An obituary for a genre whose time has finally gone.
Born over 2000 years ago and popularized in the Roman Empire, satire has endured as a genre of humor through the rise and fall of empires and kingdoms, through revolutions, plagues and famines, crusades and pogroms, noblemen of good breeding and, on the other hand, British monarchs. Often misunderstood, sometimes confused with its siblings irony, sarcasm, parody, and farce, satire has remained a reliable tool in the hands of comedy writers for generations. No matter how ridiculous the targets of satire were on their own, in the hands of a talented satirist, they could be made to look even more absurd.
But every genre eventually reaches the end of its relevance, and after lengthy abuse by an indifferent reality, satire has finally departed this world. A world in which a man who brags about the size of his hands, wonders why we can’t nuke our enemies, yells at women holding crying babies, openly calls for banning people who follow the wrong religion, and can’t deal with people suggesting he’s not as rich as he says–a man such as this running for the most powerful position in the world, doing so well as to now be the candidate of a major party, and receiving wide support in the process–a world such as this does not need satire, because it is satire. It is self-parody. It is a 4chan meme given flesh and made animate.
Perhaps it was the Internet that led us here. The Internet handed the tools of humor to everyone. Anyone who can click a mouse can make a viral shitpost. Satire was there from the start, but got mixed up with the real thing far too often. Is that racism ironic or sincere? How about that misogyny? Who fucking cares? It’s all the same, isn’t it?
The first major signpost on our road to Hell was planed by Nathan Poe, in the form of his eponymous law. Poe suggested that attempts to satirize extreme views are potentially indistinguishable from the views themselves, and how right he was. Poe’s Law only works when the genuine spaces and the satirical spaces are distinct. It only works when the fringe being mocked is smaller than the relative mainstream doing the mocking. What about when you can’t tell the difference anymore? What do you do when close friends and family members echo deranged political sentiments you once only saw on ebaumsworld and SomethingAwful? The dirty secret of edgelording is that it was never on the edge at all–it was always smack in the center. Did racism and sexism and every other bigoted -ism and -phobia ever go out of style? Of course not. People just got more careful and selective about where they expressed such feelings.
But the man with the orange hair and the tiny hands says they don’t have to hide anymore, that the majority have been asked to give up far too much of their privilege and their rights, by which I mean “barely any” and “none at all,” respectively. When the utterances of a Presidential candidate are more outlandish than anything The Onion has ever printed, we no longer live in a world of rules, in a world of coherence. We instead inhabit a nightmare, the kind of nightmare that seems like a fairly ordinary dream right up to the point where your teeth start falling out and a horde of angry zombies wearing Confederate flag t-shirts come at you with bent wire hangers they want to shove up your nose to yank out your brain and make you into one of them, and it’s fine, because they have a nice red hat for you to wear and it says … but you already know what it says, don’t you? How can I mock that which mocks itself?
Were satire a person, it would have sucked on the tailpipe of a running vehicle out of desperation sometime last summer. Fortunately, it is not a person, so no one will be charged or imprisoned for the gruesome violence and eventual murder inflicted upon it. But if it were, we’re already familiar with the prime suspect. The evidence abounds. And yet, likely no jury would convict, because you could never find 12 typical citizens at random who would all agree on what satire is, what value it has given us, and what cruel abuse has been heaped upon it. Some might believe it’s better off dead–humor should be straightforward in its intentions, rather than illustrative by way of contradiction.
Satire will be laid to rest next to its lesser relatives, the pun and the dad joke. While it’s true the latter two have their corpses reanimated from time to time by washed-up comedians, hopeless fathers, and others who enjoy terrorizing the general public, their shambling revenants are impossible to confuse with any semblance of life. No doubt satire, too, will soon join the ranks of these undead forms, and feast upon our brains. We’ll laugh when it does, because it kinda tickles, but the way you feel bad after? It’s because you’re sensing the part of yourself you just lost. Eventually, there will be nothing left to laugh at.
2016 has claimed yet one more victim. Rest in peace, old friend.