Lincoln might be surprised at how many people are now being fooled by fake news and satire. Wikipedia defines satire as a genre of literature, and sometimes graphic and performing arts, in which vices, follies, abuses and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government or society itself into improvement.
Ben Franklin, Mark Twain and Will Rogers are some of the United States’ most esteemed satirists. P.J. O’Rourke and Dave Barry are two more recent satirists. From Lenny Bruce, George Carlin and Richard Pryor to America’s current crop of comedians, comics have been using satire to promote their ideologies for decades. Television shows like Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show and many others use satire as well.
Like good jokes, satire begins with a premise, an underlying idea. For example, during the 2016 presidential campaign, two frequently used premises were that Donald Trump didn’t have the temperament to be president and Hillary Clinton was a liar. The candidates provided a seemingly endless supply of material. Comedians from sea to shining sea rejoiced!
Satire is one of the most prevalent forms of fake news on the Internet. Many of the popular memes that circulate there are satirical. The Onion, The Daily Currant and dozens of other websites specialize in satire. Consumers of news love good satire because it’s usually more interesting to read or view than straight news.
However, people don’t always see satirical works the same way. That’s why some folks can get a great laugh out of watching Alec Baldwin and Melissa McCarthy on Saturday Night Live while other viewers, like Sean Spicer and Donald Trump, can barely stomach it. Fortunately, there’s more than enough satire available to ensure that any American can find something to suit his or her tastes.
People sometimes take satire at face value. A few years ago, I wrote a piece for The American Thinker titled “Wit Privilege and America’s War on the Witless.” With writing that appeared to be straightforward and even academic, I made the case that funny people have unfair advantages in America. Furthermore, I suggested that if things weren’t made more equitable for the witless, the laughter would have to stop.
One commenter asked, “Is this writer serious?” Another asserted that I was a complete idiot. It was a bit of a surprise to me that some readers didn’t understand that the article was a joke. The number of Americans who don’t understand what satire is and how it works seems to be on the rise.
PolitiFact recently cranked out an article about President Trump lying 68 percent of the time, according to their data. On their Facebook page, I commented, “There they go again showing their negative perspective on Trump. PolitiFact could have written ‘32 percent on the green side of the meter.’ But, no! They had to put ‘68 percent on the red side.’ It’s all in how you look at it.”
Other commenters took my comment very seriously. In a later comment, I added, “I’m not a statistician but I think 32 percent is pretty damned good. I mean, anyone who bats over .300 in the major leagues is having a very good year. Right?” Still, many of the other commenters didn’t get the joke.
When you read a piece of satire, there are usually clues to indicate that it is satire. Preposterous headlines and names that sound phony may be indicators of a satirical work. For example, I sometimes write fake news about fake news. One such article was titled “Fake News International to Develop Code of Ethics.” It’s ludicrous to think that producers of fake news have an organization or that they care much about ethics. That article included quotations from Jack O’Lanterni, an unlikely name if ever there was one.
Here are other signs that a piece of writing may be satire.
- If an article is from The Onion, The Daily Currant, The Valley Report or some of the other well-known satire websites, it’s fake and potentially very funny, depending on your taste.
- If an article is from somewhere other than a known satire website, click through to the About page. If there’s any mention of satire, entertainment, etc., the entire website is probably satire.
- If you don’t see any clear identifier in the About page, look over the headlines of other stories on the website. If some seem too stupid to be true, all of the stories on the website may be fake.
Occasionally, when a person uses satire, he or she goes too far. Crossing the line has become so routine that there hardly seems to be a line anymore. Kathy Griffin has acknowledged that she went “way over the line” when she was photographed holding a likeness of President Trump’s severed head. Americans from both sides of the political spectrum agreed.
It’s refreshing to see that there is indeed a line that should not be crossed. Fake decapitations of President Trump are officially off-limits. In my opinion, chatter about killing people with whom one disagrees, or wishing death upon them, should be mostly off-limits as well.
For people who feel like they’re missing some of the jokes coming their way, I’m excited to announce that I will be teaching a course on Remedial Satire in the fall. It’s being offered through the University of Macedonia. The time has come to Make America Laugh Again—with kinder, gentler jokes and citizens who are comedically literate enough to understand them.
Murphy, author of Fake News 101: How to Recognize Fake News and Avoid Being Fooled by It, blogs at DannyMurphyAuthor.com and FakeNews101.info.