 24, was a mass shooting at the Empire State Building. The Onion was forced to update their article with "Never Mind." The fact that such horrifying events take place on a weekly basis is demoralizing. Yet the real tragedy is that this may be one of the worst times in history for America's satire writers.
Imagine that you are Jonathan Swift. You get an idea for a satirical essay that will mock both people who have no regard for the poor, and people who come up with terrible solutions to poverty. Your idea of proposing cannibalism is so over the top crazy that everyone will immediately see what a brilliant satire it is. Then on the day you are finishing up the final editing of your Modest Proposal, you see the following headline in the newspaper: "REPRESENTATIVE OF BATH AND WELLS SUGGESTS EATING IRISH BABIES AS STOPGAP SOLUTION."
Implausible? I'd been increasingly disappointed by politicians promoting anti-woman policies, so I recently started work with my friend Lex on a satirical song espousing the most ridiculous anti-woman idea I could think of: the idea that giving women any choices at all, including voting, was a mistake.
Before we could release our song, the Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson -- a frequent guest on Fox News and founder of a Tea Party group in California and a conservative religious nonprofit -- gave a speech in which he said, "I think that one of the greatest mistakes that America made was to allow women the opportunity to vote. We should've never turned it over to women."
So I don't know how satire works any more. I just know I hope things get better.
Seth Brown is a local humor writer and the author of "From God To Verse," and he wishes he were making this up. His work appears weekly in the Transcript and weakly on www.RisingPun.com.