Satire: Helping Make Evil a Bit More Uncool

Are Pop Culture Jokes Wrapped in News Really Political Satire?

By Joe Bodolai © 2011, All rights reserved

Recent events about the murder of Osama Bin Laden, or whatever that story was, led to a flurry of what was called “political satire”. Much of it was really just a simple formula: take a serious political event and merge it with a pop culture reference. This is often very funny, it’s still really pop culture joke wrapped in news. There were also numerous parodies, impressions of political figures again making pop culture references. I won’t quote these, you know where to find them. Satire, I feel, has a different quality. At its best it is a moral statement, one that I define as “making evil uncool”. Often that kind of joke does use pop culture references, but the purpose is to reveal and not revel in the subject. In Canada, we have had satire in prime time for decades, even on radio. The Royal Canadian Air Farce, This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Talking to Americans, and the legendary This Hour Has Seven Days were all way ahead of The Daily Show. Even Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels and much of the cast and writing teams are Canadians.One of my real heroes in this type of comedy is, of course, the late George Carlin. I had the surprising honour of accepting an award on his behalf at a celebration of the First Amendment. Here’s a clip of my acceptance speech from that event.

When I saw the pictures from Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, I was not alone in being reminded of this:

Kent State, May 4, 1970: The Picture asks "Why?" I Ask "What Is To Be Done?"

So how does satire or being funny address real wrongs and what can we do about it? I found this lesson from a group of students in Serbia who played a major part in overthrowing Milosevic just by being funny in an active way. Theirs was a satire of action, not of the smug and distant. Rather than have me attempt to summarize it, I’d rather dedicate my space here today to them, and to remind us all that making evil a bit more uncool is more than just a joke:

What Egypt Learned from the Students Who Overthrew Milosevic by Tina Rosenberg — and what we need to know.

And if you haven’t noticed, you can read my Twitter posts at the right and see if my mood has changed to allow me to make some of the kind of jokes I often include here. If you want to read them all, go my Twitter feed.

UPDATE: I did manage to do a bit of heavy-handed animated political satire for, I hope, your enjoyment:

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