Tag Archives: satire

Fake News and Poetic License

Poetry and fiction are creative with the truth – it is part of what these forms of expression are for. At the same time, both have a significant capacity for reflecting on the world as it is, and changing how we think about what’s going on. We can and do re-imagine history to suit modern needs. We tweak stories to give them a shape that suits our purposes. We make stuff up. Further muddying the water is the fine art of satire, which will often present itself as the truth and as actual news in order to undermine, poke fun, make political comments and so forth. So, what is the difference between a bit of poetic license, and fake news?

For me, the answer is about intent and effect. The aim, and usually the outcome of anything requiring a poetic license, is that it adds to the sum of human experience. It helps us go deeper, further, to see from other perspectives, take a long view, see the absurd, or the human where before perhaps we couldn’t. A poetic license might lead to a story that is not factually true, but which nonetheless contains valuable truth.

The intention and often the effect of fake news is to diminish and confuse. It exists to shut down conversations, reduce diversity, limit perspective and close minds. When it works, we become less than we were because of it. We know and understand less. We have fewer productive ideas. We are smaller, and less able.


All for the giggles

It’s hard to ignore politics right now, given the kind of shit politicians are inflicting on us. The only thing that reliably enables me to cope with being at all politically aware, is satire and comedy. The news Quiz on radio 4, The Now Show, anything Mitch Benn sings, the Daily Mashup… It is all so much more bearable when you get to laugh at it regularly.

There’s a power in laughter. To laugh at the vile and disgusting things people in authority do, is to reclaim something. To laugh is to have some freedom still, some fighting spirit. Laughter means you aren’t beaten yet. It is so easy to be beaten down by the woes and wrongs of the world into a state of apathy and despair. Laughter is an antidote to this. It keeps us alive, alert, feeling and it reduces the squashing.

Sometimes it is bloody hard to laugh. Those are also the times when the skills of the comedian, are at their most critical. It’s when we are howling that we most need to be able to follow that with something else. And when there is no way of making a joke out of the latest god-awful policy, it is worth finding something else to laugh at. Giggling is good for the soul. It is a gentle erosion of self-control, a release of tension, a reminder of how and why to love each other.

I have two ports of call now when I need cheering up. I go on youtube and watch Ylvis videos. Their Stonehenge song is an especially good antidote to anything maddening going on in the Pagan community. A little light ridicule of the overblown that resonates in so many ways.

I also indulge in Professor Elemental videos. http://www.youtube.com/user/iammoog is a good place to go. A man with a rare knack for making things funny. Even on really bleak days, he can usually make me laugh, and I treasure that. A friend with a sense of humour is a very good sort of friend to have.

I spent the first thirty odd years of my life believing that I had no capacity for comedy. I became, due to circumstances, a person who did not laugh much. One of the surprises about spending that first week with Tom (more than four years ago now) was just how much we laughed. Around him, I became someone who could joke and play. We play a lot. Giggling has become part of my life, and that’s a big improvement.

I’ve made a conscious effort to try and get more laughs into my work. On the fiction side, it’s becoming easier. I think even when the content is serious, throwing in the odd giggle helps. There’s only so much seriousness a person can take in one go, the relief of laughter makes it possible, oddly, to handle more of the dark stuff.

As I trend towards the end of this post, I’m conscious that it should have a punch line. A lack of forward planning on my part there…  which rather goes to demonstrate there’s actually nothing less funny than talking about laughter. Go and giggle at something else. Tomorrow there will be a song, all being well, and you can snicker at it.


Being Offensive

This is offered as the flip side to my recent post on being offended. How and when do we cause offence? Why do it, and what do we do around it?

There are times when offending people is both good and necessary. I think that people who are stuck in a smug cocoon that makes them oblivious to unpleasant realities need offending now and then, to shake them out of their stupor. More specifically, people need reminding about unpleasant things they would prefer to pretend didn’t exist. This usually causes offense, and to do that deliberately is to be knowingly offensive.

The easiest way of offending someone is to call them over behaviour or speech that you don’t think is ok. I challenged a local politician recently because he called me ‘deluded’ for disagreeing with him. Not cool. Manifestations of prejudice need calling out, as does abusive behaviour. The difficulty is that people don’t like having it suggested they messed up, no matter how diplomatic you are about it. Taking offence is often a reaction against that which is offensive, but you can get into some unhelpful loops there.

I find if I want to get a person to rethink, it is best to call them out privately, so as not to add the barb of public humiliation. Not having an audience improves the odds of getting a rethink. If I don’t think there’s much hope of getting change but I want to make it clear that I do not support or condone, I’ll do it publically. It is very important not to let offence go unchallenged, because if we do not speak against what we find unacceptable, we are tacitly supporting it. People who behave in shitty ways are offended if this is challenged. I have no qualms about offending anyone on those terms, but it’s really important not to abuse that power to speak out.

I’m very conscious that many people who offend do so for the pleasure of causing pain, out of a sense of superiority, prejudice or just being too ignorant to realise there’s a problem. Much sexism can occur this way, with people not even recognising the inherent sexism in their assumptions. No one asks a man with children how he expects to ‘have it all’ or to ‘juggle both roles’ while working women get asked that all the time. Calling people on accidental, cultural and ignorance based offensiveness can work. The people who get a kick out of hurting people will just enjoy the attention, will claim victimhood, and keep stomping their feet.

