- Written by Garry
- Created: 15 January 2015
When a writer such as myself establishes a certain reputation for being right all the time, inevitably it begins to draw the attention of the good, the great, the influential, and – if you’ve really made it big – the Dylan Malloch. I don’t mean to brag, but I was recently contacted via a popular online social media platform by the man himself with a request for an article. And since I have absolutely nothing better to do with my time, I thought to myself, “Fine. Whatever”.
DM: If you're contemplating writing another blog, and I hope you are, maybe you could look into where the line between 'satire' and 'offensiveness' is? Or is there even a line at all?
Gw2Rs: You got it, Dizzy.
It’s a topical question, given the recent attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris and the resultant reopening of the question of section 18C of the anti-discrimination laws here at home. And while I normally like to treat viral hashtag trends with a healthy dose of cynical disinfectant, I must confess I felt compelled to add a “Je suis Charlie” post to my Facebook wall, largely because the idea of angry mobs taking offence at what I’ve written and breaking into my house occasionally keeps me up at night. As far as I know, I’ve never actually offended any hardline militant Islamicists, although who’d know with that mob? I’ve ticked off my fair share of fundamentalist Christians, but since I am one I figure that’s fair game. I’m reasonably sure there’s an ocean of angry feminist slacktivists who simultaneously loathe me and find me strangely attractive (thanks Sis), but if the most they ever do about it is whinge about it on Facebook, I’m sure I’ll survive.
Satire, by definition, does not necessarily have to be offensive, although it usually involves making an idea, argument or cultural norm look silly, which is inevitably going to get someone’s knickers in a twist. Satire seeks to question (or mock) ideas, arguments or assumptions by exaggeration, irony or comparison. It does not usually set out to insult, demean or vilify, but if you’re on the receiving end of the good stuff, it probably doesn’t feel that way.
To answer Dylan’s initial question more directly, I think the satire/offensiveness distinction is more about a spectrum than a line in the sand. At one end is the critique of ideas and arguments without causing any offense at all, where the satirist is careful and masterful at playing the ball and not the man. At the other end, you’d have Charlie Hebdo, deliberately making angry people angrier without really making any sort of social point. Both have their place. Neither deserve to be shot at.
A general rule of thumb for me is that to get away with being offensive, you need to be at least as funny/profound/righteous/
Of course, how funny something is and how offensive it is will always be measured differently by different people. You win some, you lose some. But by way of further clarification, try out these practical examples for yourself on the contrast between being satirical and just plain offensive.
Satirical: May I congratulate you, madam, on your dogged determination to pursue a career as a public speaker for the cause of anti-vaccination information. You should be doubly proud of yourself for your steadfast determination to insist on the validity of what you have to say despite the overwhelming weight of science and the lack of any useful evidence to back your claims up. Naturally the reluctance of Australian venues to host your informational events is further evidence that there is some sort of conspiracy aimed at silencing people who merely wish to harmlessly sabotage vital healthcare initiatives for infants. Bravo!
Offensive: Rack off back to wherever you came from, you ignorant, dangerous twerp.
Satirical: It's an exciting time to be alive. There's a grass roots revolution in the air, my comrades. I've just received an invitation to a Facebook group dedicated to democratically overthrowing the Abbott Government. Once the group reaches a million likes, we're going to take it to the Governor General and demand the dismissal of the Liberal Party from Government. Brothers in arms, we are only 920,000 likes away from the glorious revolution, whereby with a million likes (or roughly 4.3 per cent of the population, assuming all the likers are Australian citizens) behind us on Facebook, we're going to exercise our democratic right to democratically overthrow a democratically elected government. Viva la revolution!
Offensive: Go back to school, Bobby Bolshevik, and learn some maths and possibly some modern history. Ugh.
Satirical: Yes. You're very clever. Look at you go, making fun of people all over the place, secure in the knowledge that none of them are ever going to read your blog anyway. I'm sure if an army of angry activists really showed up at your door you'd be just as bold and abrasive. No chance you'd be hiding under your bed and calling your mother, hmm? What a hero.
Offensive: What is this website even for? Pull your head in Garry, you narcissistic blow-hard.
Ouch. That last one was a bit harsh. I'm going to write a very sternly worded letter of complaint, let me assure you. You know what I'm not going to do? Burst into the author's room and shoot him for depicting me in an unfavourable light. I'd definitely have the tactical advantage; I can assure you it would be the last thing he would be expecting. But I'm not going to do it, because that's not how proper human beings act. Guns are for cowards. Real humans fight with ideas.
Make of that what you will, and then COME ON, IF YOU THINK YOU'RE HARD ENOUGH!
Garry with 2 Rs