On being an anonymous satirist (or, at least, trying)

I have a confession to make. I am the chief mind behind the weblog, The Ironic Priesthood. It was a relatively short-lived anonymous humor site that made fun of the BYU Daily Universe and occasional mega-threads in the bloggernacle. I started it for the reason that I believe most people start such things: I was tired of seeing the same old arguments and I figured that I would lampoon the elements of those arguments that I found most ridiculous. Or sometimes I would see something that I thought was silly or incredibly wrong-headed and I would want to try and show why with humor. In any case, it was a project that consumed most of my last summer and then I got too busy to work on it anymore.

I don’t know that I was completely successful. Some of the things I find absurd about the ‘nacle continue unabated. I haven’t really shamed any of the objects of my persecution into silence. But it was a good way to let off steam and I enjoyed myself. It is a pleasure to write something funny. I look over some of those posts now and reminisce about writing them and the feedback they received.

I don’t think that any post I wrote was unduly personal, but they were all attacks. Attacks on what I perceived as hypocrisy, pride, or wrongheadedness. We never see our fatal flaws, but our satirists do. Usually we hate them for pointing our flaws out. Comedy comes from many places, all of them dark. Satire comes from anger and frustration. The world is wrong, so I am going to show the world how wrong it is (or could be). No-one listens to me when I speak nicely, so I am going to speak with barbs. Satire isn’t written by nice people. I wasn’t always a nice person when I wrote it.

What do I think about the satire sites currently going? They are what they are. If you like them, fine. If not, also fine. Satire isn’t to everyone’s taste and there are many grades of satire. Mine was relatively tame, I think, and that is what I prefer (the gentle nudge in the ribs to the kick in the groin). However, people write primarily to please themselves (or, at least, I did).

So there you have it. If you have any questions about the secret life of the anonymous bloggernacle satirist, I will be happy to tell you about mine. Ask away.

Comments

  1. Satire good.
    Cruelty bad.

    The difference…?

    Sorry, Vienna sleepeth. Good night.

  2. Steve Evans says:

    What Ronan said. If we can’t laugh and take things with a little levity, then blogging seriously isn’t worth it.

  3. Eric Russell says:

    “Comedy comes from many places, all of them dark.”

    I think you paint with too broad a brush, JDC. It probably often is, but not necessarily. Did Christ never laugh?

    To me it seems, the issue is not satire itself, but its motivation. When it’s motivated by anger and frustration, it is, of course, wrong. But does it have to be? I’m trying to think of the most warm-hearted satire I can, and Oliver Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield comes to mind. I see no ill intent in it. Nor in Austen, Fielding or Hardy.

    I think it may just be our age of public meanness that gives the essentially neutral rhetorical devices of satire and comedy a reputation for mean spiritedness.

  4. Steve Evans says:

    “Did Christ never laugh?”

    Didn’t Umberto Eco write a whole book about that?

  5. Did Christ never laugh

    He created us . . .must have at least had a sense of humor

  6. JDC:

    I enjoyed your site, and would read it and leave comments. I know one of your posts included my name. It didn’t bother me, nor did your style of satire, because I felt that you were not mean spirited. Most of what you wrote I thought was funny, which is contrary to most of what now appears at the that other snark site. Most of the posts on the snarker continue to be not only mean spirited, but also devoid of humor or satire. That makes all the difference between the gentle nudge in the ribs and the kick in the groin.

    So . . . now that you’re outed yourself are you through over there? Can one only be an anonymous satirist?

  7. Eric,
    I’ve never read Fielding and I can’t bear Hardy. But Austen is a tart-tongued shrew if ever there was one. She is mean and our favorite characters are mean (Darcy and Elizabeth are better known for their put-downs than their make-ups). I am not saying that all humor comes from anger; quite a bit comes from fear, prejudice, and other undesirable qualities. I said that satire comes from anger, because it usually does. Austen was clearly disgusted with the ways that inheritance worked in Georgian England; there is a reason why the heroines are always suffering from it and having to use their wits to get the inheritance they deserve.

