Paul Krassner, the American stand-up comedian, once said, "For years, reality has been nipping at the heels of satire. Now, it's finally caught up. I don't need to make this stuff up." Krassner was prescient -- Donald Trump recently withdrew a $5-million lawsuit he filed against comedian Bill Maher for calling him the son of a monkey. Trump took legal action against Maher in February. He alleges Maher reneged on a pledge to donate $5-million to a charity should Trump not be able to prove he was not part ape. Trump says he had formally responded to Maher's challenge with a copy of his birth certificate, proving clearly he is the "son of Fred Trump" and not an ape. Maher made the tongue-in-cheek challenge after Trump made his own $5-million offer to President Barack Obama asking him to produce a birth certificate to prove he is indeed a natural-born citizen of the United States.
Historically, political satire has been used to highlight shortcomings using mockery to shame individuals into improving. Satire is constructive criticism that uses humor as a bludgeon. Comedian Bassem Youssef is a popular Egyptian satirist whose television show is watched by millions. Youssef, a practicing cardiothoracic surgeon, became famous after uploading several parodies on YouTube after the downfall of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. The video clips mocked politicians and were watched by millions and eventually secured Youssef his own television show. His show regularly satirizes President Mohamed Morsi. Recently, he was accused of defaming President Mohamed Morsi in a lawsuit. Youssef was arrested and was only recently released on bail. His accusers claimed they, "suffered massive harm from Youssef's satire, and were psychologically affected by this nonsense, ridicule and slander addressed to the head of state." Ever the showman, Youssef went to his court summons wearing an oversized graduation hat -- a copy of the hat worn by President Morsi when he was awarded an honorary doctorate in Pakistan last month.
The Turkish Cultural Association in Austria a couple of weeks ago declared victory -- believing they had forced LEGO to remove a particular Star Wars toy from store shelves. They claimed this toy was anti-Muslim. According to the Turkish group "Jabba's Palace" looked like, "a mosque-like building inhabited by an obese, hookah-smoking alien." The Turkish group claimed that all the mini-figurines, included with the toy, were "deceitful and criminal characters such as gun-runners, slave masters and terrorists... and that the palace had an uncanny resemblance to Istanbul's Hagia Sophia mosque." LEGO responded, saying the palace and the mini-figurines did not reflect real buildings or people. Retiring "Jabba's Palace" was a business decision and was not a result of the criticism raised by the Turkish Cultural Association in Austria but rather because of strategic business decisions that only allow a life cycle of up to three years for many of Lego's Star Wars products.
Satire consists of amplifying the ludicrous until it is revealed how absurd it all is. But what happens when our reality already exists in an amplified state? Reality and fiction are so helplessly interlaced in our day-and-age that it becomes impossible to untangle the two. Jonathan Swift, in his satirical essay, "A Modest Proposal" recommended that the Irish could fix many of their problems by eating their children. This would prevent destitute children from being a burden to their country and would turn them into a beneficial public commodity. Swift wrote his essay in 1729. Could he write such an essay in 2013? The problem, some three hundred years later, is that many of us would actually believe him.