On Satire

Alternate post title: Alex Explains the Joke So It’s Not Funny Anymore!

Okay, so. There have been many instances where a person who is white and/or a dude has said some mind-bogglingly racist and/or sexist things, and when called out on it they claim that they are so not racist/sexist! It was SATIRE. This happens all the time. Many of these are actual racist/sexist jerks trying to defend themselves in any way possible. HOWEVER, I have found out that it is entirely possible that these white people and/or guys are, in fact, well-meaning and did actually intend for their racist/sexist comments to be satire!

This is similar to “hipster racism/sexism” as it is called in some parts of the internet, where a person tells racist or sexist jokes in order to show how NOT racist and/or sexist they are. Because it is ironic, right? Like wearing a Fall Out Boy shirt to show how much you think they suck? Except with the oppression that people have to deal with every day.

I never understood the logic behind such jokes, or all the not-really-satire… UNTIL RECENTLY! And it’s not that the people saying these things don’t understand what satire is.

The logic–and let me preface this by saying that I still think this stuff is damaging and just bad satire–is that the people who make these jokes or say these things in the name of satire think that saying something like, say, “this game sucks because a woman made it” is sufficiently ridiculous enough to be laughable. The problem is the people who say these things are too privileged to see that other people say exactly the racist/sexist crap they are supposedly saying “ironically”, but with a straight face, or simply a nasty veneer of joking. They don’t realize–because of privilege–that racism and sexism are still very much mainstream. It’s ridiculous to us, but there are plenty of people out there who believe these things, and that fact still affects us daily.

One reason it doesn’t work is that, when you have a person of color saying something racist about their own group, or a woman saying something misogynist, the sarcasm is a lot clearer because they are talking about themselves (even women with internalized sexism generally count themselves as exceptional, or “not one of THOSE women”). You don’t have this extra “sarcasm indicator” when it is a white person saying racist things or a dude saying sexist things.

The other reason is that there’s generally no criticism of what is being said. There is a lead-up but no payoff. The racist or sexist comments are just put out there without any real absurdity or criticism. For a great and succinct example of this, see this paragraph from the Girl vs. Robot post about #EAFail:

Women don’t like science fiction, Peter Jackson (who you got to meet), or comics. They just don’t. Let’s settle that right now. All those women you’ve met who like all of those things were robots. Robots created by the feminist conspiracy to fool you.

It’s pretty much perfect. It starts out with a stupid sexist remark that a surprising number of people actually believe, and then it goes on show how absurd that remark is (although I’m sure there are some people out there who believe in robot feminist conspiracies, most don’t–a sufficient level of ridiculousness has been met, you could say). The intent is crystal clear: to make people who believe the first sentence feel stupid.*

Racism and sexism are quite stupid, really. This type of humor tries to show just how stupid it is, in a funny way. But if racists and/or misogynists are laughing along with you (and not in an embarrassed chuckle sort of way), you’re doing it wrong. Simply repeating racist or sexist comments isn’t enough to be funny or satirical, it just makes non-racist or -sexist people uncomfortable.

This is an excellent example, about romantic comedies, that happened to be posted today! Or hell, just read Sady’s entire blog already. I recommend this one.

EDIT: Silly me, Sociological Images already has it covered! Have I mentioned how awesome that blog is? It is awesome.


* I am so sorry for ruining your awesome joke, Derek!

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2 thoughts on “On Satire

  1. 10 months ago if someone said “The president shouldn’t be in office because his birth certificate is fake as well as the announcement in a local paper of his birth” I would assume it was some kind of joke. Or a commercial where it was claimed that Obama wants to kill old people and babies, that would have to be satire, right? The problem with satire about politics is that it is literally impossible to go farther to the point of ridiculousness than the right at this point. Glenn Beck un-ironically compares Obama to Hitler literally every day.

    Still, that said I have never made a joke which wasn’t received as intended. Satire really isn’t all that hard to do. Stephen Colbert is a great example too, btw.

  2. “Simply repeating racist or sexist comments isn’t enough to be funny or satirical [. . .]”
    I realize this was blogged about quite a long time ago, but I just stumbled onto your blog and have been perusing it. And I had to comment on this. I think the above quote basically sums up my feelings on the matter. I have a lot of white friends that make asian jokes (I’m happa) in a way they think is satirical (I also have guy friends who make women jokes satirically as well, but slightly less often), and they just don’t get it. I’ll be first to admit I’m a fairly dead-pan, sarcastic person, so it can be difficult for people to know if I’m being serious — but if they don’t, or I think they don’t, I clarify. I don’t think a lot of people do that because their privilege dictates it’s funny, it’s just a joke, they get it, et cetera.
    But, as you’ve said, repeating something racist or sexist isn’t funny. It’s just stupid, and it propagates that stupidity (see sexim and racism).
    Anyway, /endrant, I think I’ll be following this blog, as I’ve quite liked what I’ve seen so far. Thanks for bein’ awesome.

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