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OnWords: The Necessity Of Satire

BagoGames, flickr Creative Commons

Inspired by an excellent piece by KMUW commentator Sanda Moore Coleman, I’ve decided to look deeper into a subject close to my heart: satire.

Satire necessarily involves elements of the thing being satirized. Good satire comes from the sort of anger and contempt brought up by both knowing a thing intimately and being deeply disappointed in it.

Swift’s satire skewered the very Anglo-Irish who, as a clergyman, would have been considered his spiritual constituents.

The spot-on satire of Stephen Colbert is informed by his conservative upbringing, and George Orwell’s Animal Farm is born of his personal commitment to socialism and the horrible corruption of socialist values under Stalin.

So why are writers so horribly upset by the attack on Charlie Hebdo, with its admittedly misinformed and not-so-great satire?

Aside from the obvious free speech issue, societies need satire to point out the hypocrisy of those satirized. In the case of Charlie Hebdo, the hypocrisy of militant extremism is clear in the very act of terrorism committed upon in its name.

Satire is necessary for a free society because it exposes the nefarious, the duplicitous. When the sacred is a choice and not an edict, this exposure is a bulwark against the sort of moral relativism so loathed by fundamentalists everywhere. Satire holds charlatans to account.

Nothing hides mendacity quite like an unquestionable authority. And nothing points it out quite like satire.