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Michael DeJong

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Sarcasm Month

Posted: 10/22/08 10:48 AM ET

Wit has truth in it; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words.
-Dorothy Parker

Clever clown, cynical satirist, a wiseass with wit or a kook with a comical quip, a sense of humor is handy when smoothing out the wrinkles in life, or even for ruffling some feathers, but wit and a sense of irony are especially handy during Sarcasm Month -- 30 days to get those biting riffs into the necks of your victims!

To be sure, sarcasm is an art. It's one of those little yet big things in life, which can only be expressed beautifully when mastered correctly. Though sarcasm may be funny, it may also (intentionally or unintentionally) hurt, so it needs to be used judiciously and deliciously. Sarcasm, which is both positively funny and negatively nasty, plays an important part in human social interaction.

In the movie Arthur, Sir John Gielgud, a master of sarcasm, plays a gentleman's gentleman to Dudley Moore's character, a rich, spoiled alcoholic. When Moore says, "I have to go the bathroom," Sir Gielgud, without skipping a beat replies, "I'll alert the media!" Of course, now that everyone is having Andy Warhol's promised 15 minutes of fame, that remark in today's context might not seem as sarcastic! (Was that sarcastic of me?)

High or low, as Oscar Wilde stated, "Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, but the highest form of intelligence." Even the often risqué puppeteer Waylon Flowers with his papier-mache phallus-faced sidekick Madam was masterful at it: A gentleman in a bar asks Madam, "Did you give me a funny look?" To which Madam retorts, "You may have a funny look, but I didn't give it to you."

At one time or another we've all been served a warm plate of sarcasm with cynical statements like "Don't let your mind wander; it's far too small to be let out on its own."

Sarcasm often goes straight for the jugular, and is usually easy to understand because it states the obvious in an non-obvious way. But why is something so -- well -- sarcastic as sarcasm, part of the human social toolbox?

There is no doubt that frightful things in current events make for sensational opportunities for sarcasm -- in these times, it's almost "trench humor" that helps us survive.

Perfect cynical fodder example: Sarah Palin. Had she not set herself up for it in her nomination speech, the following, seen on a campaign button, would be meaningless: "Jesus was a community organizer and Pontius Pilate was a Governor."

And now that she and her running mate seem to be grasping at straws they are talking about the "real" America (vs. I don't know, the "fake" America?), and lucky for us we can always look to the old masters of sarcasm for truisms at times like these. It was George Bernard Shaw who said, "The 100% American is 99% idiot." And her "Real" rural and suburban America is where they tear out the trees and then name streets after them.

Palin is also meditating on a natural gas pipeline claiming it's realized when not a single piece of pipe has been laid, all the while chanting her new mantra "Drill, Baby, Drill!" However, it was J. Paul Getty who sarcastically (but knowingly and greedily) claimed, "The meek shall inherit the earth, but not the mineral rights."

It seems that everyone on the current political horizon is sarcastic towards the environment (either deliberately, which scares the hell out of me, or unintentionally, which also scares the hell out of me!) For instance "The Decider" actually took money out of the budget for solar and renewable energy and used it instead to print the Department of Energy's budget.

And how "green" is Palin's running mate? Well he skipped every one of the 15 votes that the League of Conservation Voters deemed critical measures for the environment, including votes where the Arizona Senator's "yea" would have meant passage by a single-vote margin. ("Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself." -- Mark Twain)

And as for the great Senator's debating skills, as Abraham Lincoln, a brilliant orator and cynical politician claimed, "He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know."

Dear God, why are there so many freaks, and so few circuses? The fiscal crisis we find ourselves in is tragic, frightening, maddening, and will ruin individuals and families. The old sarcastic line, "I work 40 hours a week to be this poor" is not only no longer funny, ironically it will soon not even be applicable to millions of out-of-work Americans -- and "Real" Americans at that.

Dostoyevsky, not necessarily known for his thigh-slapping wit, claimed "Sarcasm was the last refuge of modest and chaste-souled people when the privacy of their soul is coarsely and intrusively invaded." What he lacked in funniness he sure made up for in profundity. For the last eight years, many of us feel that our souls have been coarsely and intrusively invaded. The irony is that the sarcastic jokesters that actually run our country talk the talk but they each walk an entirely different walk. Bush's final words to the country that so hates him might be, "Political chaos? Economic panic? Environmental disorder? My work here is done."