My yardstick is this – who has the power here? Who can make choices? Causing offense is an attack on someone. Am I dealing with someone who has a lot more power than me, and who can therefore be expected to take it? Am I lashing out in anger at someone far less powerful than me who will probably be damaged and further set back by this? I am mostly likely to go on the offensive when I see someone themselves being offensive. What I get angry about is people acting offensively towards those who have less power. As Naomi flagged up the other day, picking on vulnerable, disabled people isn’t ok.

As a Druid, one of my weapons of preference is satire. I like laughter as a form of attack, not least because it’s very effective. Laughter takes away power, undermines pomposity. It is the weapon of the weak against the strong. When we turn it around and use it to trample on those we’ve already crushed, it is a hideous thing.

Of course we all get angry about things. We get angry with people. We see things that make us want to respond in kind, or go further, or do more, or worse. Two seconds of breathing in to ask what it will achieve. Two seconds of breathing out to ask if this person has more or less power than you. Are you poised to kick someone who is already down? Are you looking at the real source of the problem, or the easy scapegoat? Are you blaming unfairly? Are you holding someone responsible for something they had no power over? Are you being hypocritical? Are you transferring your own failings onto someone else? Check. Check again.

Some situations are really easy. I see politicians blaming the poor for being poor, while passing fat deals to their chums. The politicians have power, the poor do not. It’s easy to see where to stand. In less abstract, more personal situations it can be harder. One thing I know for sure is that if I’m going to offend someone, I want to do it consciously, deliberately and for good reasons. I have no desire to cause accidental offence. I want to know and I want the chances to fix it if that happens, and that means I also have to consider that other people’s offense may have been accidental, too. I find an apology goes a long way to clarifying that one.


Comedy for Druids

Comedy often has a political dimension even if it’s not ostensibly about politicians. You can subvert and undermine with laughter, draw attention to issues, and raise awareness. This is the kind of work we might want to associate with the Druid satire tradition. Such comedy is a means by which those who have little worldly power can call to account those who have a great deal of power over them.

There is another kind of comedy. It is used by the powerful to crush the less powerful, through mockery, ridicule, stereotyping and misleading. It is used as a cover for hate speech and prejudice. I am seeing this online a lot, and it troubles me greatly. Abusive, humiliating and cruel, hate speech is easily framed by joke shapes. Object, and you will be told that the problem is you, for having no sense of humour. Feminists who object to rape jokes are told they have no sense of humour. “Just a laugh” is used to excuse reinforcing the idea that women are inherently inferior, that it is ok to judge women purely on looks, and all manner of other unsavoury things. I’m prepared to bet that other groups subject to hate speech also have to endure ‘jokes’ that aren’t funny.

The first rule of comedy is that it should get a laugh. Lines like “You’re so fat and ugly” are not innately comedic. Using words like ‘lame’ and ‘gay’ as criticisms is not ironic, or clever, or funny, it’s just lazy language use that needlessly reinforces prejudice. I’ve seen far too much of this. If you are using comedy to attack someone who has less power than you, then you’re doing it wrong. If you spot someone making gags of that shape, it’s worth calling them out. The point of satire is to keep the powerful in line and civilised, not to bash the disadvantaged.

Calling out unfunny bigots who claim comedy as an excuse for airing their hate, is not a safe or easy business. Expect to get a dose of it too. If you say “that’s not comedy, that’s racism” to someone online, then a response like “you’re an ugly bitch who can’t take a joke” is likely. Probably even if you’re a guy. I think guys who challenge are more likely to be told they aren’t ‘proper men’, that they must be ‘gay’, have a vagina, or otherwise not be macho enough to laugh. Hate pedlars come in both genders, and will justify and defend their hate without a second thought. Usually by giving anyone who questions it a thorough dose of their poison. If you’re calling someone out, you have to weather this. Take it personally, and they will call you weak and ridicule you, while their prejudices go unchallenged because they can avoid taking you seriously. I can’t say reasoning with the unfunny brigade works, but if you try it, do it calmly, without anger and without resorting to hate speech yourself. There are forms of sympathy that can get under people’s skin. “I really feel sorry for you. Life must be pretty grim if this counts as funny. I’m guessing you aren’t a very happy person.” A ‘poor you’ approach can confuse, challenge, break down defences and leave no room for a really angry comeback.

Refusing to get the joke is an interesting strategy for dealing with the unfunny. Even good comedy suffers when you have to explain it. Play clueless, and try and get them to explain to you why the ‘joke’ is funny. There’s nothing like having to break it down and expose the core prejudice to make it clear to someone exactly what they are saying. Conveying the idea that it doesn’t work as a joke helps reduce the incentive to keep pedalling it.

People use comedy to draw attention to themselves, and to show off how clever they are, in part. Failure to get a laugh, drawing the wrong kind of attention, or getting feedback that tells you that no one thinks you are clever, makes trying to pass hate speech off as humour less appealing. If the aim of being unfunny is to make sure that you are the aggressor, not the victim, getting laughed at is not the outcome you wanted.

It’s one thing laughing at the foolish things people do. It’s another laughing at the things people have no control over. Laughter that deflates arrogance is a good thing. Laughter that crushes the vulnerable, is not. Far too many people either do not know, or do not care that there is a difference. We need a culture shift, to which end it may be productive to start laughing at the people who are not funny, rather than laughing with their hate speech or being silent in a way they will understand as tacit support.