Satire is dead. I blame Sarah Palin.
On September 27, 2008, Tina Fey donned a pink suit on SNL and proceeded to perform a sketch wherein she simply repeated Palin’s response to one of Katie Couric’s interview questions word-for-word. No twisting, no exaggerating, just saying exactly what she said.
If life were a Jane Austen novel, that would be the day satire started coughing a little. And now, nine years later, it’s dead.
In my last column, I attempted to satirize people who were upset about our new texting and driving law. I called the new law “total bullshit” and lamented the loss of the single most effective tool in avoiding thinking about my fucked-up life in the car: unfettered access to my smartphone.
I closed with the following call-to-arms for Oregon drivers: “FIGHT THE POWER. We’re important people and our texts are important and Twitter’s important and it’s REALLY IMPORTANT that we’re able to Google pictures of Dylan McDermott and Dermot Mulroney so we can remember which one was in Steel Magnolias while traveling at 65 mph on I-5.”
There were 45 comments on the Mercury’s Facebook post of that column, the majority of them angry at how self-centered I was—how could I not care about all the other innocent people on the road?
Now, you can absolutely believe that the column wasn’t funny—but how in the name of fuck do you not know that it was satire? In order to think I was serious, you would have to read that passage and think that not only did I believe that Googling movie trivia was more important than other people’s lives, but that I was so proud of that belief that I posted it in a public forum and asked readers to join me in fighting for it. How is it possible that the Mercury’s audience would think that not only does such a horrible person exist, but that the weekly would publish an op-ed penned by them?
Here’s why, I think: The series of tubes that used to be the internet has turned into one huge digital dumpster fire, with person after person spouting ugly, racist, or wildly uninformed views to the point that satire is either impossible or pointless. Especially when one of the people spouting those views is the President of the United States.
Since Aristophanes satirized Athenian leaders 2,400 years ago, writers have been taking the words of our politicians and exaggerating them—amplifying them to such a level of ridiculousness that their true ugliness, stupidity, racism, sexism, or homophobia is illuminated.
But because our leaders are saying things that already feel like satire, like “Mexicans are rapists,” “our press secretary gave alternative facts to that,” and “Hitler just needed a hug,”* it has become harder and harder to decipher what’s satire and what’s real.
I know what those who aren’t fans of my work are saying: “Hey, just stop writing shitty satire.” And I will try. But what would be more helpful is if our leaders would just stop being shitty, so that it may become possible once again to tell truth from dystopian fiction.
*I made that last one up. OR DID I????