Wednesday, January 31, 2007
who cares if you're a racist? you're stupid.
here is a post from Alas, A Blog commenting about a really ill-thought racially themed party at Clemson on Martin Luther King Day.
not only does the general ignorance of college kids stun me, their whole misunderstanding of satire (which just re-emphasizes they weren't paying that much attention in their english classes in the first place) frustrates me.
we've seen this excuse before. michael richards had his defenders who said his n-word laden rant was perhaps a misfired attempt to satirize ... something (it's unclear what exactly he would be satirizing); chuck knipp's drag character, Shirly Q. Liquor, is supposed to be (in his words) a satirical look at racism; the hipsters in brooklyn with their Kill Whitey club nights think they're satirizing 'ghetto culture'; and now, every frat boy/sorority girl, college or law school student who wants to wear a sombrero, put on blackface, speak in ebonics or 'run for the border' thinks they're engaging in satire.
but what they forget, or perhaps never knew or understood, is that satire is a punch in the eye of Power. satire's anger, it's needle, is directed upward - never downward. if it does, 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.
so, for all you dumbass college kids and misinformed adults out there, this is satire:
it is a precise literary term (which means you have to have some measure of intellectual weight to pull it off)
it has a very specific target (i.e., a person or group of people, an idea or attitude, an institution or a social practice)
in satire, your target is held up to merciless ridicule that is often very angry, ideally in the hope of shaming your target into reform (again, critical faculties are necessary as well as a recognition of power and how it operates in society)
it has a strong vein of irony or sarcasm (parody, burlesque, exaggeration and double entendre are all devices frequently used in satirical speech and writing - again, pointing to intellectual rigor in the person who calls herself a satirist)
finally, it is strictly a misuse of the word to describe as "satire" works without an ironic (or sarcastic) undercurrent of mock-approval, criticism and an element at least of anger.
how does a privileged white boy in blackface poke fun or criticize or throw into instability the codes of racism or our racist history? how does a white girl in a do' rag holding a forty problematize the ways that race, sexuality and racial images are reproduced and disseminted in this country?
it doesn't. because all you have is a white girl in a do' rag holding a forty.
here endeth the lesson.
[and photo credit goes to The Smoking Gun]