You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
So, while folks were being all contemplatey here at ABW for Black History Month, the stupid was still out in force elsewhere. Like, Colorado. This got noted at Alas, A Blog and on some other anti-racist sites, but it was just so special I wanted to note it here too. A U. of Colorado editor wrote an “opinion” article including this choice tidbit:
I’m such a fool for not realizing it sooner. I can’t tell you how many times the Asians have treated me like a retarded weasel and I’ve forgiven them. But now I know that Asians are not just “a product of their environment,” and their rudeness is not a “cultural misunderstanding.”
They hate us all.
And I say it’s time we started hating them back. That’s right-no more “tolerance.” No more “cultural sensitivity.” No more “Mr. Pretend-I’m-Not-Racist.”
It’s time for war.
The newspaper has since issued the usual belated, milquetoast apology (I love how it’s always, “We’re sorry you were offended,” and never “We’re sorry we were offensive“), with the usual excuse that it was satire. I imagine the next paper will be full of letters from Colorado students infuriated that “political correctness” forced the newspaper to attempt to appear to consider being vaguely contrite, and others who lament that our society “can’t take a joke”, yatta yatta yatta. We’ve seen all this behavior before. Racism: the Passive-Aggressive Edition.
Others are, justifiably and very well, savaging the content of the editorial and the paper’s decision to run it. I want to focus some attention in a slightly different direction — on people who actually think something like this could be satirical.
But first, a digression. Met up with ABW this week at a writers’ event recently and she gave me a book called A Practical Guide to Racism, by C. H. Dalton. Now, she did warn me, when I asked what it was about: “Just another stupid-ass book from yet another stupid-ass person who thinks racism is the funniest shit since sliced bread.” But I tried to give the book a chance, reading through its intro and the first chapter, on Hispanics. I had to stop at that point — not because it was offensive, but because it was boring. The whole book pretty much consisted of reciting a bunch of stereotypes about a group of people in a snarky, vaguely academic way. But they were stereotypes we’ve all heard before, and aside from the “shock value” of hearing them stated bluntly — something most of us in the PoC end of the spectrum really don’t have much trouble getting on a regular basis — I couldn’t see what, if anything, was supposed to be so hilarious. The only people who could find this kind of crap funny are those who’ve never heard the same things said with utter, vicious, hate-filled seriousness.
Now, I could go through the usual pseudointellectual exercise of finding a bunch of definitions on some online dictionaries and parse the “satire” statements against them — but that’s a waste of energy. We all know what satire is. Among other things, it’s supposed to address a very real, sometimes very charged or painful topic through the judicious application of humor. I get the value of satire, really I do. When satire’s done well, I love it.
The thing I don’t get is this — humor is a key part of satire. But the group of people that gets to hear this stuff said in earnest isn’t going to find it all that funny; that’s pretty much a given. And frankly, I’m not sure why any of us would find such simplistic humor funny, because we’ve heard all this crap before a million times. (That’s why they’re stereotypes.) So that’s part of the problem here; this kind of humor is boring, at least in and of itself.
And a more important point about satire was made by commenter “ding” in the in the Alas thread:
satire is a punch in the eye of Power. satire’s anger, its needle, is directed upward – never downward. if it is, then it ceases to be satire and it’s just another way for those in power to bully the powerless or to scream to the public that you’re just another tool of the status quo.
Yeah. So. Anybody think this Colorado guy is really concerned that Asians are going to supplant white people in the racial hierarchy of the country? Anybody think he was trying to “stick it to the (Asian) man” in protest of some unfair advantage that has systematically and globally harmed white people in the US? Anybody think there was anything to this except some idiot venting his racist fantasies in public and using “satire” as a cloak-and-hood to protect himself?
Well. This is a notice to everyone — well, OK, everyone white — who thinks it’s just high-larious to make a joke that pretty much amounts to “Stereotype! Heh heh heh”, or who wonders why comedians of color are lauded for doing the same thing while the Michael Richardses of the world are maligned for it. Consider the power differential, and direction. If your satire is directed from an oppressed group towards a group in power, you might have a satire on your hands. If your satire contains a subversive attack on the existing, status-quo power structure, you might have a satire on your hands. If the subject of your satire would find your comments funny, and not merely (yet another) a slap in the face, you might have a satire on your hands.
If your “satire” fits none of the above conditions, you don’t have satire. You’ve got shit. Your hands are covered in it. Your mouth is crammed with it. So’s your mind.
And since you’re full of shit, you should probably go do something about that.