    They say that the new movie Hot Fuzz was written out of a feeling of love. That may be true, but we do not publicly point out, laught at, and revel in the flaws of those whom we love (at least, not usually). If nothing else, there is pride in that process.

    Comedy is primarily a way of transforming the dark in yourself, your situation, or your society into something else. It is a coping mechanism.

    In a previous thread, D. Fletcher and I got into an argument regarding where art comes from and whether someone “happy” can truly create great art. I think it might be possible. That said, I think that someone must be aquainted with the dark to write comedy.

    When Christ laughs, which I believe he does, I think it is usually in the sad-wistful manner that we would like to believe Puck uses in calling us mortals fools. Or it might be the laugh of pure joy that doesn’t come from something funny, but rather from some unexpected bit of good news. Mortal humor is based in some pain, or at least it is in every instance I have ever encountered.

  8. I am a huge fan of well-done–not medium, not rare–satire. To me, that means wielding a scalpel rather than a bludgeon, and coupling insight with persuasiveness. Having a beef (ha!) with something you’ve read in the bloggernacle is as easy as falling off a chair; persuading me that your take on it is worth my laughter is as easy as falling off a chair, pirouetting in the air and gracefully landing en pointe. I’m sorry not to have visited the Ironic Priesthood before–I’ll go check it out now–but from what I’ve read on the Snarker, sometimes the pirouette doesn’t make it around the full 360 degrees. Anger and frustration, though rich and authentic sources of satire material, are a serious hazard to the satire writer. (Goodness, they did Kieth Merrill no recent favors.) Where the anger is tempered with craft, audience awareness and a little time, the satire generally goes from tough meat to fork (or scalpel?) tender steak.

    Or, as Guy puts it, to that gentle nudge in the (spare?) ribs. (Apologies for the recklessly carnivorous puns…)

  9. Regarding the “gentle nudge” vs. the “monkey steals the peach”,
    Take Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal. It is many things, but it is not gentle. We read it today and smirk at its outrageousness, but how do you think the people of his era took it? Were there people who understood it as addressing them and their practices? Did no-one take it personally? The whole point of the paper is for someone to take it personally and to stop persecuting the Irish. Satire seeks to offend because if it makes the right people angry, maybe they will think about what they are saying or doing and stop. Satire is meant to be offensive (which is why I say it comes from anger). Satire is almost always personal (even if it is directly generally, it always has a target).

    Once, when I was an undergraduate at BYU, I considered writing an article for the Student Review, which I would have called “An Immodest Proposal.” I was fed up with the Daily Universe debates regarding the length of shorts and the relevant sections of the Honor Code, so I was going to propose complete nudity on campus. Why did I never write it? Time, (lack of) talent, and the fear of repurcussions (It would have offended people if it was any good at all). Still, its a good title.

  10. Oh, and when I get the time, I might go back to mocking people over there. So long as everyone promises to not take personally the insults, snide remarks, and general smart-aleckiness of the thing.

  11. Or, as Guy puts it, to that gentle nudge in the (spare?) ribs. (Apologies for the recklessly carnivorous puns…)

    I actually was quoting HP/JDC. That was his characterization, not mine.

  12. I was thinking of calling them cadeverous puns, but I’ve just reread Swift…

  13. cadaverous, that is

  14. JDC,
    Interesting thoughts, especially because a recent post of mine was both satiric and therapudic. Probably not very successful at garnering laughs but very successful at making me feel better. I get your flow, man.

    When it’s motivated by anger and frustration, it is, of course, wrong.

    Eric, I think you’re wrong here. Almost everything The Daily Show does stems from anger and frustration and it is very, very right.

