My New Years post, Top Ten Ways to Drive Traffic to your Speculative Fiction Blog, had twice the traffic of any I’ve written. It was a satirical piece that I wrote foremost for fun.
However, I also wanted to test a suspicion that had been growing. Namely, the question of whether irony and satire still have legs in the digital age.
The prevailing tone of most social media seems to be, at its best, earnest, optimistic self-regard. At its worst, it slips into self-satisfied boasting or outraged indignation. Because of the control over the presentation of the self that social media affords, people are very selective about what they disclose. The drunken braggadocio of the barfly is no longer belied by his unkempt appearance and empty pockets. Only his exploits remain. We choose to expose only what we consider our virtues (whether real or not) and decline to reveal our flaws. Our contradictions remain hidden.
Irony and satire, as vessels of wit, depend on contradiction.
The dictionary defines irony as: “the use of words to convey a meaning that is opposite of its literal meaning.” Satire, likewise, is a literary convention that uses a sarcastically sympathetic voice to expose the vices and/or weaknesses of an individual, power structure, religion, or humanity in general.
In other words, whatever is said or written literally is in reality meant to convey the opposite to the audience.
I am writing about this issue for two reasons.
Firstly, I am concerned that the waning ability to appreciate irony/satire denotes a “coarsening of our culture”. It is symptomatic of a white-washing of conversation and an increasingly simplistic way of thinking that, while not necessarily created by the Internet, is encouraged by its instant-gratification nature.
Secondly, I would change tack and suggest that there are real-world vicissitudes that make Irony and Satire more difficult to convey. Perhaps they no longer are valid forms of wit in a globalized, digital, so-called borderless world!
What do Sean Penn and Charlie Hebdo have in Common?
The recent massacre at the Parisian satirical magazine office of Charlie Hebdo and Sean Penn’s comments upon announcement of Alejandro Iñárritu’s Oscar Award for “Birdman” and the subsequent backlash might at first not seem to have much in common. However, they are both examples of satire/irony and the dangers that accompany it.
(Before we go further, I would like to put paid any notion that I view the outrage Penn met on social media as being equal to the fatal ramifications arising from Charlie Hebdo’s satire. They are similar in type, not degree!)
In the next post, I will take a look at Penn’s gaff first and explore how and why it failed so miserably.