Sarcasm victim of vicious machete attack
I was planning on following up on the Twitchy-Eyed, Machete-Wielding Savages, but The Ottawa Citizen‘s Kate Heartfield beat me to it (and I thank her for making my work here so much easier). Ms. Heartfield writes:
…a society in which many people cannot recognize a basic rhetorical technique such as sarcasm or reductio ad absurdum is an impoverished society, in which the democratic conversation will consist mainly of talking points and yelling.
Going back to at least the 18th century, with works like Defoe’s The Shortest Way With the Dissenters or Swift’s A Modest Proposal, political discourse has assumed that reasonably intelligent readers can understand when a writer is not in earnest.
Yes, not everyone got the joke then, and not everyone gets it now. Some people apparently think TV comic Stephen Colbert is actually an extreme conservative. Fine. If those people use their numbers or power to stifle or dumb down debate, though, that’s a problem.
Ms. Heartfield’s column is completely on-the-money, but I think she omits one glaring blackmark, and that is the cynicism of newspapers and other media that embraced the sarcasm-impaired interpretation of Mr. Selley’s comments. It’s one thing for individuals to quickly jump to the wrong conclusion, but I am completely unwilling to believe that these organizations didn’t understand Mr. Selley’s joke. They may not have liked it; they may have thought it in bad taste, but, surely, they understood it.
You can argue that one shouldn’t make jokes about natural disasters (which Mr. Selley didn’t do), but it is really bad taste to use a natural disaster to claim you’re better than other people.