Are You An Asshole? On Satire and Offense

Evil Jester

“If you’re seriously contending that you get a free pass to be an asshole by calling what you write ‘humor,’ or that humorists are under no obligation to have any manners, think again.”

This is a comment from a discussion going on on someone else’s Facebook wall. I’d reply there, but the woman whose wall it is isn’t someone I know and she has already spazzed out about people disagreeing with her public post, which was an attack on the Onion for its story “Heartbroken Chris Brown Always Thought Rihanna Was Woman He’d Beat To Death.”  Her stance — and that of the guy I quoted above — is that satire shouldn’t offend.

Fuck that. If you’re not offending somebody, you’re not doing satire correctly, you’re just being amusing. And you’re not making a point, you’re just making a joke. The last thing a satirist, or a comedian of any stripe, or any goddamned artist of any sort, should be worrying about is whether they’re offending someone with their material, unless being inoffensive is, indeed, one of their goals as a creator. Sure, there are boundaries that you probably shouldn’t cross if you want to be a decent person (publicly attacking a child, for instance), but for the most part, nothing is sacred.

As novelist Tad Williams, who was also involved in this discussion, wrote, “There is no edge. The edge is a movable feast. A good humorist has to go with the gut, and sometimes the audience is in a slightly different place than expected. You can’t have ‘safe’ satire, because that’s not satire, that’s officially sanctioned merriment.”

So yeah, to put it in terms the guy I quoted used, you get a free pass to be an asshole and you’re not under any obligation to have any manners. That may cost you a fan or a friend sometimes, it may cost you a job, it may make you unpopular if you really touch a nerve. That’s why satire, why art, is brave. That’s one of the things that makes it matter. That’s one of the things that makes it real. That’s one of the things that makes it truth.

Sacred cows make the tastiest burgers.

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7 comments on “Are You An Asshole? On Satire and Offense

  1. Maebius says:

    Agreed, soem of the most successful ‘comics’ understand this. If you aren’t annoying someone, you are doing it wrong, and as you say, Proper Satire is meant to sting a bit. It’s The Fool, Coyote, Trickster, and such, pointing out what’s wrong by saying it’s good, and making the lesson internal when we realize “no, that’s bad”. :)
    Well said.

  2. chuckwelch says:

    On Facebook I’ll often find someone claiming satire when they’re just being an ass. The key is: they’re not “exposing, denouncing or deriding vice, folly, etc.*” They’re just using blunt-force humor to ridicule a specific person or select group.

    * – “satire: “the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc — dictionary.com”

    • Tim Byrd says:

      A very good point. A good satirist is a surgeon, not a lout.

      • List of X says:

        Unfortunately, what someone might identify as sharp wit, another person would call “blunt force humor”.

        • Tim Byrd says:

          For me, it comes down to this: if your critique on someone’s joke comes out of your mouth as “You shouldn’t be joking about that because it’s offensive” then you’re the one who’s out of line. Call them an insensitive asshole, think badly of them, whatever. But when you say an artist shouldn’t art because you don’t approve of their subject, you’re out of bounds.

          • List of X says:

            Agree 100%. There are offensive jokes, and there are subjects where it’s harder to make a joke that wouldn’t be offensive, but no subject should be closed off to humor/art/discussion completely.

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