The object of satire

Every kind of indirect communication, which is what satire is, presupposes some kind of in-group. It could be a preestablished in-group, as with an “inside joke,” or it could be an in-group by anticipation (which is what seems to be going on in Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, for instance).

Satire that uses racist tropes — like a certain publication’s cartoons about Muslims and refugees — presupposes an in-group that knows that of course that publication isn’t really racist, etc. And though I do wonder how far total indifference to being perceived as a racist can be separated from “direct” racism, let’s grant their non-racism for the sake of argument. My question is whether a faithful Muslim or refugee is ever presupposed as the audience, as part of the in-group. And the answer seems to be pretty clearly no. Even if the object of the satire isn’t the Muslims or refugees themselves, but instead the “politically correct” liberal discourse about them, Muslims and refugees are not envisioned as potential dialogue partners.

From this perspective, then, Muslims and refugees are the object of the satire in a different sense, insofar as they are completely objectified and instrumentalized when they are “thrown under the bus” in the service of the presumably more important goal of skewering “P.C.” liberals. So even if this kind of satire isn’t “directly” racist, it’s ultimately dehumanizing.

But then I’m probably just exposing myself as another one of those humorless “P.C.” liberals who can’t allow myself a good belly laugh at the thought that a drowned toddler would have turned out to be a sexual harrasser.

9 Responses to “The object of satire”

  1. Craig McFarlane Says:

    Didn’t “we” have this discussion when magazines like Maxim were new? The joke was that even though Maxim looks like it is sexist it isn’t sexist because it knows it is portraying women in a misogynistic fashion so, really, let us show mostly naked women, advice on how to trick teens into threesomes, and sell Axe body spray. Or, put in other words, magazine publishing has been a moral cesspool of nihilism and nothing but nihilism of the worst sort for a long time.

  2. Adam Kotsko Says:

    “Yeah, sure, I murdered the guy, but I knew I was murdering him — so my murder is actually a sly, knowing comment about how we all agree murder is wrong.”

  3. zunguzungu Says:

    Is there a sympathetic reading of this latest cartoon? I’m sort of at a loss to find one (and yet there must be some explanation for how it isn’t racist other than “because it isn’t racist!” right? Right?)

  4. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Yep. Apparently it’s making fun of the racists themselves and challenging the sanctimonious reaction people had to a dead toddler washed up on the beach. How you ask? Don’t be so PC! The left will never win if we’re forced to think about that.

  5. Adam Kotsko Says:

    The Left can never win unless we defeat political correctness once and for all! I think Marx says that in the Grundrisse.

  6. Craig McFarlane Says:

    No. It was Marx’s letter to Ruge in September 1843.

  7. zunguzungu Says:

    Anthony: I swear, it’s not even that I disagree with that reading or find it politically wrong or whatever; I just literally can’t make it happen in my brain.

  8. Adam Kotsko Says:

    The most charitable reading is that they’re becoming increasingly overtly racist just to see how long people will continue to carry water for them.

  9. Daniel Says:

    The left can never win unless we find precisely where in Marx he mentioned what the left must do to win.

    I had a hard time figuring out what the joke was supposed to be in the cartoon, racist or not. I eventually settled on it being “Hey, that dead toddler probably would’ve grown up to be an asshole anyways.” Which makes the comic racist to the extent that the asshole he’s depicted as becoming is a racist stereotype. But I think at its core it’s supposed to be, effectively, a “dead baby” joke. I don’t see it targeting PC thought as such, unless saying things like “What a shame for a young life to be snuffed out like that” is PC.


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