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On Satire

I recently got into a… “urination competition” with David over on his site concerning a piece he wrote about Bush’s upcoming acceptance speech. In it, he made several comments that implied Bush was a racist and a bigot. The discussion that ensued got me thinking about a few things, and I thought I’d see if they could be expanded into a full-fledged posting.

One key point of David’s piece was Bush proclaiming certain attitudes that could be considered racist. I objected most strenuously and sarcastically, the comments flew fast and furious, and much snarkiness was exhibited by all before the matter was ended in a civilized manner.

The key to David’s defense was “satire.” Now that’s something I can respect. Hell, I go beyond respect – I worship satire, and would perform numerous degrading acts for a chance with satire, were satire embodied in a female form. But I think I quibble with David’s interpretation of the term.

George Carlin once stated that the essence of humor is exaggeration. This holds especially true of satire – it must be based on exaggeration of an existing truth. Bush is borderline inarticulate, widely perceived as less than intelligent, has a spotty business record, a vague history of misuse of various intoxicants, and comes from a life of privilege. All those are perfectly fair game.

One thing that Bush has not shown, however, is racism. Three of his Cabinet officers are black, as is his National Security Advisor. He speaks Spanish fluently (quite possibly better than English, but as a die-hard monolinguist, it’s hard for me to judge), and his brother’s wife is Hispanic.

There is a line that must be drawn between satire and defamation. To take an existing trait and exaggerate it is satire. To invent one out of whole cloth, especially one as charged as racism, and play it up, is defamation, and it is wrong.

David cited as counterexamples the implications of Kerry (and other Democratic candidates) as being gay, calling Kerry Flipper, his daughters ugly, and calling him Herman Munster. I’ll add to that cracks about Mrs. Heinz Kerry’s accent, Mrs. Edwards’ weight, and John Edwards as an ambulance-chaser.

OK, in order: I’ll admit I’ve occasionally participated in the “gay” (or, more often, “metrosexual”) cheap shots on Kerry and Edwards. I’ll defend that as unapologetically sophomoric, juvenile, and even asinine. But these days “gay” is, in many contexts, not considered defamatory. In fact, it’s considered high praise in some areas – see “metrosexual,” above.

Calling Kerry “Flipper” – see my earlier posting merely the most convenient listing among too many to cite. In satire, as in libel and slander, truth is an absolute defense.

Calling Kerry’s daughters ugly – I haven’t seen a single allegation of that one. In fact, quite the opposite. I still cherish the image of Alexandra Kerry’s “coming out” dress at Cannes. Kevin, my gracious host, I do recall some shots like that about Chelsea Clinton, but I’ve previously expressed my disgust over those.

Kerry as Herman Munster – about the same level of maturity as calling Bush a “chimp.” But I do have to quibble in one detail – he’s much closer to Lurch.

Cracks about Teresa Heinz Kerry’s accent, Mrs. Edwards’ weight: I’ve avoided those, and will continue to do so. It’s my firm belief that there’s plenty of fertile ground to assail people if you focus on their statements and actions and beliefs; trivial crap like accents, weight, relatives, and general appearance is more demeaning of the attacker than the attacked.

John Edwards, ambulance-chaser: again, truth is an absolute defense. Edwards made his fortune practicing personal-injury law, and was so successful at suing big companies that they would hold seminars on how to face him in court.

So feel free to mock ol’ Chimpy, the stumble-mouthed rich fratboy boozehound business flop. Just try to keep at least one foot on the ground when tossing around the imprecations.

J.


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Comments (6)

Good piece Jay. And for th... (Below threshold)

Good piece Jay. And for the most part I agree with you, even though you got the cheap shots in disguised as things you would not do. hehe. I like it. Now as for the racist quibble, since we have already discussed it on In Search Of, I will just say again, I dont think Bush is a racist, but I do think he can be insensitive. The NAACP convention rebuke was one, and there are other examples as well. But the one that gets my knickers in a twist is the idea of trotting out Don King as some kind of proof of a broader tent in the RNC, what is kind suppossed to represent, the ex-con, buffoon, robber of punch drunk boxer vote? LOL! Even you would have to admit, if the Kerry campaign gave Don King the kind of exposure the RNC has, you guys would have a field day with it.

David, I just Googled "NAAC... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

David, I just Googled "NAACP Chairman Bush" because I couldn't remember if it was Julian Bond or Kwesi Mfume. The first three links that came up were titled "NAACP chairman calls for Bush's ouster," "NAACP Chairman Compares Republicans to Terrorists," and "NAACP chairman condemns Bush". Why in HELL would Bush go address an organization whose HEAD has repeatedly denounced him in such vitriolic terms?

Bush did go to the Urban League, though. And as long as Bond is the head of the NAACP and is saying those kinds of things, Bush has absolutely NO obligation to go.

J.

No, he does not. But I pers... (Below threshold)

No, he does not. But I personally think the President should attend such events even if he knows they do not agree, why... Becuase the membership is NOT the chairman. Are you saying that Bush should only attend events that will make good photo ops? Also, you did not answer my question about Don King? Comeon, tell me, what would the conservative reaction be to someone like Don King being being given a showcase?

You guy's have Michael Moor... (Below threshold)

You guy's have Michael Moore and Al Sharpton, we've got Don King. I say we give them all to Nader and be done with him. I will keep an eye out for King in New York.

Well you know how I feel ab... (Below threshold)

Well you know how I feel about Sharpton's past, but I would say he has come a lot further in turning the corner on credibility than King, and he nor Moore are convicts. I guess the reason I have a wild hair over King is what he did to Ali.

David, I'm sorry. I just ca... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

David, I'm sorry. I just can't bring myself to discuss Don King. He makes my head want to explode.

J.

But about the NAACP... on the one hand, it's unfair to judge a group based on the actions of a single member. But when that member is the wildly-popular LEADER, it's more than fair to extrapolate the opinions of the group.

A presidential address is a sign of respect, and a privilege. An organization that not only tolerates it's leader speaking thusly, but encourages it, has forfeited it's right to expect a visit.

J.




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