This may be a bad time for human rights in this country, but it’s a very good time for satire. “Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand,” Mark Twain said, though this may have been more in the line of wishful thinking than a scientific fact. Nonetheless, it doesn’t hurt; in the arsenal arrayed against tyranny and authoritarianism, satire may be a small weapon compared to protest, debate and resistance (not to mention endless expressions of outrage on social media), but it partakes of all three and doesn’t appear to be any less ineffective than these. They also serve who only stand and crack jokes.
Morally, this may be one of America’s darkest hours. Hard-core Trump supporters don’t want to hear it, and they certainly don’t want to hear that they’re wrong and morally complicit in the government’s practices. (In a democracy, I can’t see how they aren’t. They voted for the man.) I don’t have too many Trumpets on my Facebook feed, but those that are there are urging that protestors against the current administration just “shut up” (or, more accurately, “SHUT UP!”); others are urging that protestors should just close their mouths, keep their opinions to themselves and vote Trump out in 2020. Obviously free speech and open discussion, as uncomfortable as it can often get, is just as unimportant to them as it is to the administration they support, and they avoid it like the plague.
The most recent boom years of American satire came in the 1960s and 1970s, a time when the country was perhaps even more divided and on the verge of tearing apart than it is now. From William Gaddis, Joseph Heller, Terry Southern and Philip Roth to the best years of the National Lampoon, a no-holds-barred attack on status quo consciousness formed quite a considerable segment of American literature and popular culture.
These days, while the ammunition of exaggeration, parody, sarcasm and lampoon may be the same, the delivery systems are different. Instead of glossy magazines and novels, the preferred media of satirists today are live television and the Internet. (A shout out, though, to the American Bystander, still fighting the good print fight.) The world moves too quickly to be effectively captured in a novel or a magazine; reaction is now more immediate and best distributed through digital realms.
Unfortunately, these are shared in closed spaces like the echo chambers we call Facebook and Twitter, where only your friends can hear you laugh and some very good stuff streams off your feed before you can see it. I posted several great examples of recent (by that I mean produced within the past week) satire on Facebook yesterday, but I’d rather memorialize and archive it here, where anybody can find it. It may be that collectively they’re more powerful than they would be if each was seen individually. But it does prove that if there’s anything healthy in the American culture today, it’s lampoon and satire. Long may it wave.
From Seth Meyers:
And finally, John Oliver on China, where things aren’t any better: