This past week has put me in a cynical mood, but has also made me wonder: how many of our “long-held beliefs” might have originally been intended to be…. well, bullshit?
Let me start at the beginning.
People have a difficult time with satire. I experience this first-hand, since a lot of my online humor is satire. For example, just this past week I received a long lecture in response to my NO SAME-HEIGHT MARRIAGE article, explaining that I am crazy and just down-right mean to be against relationships between people of the same height. To me, the article is very clearly a direct parody of all of the arguments against same-sex marriage…. but apparently that intent was not clear to this reader.
I also feel bad for the poor actors who appear in the satirical videos that I make. My buddy Josiah played a kind of conservative “gun nut” in a parody video called My rights as a gun owner, and now people are Googling “Josiah Jennings conservative” to try to figure out what his political orientation is. My buddy Gary played a gay Republican in a parody video called You CAN be a gay Republican!, and people are leaving comments implying that he’s racist. What I find striking is, to my mind these videos are very clearly satire!
But apparently not to everyone.
Somebody left a comment on one of the videos saying that if I were “better at satire” then people would be able to tell. Although I appreciate the attempt at constructive criticism, I’m not sure that I agree. I’ve always enjoyed the kind of satire that is limnal…. where you can’t be totally sure whether it’s serious or not. And yes, I’ll admit that I have that elitist part of me that thinks: Well, the smart people will get it! Surely, they will…. they must!
But that very same elitist part of me also acknowledges: most people are not that smart.
Thus, I deal with the comments. C’est la vie.
But then, that makes me wonder this: human beings have probably always had a sense of humor. We know for a fact that dry, satirical humor dates back at least to the Greeks… but I think it’s underestimating our ancestors to assume that it stops there. I’ll bet that even our Paleolithic cousins wandering in the grasslands could conjure up some wit when it suited them.
Although I assume that then, just as now, many of the stupider ones didn’t “get it”.
And when ancient texts are written in foreign tongues, and very serious historians only uncover and translate documents hundreds of years later, do we assume that those historians would be able to tell, all the time, whether the writing was satire or not?
I mean, if my own peers, contemporary Americans, can’t tell that “NO SAME-HEIGHT MARRIAGE!!!” is satire, then it seems almost inevitable that historians coming across, say, ancient Greek or ancient Aramaic satire might miss the joke completely.
Which makes me wonder…. what old texts out there, which have up to this point taken very, very seriously… might have actually been meant as completely and utter larks?
“I’m so sick of these traveling merchants making up bullshit about the fantastic foreign lands they’ve supposedly visited,” Plato thought to himself, “I’m going to write a book making fun of them. I’ll be all: OMG guys, there was this whole land where the streets were gold and everything was awesome! But you can’t go and find it now, because it sank into the sea! That would be pretty funny. And hey, I’m sure everyone will realize that I’m poking fun at the exaggerate tales people come up with. After all, I’ll just make it so outlandish that nobody could ever think I was being serious!!!”
“Hey, listen up! This is gonna be hilarious!” Moses said, “You know that Egyptian myth about how the world began? It’s so stupid…. so I has this great idea. For a little comedy, I’m just going to write a parody of that. Yeah, I’ll include all kinds of bullshit, like talking animals and the world being created in just a few days. But, I’ll make it sound all serious-like. It’s gonna be a total riot.”
When it comes right down to it, we just don’t know.
And with the track record that people today have of not recognizing satire… how much faith can we really have that we’d know ancient satire when we looked at it?