A few years back I shopped around a satirical guest column in which I suggested we could solve our education funding crisis by slaughtering our worst performing students and feeding them to their classmates. The editorial board of one major daily was intrigued, but after a few weeks of mulling it over they eventually rejected my “modest proposal” with the explanation that their readers “lacked the satire gene.”
I was deeply disappointed at the time by what I felt to be a display of editorial cowardice, but in the years hence I have grown to appreciate the editors’ healthy cynicism towards their readers’ own limits. For as I have repeatedly learned during my two and a half years of blogging, some people simply don’t get satire. Ever.
One might think by now that my regular readers would have grown accustomed to my penchant for persiflage, yet many, of both political persuasions, wouldn’t know irony if I dropped the “y” and savagely beat them around the head and face with it. For example, however outrageous or intentionally offensive my attempts at satire may be, accusing a sitting state senator of “fucking pigs” is most definitely not libel, nor is it fair to characterize as “hate speech” a proposed initiative to exempt Christians from our state’s anti-discrimination laws. And when I urged that all extraordinary efforts be used to save a critically ill Rev. Jerry Falwell, no matter how painful or intrusive — to the point of keeping his brain alive in “a jar of nutrient-rich fluid” — well… that was not, as one angry reader conversely described it in an email purportedly copied to the FBI, a “terrorristic [sic] death threat.”
It was a joke.
And as a connoisseur of humor, I would have hoped that it would not be necessary to appreciate a joke in order to at least acknowledge that it exists. But apparently, some people just don’t get satire.
This sad reality was brought home yesterday when General JC Christian of the satirical blog Jesus’ General joined me on 710-KIRO as I was subbing for Dori Monson. This was without a doubt the funniest hour of radio I’ve ever produced, an experience enhanced for the guys in the booth as the lines lit up with angry callers. One would think that when the General started talking about tazering shopkeepers who refused to say “Merry Christmas” and arming fetuses with tiny in utero handguns that nearly everybody would have realized that he was in fact joking. Yet the overwhelming majority of callers chose to take him at face value.
Of course, talk radio callers, just like blog commenters, are a tiny, nonrepresentative segment of the larger audience, so I remain confident that the majority of listeners got the joke. But if not, who cares?
My job as both a radio host and a blogger is to engage the audience, and it doesn’t really matter how I do it. If the audience is laughing, that’s great. If the audience is enraged, that’s okay too. As long as they’re listening to me, they’re listening to the ads, and that after all is KIRO’s business. And oh yeah, as long as they’re listening to me they’ll come away better informed, whether they like it or not… and that after all is my business.
Everybody wants to be liked. But I’ll settle for people just tuning in.