  15. If your a satirist who is afraid of people taking it personally your going to run into a few problems. It’s especially a problem if one whines about how ‘they don’t understand me’ they take you to task for saying something they find offensive. Be a satirist, but don’t be surprised if someone comes after you on and below your level. If your asking them not to get insulted, don’t get insulted when karma starts kicking your dogma.

  16. Although, as a devoted reader of the BYU police beat the comedy does not require much embellishing.

    My favorite was when students were cited for writing on the sidewalk with chalk.

  17. Picking on the Daily Universe features is really just shooting fish in a barrel.

    AML,
    Of course. It is hard to judge how your friends are going to take a joke. That’s the advantage of anonymity. That said, I was being somewhat facetious earlier. There is no way to do comedy without offending some people.

  18. Eric Russell says:

    JDC, good point. I suppose some could interpret Austen as mean. But I still say it’s pretty difficult to judge an author’s heart and motivations.

    I guess my question is, isn’t it possible to satirize with a broken heart and a contrite spirit? I tend to think it is, but I can’t put my finger on showing exactly how.

  19. I appreciate different kinds of satire, though like others here, I prefer cleverness to meanness (though they aren’t always different).

    I definitely think that in a community (i.e. like the bloggernacle), you have to temper your sarcasm. You have to be careful about how you do it (i.e. understand how it might negatively affect the community), and you have to be willing to make fun of yourself as part of that community.

    What I think makes people like Swift and Jon Stewart so successful in a different way is that although they have very strong/harsh satire, they are generally commenting on an abusive power structure that they would like to see changed. While there’s plenty of wrongheadedness and imperfection in the bloggernacle, we do not have the same kind of power/political structure that motivates the satire of people like Stewart. I think harsh satire doesn’t work in places like the bloggernacle if you are actually trying to be an accepted and active part of the community.

  20. Interesting ideas. Satire can be a great tool for moral instruction, of course. I remember a recent Ensign article that asked us to imagine that the prophet came to a priesthood lesson and nobody let him talk. That seems to brushing the lightest corner of satire, or am I reaching?

    I wonder what people made of the Colbert Report’s recent brushes with Mormonism? I realize that the show will be condemned for mocking that which is sacred in some circles, but I think we need to get used to garments and other practices being discussed in the public realm. I thought, as far as making fun of Mormonism, it was good. It dealt with real practices, and made a correction to a false statement. I felt strangely proud to see my religion lightly joked about by someone whose comedy I respect.

  21. Norbert,
    Re: Colbert.
    Amen.

  22. I think that the desire to not alienate oneself from the community is what makes anonymity appealing to the bloggernacle satirist. We are a very selective group, one with little interest in having our faults pointed out to us. The gadfly is easily dismissed as a troll. If our friends turn into trolls, it disturbs us. So, much of our satire is anonymous in order to protect one’s place in the community.

    I would probably divide up comedic genres as follows: parody comes from love; satire from anger. Parody wants to be that which it emulates; satire despises it. Both have their place. Parody is certainly gentler.

    Regarding fighting a power structure, I assure you that there is no power structure that runs the cabal that dominates all posting on the Mormon Blogosphere. Do not cross Greg Call or you may never be heard from again!

  23. It is my opinion that a community that takes itself as seriously as the bloggernacle absolutely needs a mechanism for ego deflation.

    In medieval courts, the jester was allowed to say things that needed to be said, but that the lords and dukes were all fearful to say. That is the function the blog snarks fill.

    The greatest threat to the Mormon blogosphere doesn’t come from snarky meanness, whatever that is, but from self importance and an almost invincible self-righteousness. We need somebody to help us let the air out of our balloons now and then.

    Finally HP/JDC, since this is True Confession time, I now know it was you who deleted my anonymous comment at Ironic Priesthood. It was the comment that asked the question if there was a difference between an extra large box of condoms and a box of extra large condoms. The fact that you deleted it says a lot about you, all good IMO, but c’mon man! That was funny, and it wasn’t even PG!

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