A lot of my favorite books, from Lucky Jim by Kinglsley Amis to just about everything Chris Buckley has ever published, make great sport of withering satire, but I'm starting to wonder: Is satire dead?
How can satire be a weapon to change minds when no one pays close enough attention to anything they read even to notice when they are reading satire?
Or to point out another problem: How can actual, pointed satire even hope to get noticed when so much in our culture is already so impossibly over the top (cue up a mental image of Donald Trump's hair, please, so I don't have to -- once got stuck in the Yankee Stadium elevator just behind him and his hair -- still have nightmares about that)?
OK, I suppose one could point to The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and cite its influence and importance as some kind of testament to the continuing power and relevance of satire. And I love the show - can't emphasize that enough. But most of what Stewart and his team do is simply to point out - directly - the absurdity of so much of what passes for public discussion. Often his best laugh lines are clips of people saying just what they were caught saying they never said.
When I think of the classics of satire, I think of anger - and with so much anger kicking around in our culture now, so much pointless hate and name-calling, shouldn't we be seeing all kinds of new boldly satiric work? Shouldn't this bold satire help keep people mentally on their toes?
It's a truly insignificant example, I warrant, but like a lot of people I spent Monday night flipping back and forth between the Giants-Cards game and the presidential debate, and watched enough of the debate to know that Obama was just pummeling Romney -- if it had been a heavyweight fight, Romney would have been spitting teeth out all over the place and would have needed "Vinny the Towel" in the corner to say "No mas!" for him. Yet huge numbers of pundits tried to present the thing as some kind of near-draw, all based on some insipid insider-perception argument that amounted to: Don't trust your own eyes! Don't trust your ears! Let U.S. tell you what just happened ...
It got me thinking: Why can't Washington political reporter types adhere to reality -- to what actually happened -- the way that sportswriters do? Both do analysis, both cook up fake little mini-dramas, both build figures up to knock them down -- but at some point, in sports, little factual details like the score do tend to get included.
So I did a satiric piece here at Huffington Post with the headline: If the Beltway Media Had Been at AT&T Park, Instead of the Debate
This was the first paragraph: "The San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals wrapped up a series of games in the National League Championship Series last night with both teams seeking to portray their performance in the most favorable light."
Pretty hard to miss the satire there, I'd think -- and yet maybe one in ten of the people who read the piece picked it up as satire. The rest all seemed to think I was for some reason doing a whole piece on the mood of the Cards' fans ...
Just one example. Doesn't matter. But it raises the question: If everyone is skimming what they read, is it even possible to practice satire? Anywhere other than on one page in the New Yorker?
(And, to anticipate one likely comment, sure, it may be that the piece of mine in question simply sucked -- fair enough -- but even then, couldn't the reaction have been: "Dude, don't even TRY satire, because you suck at it!" instead of "Nice piece."?)