Political Satire in the Wrong Hands


There are certain literary forms that seem easy because  when we read masters of the form, like  Swift, or in our times Jon Stewart, they make it seem easy. The good satirist, uses satire to wake up the reader from a slumber;  the bad satirist, just diverts the reader to some other stupor.  Satire is not a parable, it’s a form that should throw off the majority of the readers, even those who agree.  It must break down some barrier.

Take for example this post I read this morning, by one Cranky Cuss over at Open Salon, He tries to make an easy satire by claiming that heh, why just stop the Mosque, the vendors, all around Ground Zero, are Arab.  The readers find it funny, clever.  Why do they find it funny?

Because, to them, Muslim’s are either terrorists, or simple street vendors.  The post wreaks of stereotypes and over simplification.  Of course, the only other vendor is a Puerto Rican.  We are to be impressed with his wisdom and the other Americans, the anti Park 51 Americans world view.  Yet, this writer and his readers, avoid dealing with their own shortcomings when it comes to understanding Muslims.  The author gives them a pass, instead of shaking up their simplified point of view as well, he just comforts them into thinking, they are better than “them”.

The readers claim that this satire humanized the Muslims, they claim that it’s brilliant and cutting edge, why?  Cause it meets their own facile stereotypes.  Just as one side has demonized Muslims and Arabs into all being terrorists, the typical Orientalist mind set, has diminished the Muslim/Arab, into the servile man.   The idea of humanizing the other is not to sanctify him, or paint him into a simpleton.

This is why satire, in the wrong hands, can leave a bad after taste.  In fact, it can serve the opposite purpose, it perpetuates yet another bad notion.  If this writer wanted to truly make a point, if he knew anything about Muslims in America, that the son of the falafel salesman, most likely is a civil, electrical, or mechanical engineer working on rebuilding the towers.  Why?  Cause if anyone has worked in the field, you know that most blue blooded, real Americans these days shun engineering for the creative arts.  Granted he does not have to personally know Muslims, but he stays within his comfort zone.

This is what happens when we never let Muslims/Arabs speak for themselves.  The average American has reduced the 5.5 million Muslims, to terrorists, or falafel salesmen.  I in no way am diminishing the falafel salesman, but when he is painted as a simpleton, I do find offense.    The idea of not having stereotypes, of not being a racist, is to understand that on his walk, he could have seen Muslims doing all kinds of things, being American, not just the vendors, merchants.

So, choose, you are either a merchant in a Bazaar, or you are a terrorist.  When this is the end result of satire, it is a big fail.  Yet this writer and his readers, think that they are far superior to the bigot who diminishes Muslims to just terrorists.

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2 Comments

Filed under American Politics, Culture and Society

2 responses to “Political Satire in the Wrong Hands

  1. Cranky Cuss

    Curious that when you criticize my Open Salon piece, you chose not to do so at Open Salon. For someone who’s always arguing for OPEN debate, you seemed curiously anxious to avoid it here. Or to give me a chance to respond. But I’ve been alerted to the post and I will respond.

    Your central point about the stereotyping of Muslims is valid, of course, but it does not apply to my piece. You apparently think I invented the whole thing in my narrow little mind. In fact, the only thing that was invented was the dialogue.

    I used to work a block from the proposed site of the mosque and walked past it hundreds of times. I knew that the idea of this little commercial block as hallowed grounds was baloney. So the day before I wrote my post, I went to lower Manhattan and walked the block to see how, or if, it had changed. Every person that was in my piece – the vendors, the protesters – were people I actually encountered.

    When I originally began to write it, I invented a part about a Muslim woman who turned out to be a financial analyst. But I decided to only include what I actually saw, and made an editorial decision to remove it. It is not indicative of any type of bigotry. But I applaud your ability to read my mind.

    Since I had posted comments on four pieces about the mosque controversy, I solicited their comments on mine. One of them was Anushay Hossain, a young Muslim woman, and her response was, “Ha! I like it! Good job! And thanks for making me for once, laugh about this whole mosque blowup.” But then, Anushay doesn’t know me, so she had no pre-conceived agenda against me, unlike you.

    One final note: I like your new avatar on OS. But why do you look so bored? Oh, I know. You must have been reading your own prose.

    • Cranky, thank you for commenting. Obviously you still miss the point of my criticism, I posted your response because it makes my point stronger.

      Yes, I am sure you have Muslim friends, do you think it’s ok to disclose their names? Or do you think she is not allowed such a formality? Maybe you should read somethings about Orientalism before you comment.

      I will be sure to let D’Art at OS know of your compliments about my avatar. And your jibe about my prose, further shows your capacity for being a blogger and receiving criticism.