We All Understand Satire

Do people not know how bullshit they sound when they say things like “well this <insert offensive thing> was satire and if you don’t understand that then <insert insult to your intelligence>.”  In this particular instance “you’re not mature enough to watch it.”  It, in this case, is South Park.

Full disclosure, I stopped watching South Park like three years ago.  At some point it just ceased to amuse me.  The humor felt extremely cheap to me.  I’m old enough to have started watching South Park when it was brand new and maybe I imagined it, but I think at the beginning it was just silly.  There was talking poop.  It was crass without reason.  Maybe it just wasn’t tenable over the long run.  Who knows.  As I mentioned, I haven’t watched it in three years and most days I barely notice that it exists.

…except this week.  So at one point a friend posts an article about a recent episode in which Donald Trump is raped.  I don’t know the specifics and I don’t care.  My friend said the people should really just stop watching South Park.  You don’t have to agree with that – and just to reiterate, I don’t care – but an acceptable way to respond is not to defend South Park by saying that this friend clearly doesn’t understand that South Park is satire and that’s what South Park does.  Their humor is edgy and if it offends you, clearly you don’t understand.

The problem with making an argument like that to a person that you actually know is that you probably know that they are in fact intelligent enough to understand satire when they hear or see it.  I know I’m intelligent enough to know satire when I see it.  I know this friend is intelligent enough to understand that South Park at least purports to be satire, and also understands what satire is.  When your best defense is to insult the intelligence of people who are your friends you are likely wrong.  Let’s make up a statistic for it.  If you do that then 97% of the time you are actively wrong, 2% of the time you are simply mistaken, and 1% of the time you are correct but are bad at arguing.

Be an adult, stop using these bad-faith defenses to shield your unreasonably delicate ego.  If a person doesn’t like a thing that you don’t like, that doesn’t make them an incapable of understanding it.  At the very least, don’t use their lack of understanding as though it’s a reasonable argument.  Clearly if people don’t like Broad City then…

…alright, it’s maybe not that strong.  And I don’t actually feel that way about you if you don’t like Broad City, but wouldn’t it be annoying if I did?  If you don’t like Broad City I would wonder why.  Is there something about it you find objectionable?  What is that thing?  Why didn’t I find it objectionable?  Or on the other hand maybe just okay you don’t like a thing that I like.  No one is obligated to like all the things I like.  Not even my best friend.  Not even my spouse.

Strip it down and be honest with yourself, because what I think is that when a person says “you just don’t understand satire” what’s happening is that they don’t want to say something like “I think rape can be funny and it’s okay to portray that.”  So to help people who like to insult their friends’ intelligence instead of having a good faith conversation about a difference of opinion, here are a few easy steps to avoid that:

How to Avoid Insulting Your Friends’ Intelligence as an Argument

  1.  Take a deep breath.
  2. Say – out loud – “I think it’s okay that <insert thing your friend found offensive>.”
  3. If you were comfortable saying that sentence out loud*, ask yourself why you were comfortable saying that out loud.
  4. Instead of telling your friend that they just don’t understand, tell them why you are comfortable with that thing.
  5. Consider any response your friend may have to your defense while taking another deep breath.
  6. If you continue to disagree with your friend, respect their right to their own feelings.

The reason that I’ve applied this specifically to friends is that if you can’t do this with friends you can’t do it with anyone.  Start with your friends and work your way to respecting the feelings of strangers.  We all have knee-jerk angry reactions sometimes, that’s perfectly reasonable.  Sometimes I’m having a bad day and my first reaction to an opinion I find objectionable is to say something mean/snarky.  While I usually say something funny, that doesn’t mean it was cool to say that.  For example, I’ve made a distinct effort to not make fun of Kim Davis’ hair/clothes/face/etc.  Those things aren’t relevant to any discussion about her viewpoints and how her viewpoints effect people.

There will be times when you have to say “I know that you find this thing objectionable and there are times when I might agree with you but I like this thing too much to care about how objectionable it is.”  Case in point: Game of Thrones.  I have been deeply angry about the unnecessary insertion of rape at times when even George RR Martin didn’t feel the need for rape to occur.  That said – confession time – I’m still watching Game of Thrones.  There may be a time when I finally reach my point of no return, but I haven’t yet.  There are friends of mine who have reached their point of no return and I understand and respect that.  It is entirely possible that they are better and more enlightened people for having quit GoT, which is something that I’m just living with.

The big picture is that when we make these declarative derogatory statements in lieu of making an argument, we’re missing an opportunity to have a better conversation while insulting a friend or maybe a potential friend.  Argue better and be nicer.

*Incidentally, if you weren’t comfortable saying that sentence out loud maybe you want to back it up and think about why you weren’t comfortable saying that sentence out loud.  If you aren’t comfortable saying it, maybe that is not actually your opinion and you just haven’t thought about it hard enough.


One thought on “We All Understand Satire

  1. Argue nicer and be better is excellent advice.

    Thanks for stating that it’s okay to be offended by Game of Thrones and also continuing to watch it. I understand people finding it not their cup of Milk of the Poppy, but it bugs me when it’s then asserted that people watching the show are awful.


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