Friday, June 30, 2006

Cynical Satire

I heard an interesting piece on NPR today about how Ann Coulter and her ilk have managed to further lower the level of political discourse in this country through a technique I have chosen to call "cynical satire."

"Cynical satire" works like this: Coulter (or Hannity or O'Reilly or whomever) makes an outrageous and horrific statement, such as Coulter's comments about how 9-11 widows are fame-seeking golddiggers using their tragedy to get over, or how she wishes Tim McVay had blown up the New York Times building instead of a Federal building, or how someone should murder Supreme Court Justice Stephens. Then, when anyone becomes indignant at the monstrousness of their remarks, they claim that their comments were intended as satire, and that anyone expressing indignance simply lacks a sense of humor.

But, of course, Coulter's remarks, and those of her ilk, aren't satirical. She's not exaggerating something true about her targets in order to make a humorous point, the way, say, Stephen Colbert does in his over-the-top version of Bill O'Reilly, or when SNL made fun of Clinton for being a womanizing hick (because I recognize real satire whether it's directed at the left as well as the right). What true aspect of the New York Times is she exaggerating for humorous effect when she wishes McVay had blown up the Times building? What characteristic of Justice Stephens is she exaggerating for effect when she muses that someone should kill him?

The fact is, Coulter and others like her are simply stating their actual tasteless and immoral opinions, and then falsely claiming 'satire' when anyone confronts them with their tastelessness and immorality. It's a neat trick, and Coulter does it well. But it's really just cynical bullshit.


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