Progressivism and the Death of Satire

2 10 2010

When Jonathan Swift penned A Modest Proposal in 1729, he wielded the ancient literary weapon of satire to illustrate the desperate plight of the Irish with terrific effect.  Surely, no reader possessing a shred of humanity could agree with Swift’s position that the poor eat their own children.  Yet how different were the cold, calculated, and indifferent views of much of Smith’s 18th century audience in effect, if not principle?

Satire works when a commentator is able to take the pseudo-logical  arguments of an intellectual opponent just a few steps further, expanding their faulty premises in a new, unexpected, and often shocking or humorous direction.  Ridicule means death for bad ideas–it’s hard to take something seriously when you’re laughing at it–and satire is ridicule’s vector.

It’s hard to make satire work when an idea is too shocking, unbelievable, or laughable to be lampooned.  I’ve come across a number of items so mind-numbingly stupid (perhaps unsurprisingly, all from the progressive set) in the past few days that I’ve had to ask myself: Is it time to lay satire to rest as a tool for incisive commentary?

Exhibit 1: Peaceful Parking Tickets

What will The Onion do for material in this new, post-satire age?  Parody headlines like “Detroit Sold for Scrap” lose some of their bite when they have to compete with the likes of “Cambridge Institutes Yoga Parking Tickets.

Just so you don’t think this is some kind of joke perpetrated by the flexible folks at The Yoga Journal, here’s a link to the Boston Globe article as well.  Read the article; there’s some context, apparently (it’s performance art, or something), but what little context there is doesn’t make this any less stupid.

These actually exist. And not in some parallel universe, either.

Cambridge, Massachusetts, home of Harvard, is in many ways similar to Ann Arbor, which is why I’m not even surprised that Cambridge a) has a “resident artist” whose job is, apparently, to come up with ways to “humanize” the process of getting a parking ticket and b) actually listens to their resident artist and implements his imbecilic ideas.

I think I’m actually more worked up about the prospect of some perma-baked Ann Arborite cooking up a scheme like this than I am about dealing with the city’s vulture-like parking enforcement personnel.

Exhibit 2: The Nissan LEAF

There are a number of reasons the new Nissan LEAF is almost beyond parody, but chief among them is my genuine sympathy for the fools who rush out and by the wretched excuse for an automobile when it hits the showroom.  It’s styling is…uninspiring, to say the least.

But form matters less than function when you’re trying to save the environment, right?  Too bad most of the early reviews of the vehicle seem to center on the test driver’s pleasant surprise that except for the extremely limited 100 mile range and entry-level luxury price tag (to be heavily subsidized by the taxpayer, of course, because electric cars are economical, damn it, even when they’re not), the LEAF is just about as good as a conventional economy car!  Awesome!

Plus, I’m not sure why everyone assumes that electric cars are good for the environment.  The LEAF has lithium-based batteries.  This is a lithium mine:

Shifting pollution to another continent does not mean you are treading lightly upon the land.

If you were concerned about saving the environment, you’d ride a bike.  Or walk.  On shoes made of recycled rubber.

All this is tragically ironic, but I saw a commercial the other day that bumped the LEAF into the “you can’t make this stuff up” category.

The commercial featured a sensitive, metrosexual LEAF owner hugging a 10-foot tall polar bear in his driveway.  For real.

Why is it that every background shot of a Chevy Aveo driving around in a parking lot requires a “Professional driver.  Closed course.  Do not attempt.” disclaimer, but a guy hugging a vicious, carnivorous polar bear is totally cool?  On second thought, I’ll let that one go.  A world with one less LEAF driver is a beautiful world indeed.

Exhibit 3: Whatever the hell this is supposed to be

Finally (for now), there’s this:

I first saw it at Watt’s Up With That, but it’s spread quickly since then.  The link might be dead, but if it’s not, you owe it to yourself to take a peek.  Or check out the description with screenshots here.

There’s not a whole lot I can say about this.  I’ve watched my share of gory war movies, but there’s something about this that is so…shockingly casual.  I actually lost my appetite after seeing it.

This is unfortunate, because I had just heated up a plate of Bagel Bites I found in the freezer.  Now I have half a plate of cold Bagel Bites sitting here and no urge to eat them, which is terrible.  Oh, and there are also people out there who think this is a perfectly acceptable way to spread the Gospel of Global Warming, which is infinitely more terrible.

Scenes of anthropological global warming skeptics’ heads exploding–scratch that, scenes of global warming believers, including a schoolteacher, actively blowing up global warming skeptics, including a couple of schoolchildren, is beyond surreal.  The Radiohead song at the end doesn’t do much to make it acceptable, either.

Fortunately, this is an act of self-parody from within the climate change camp that not even the most brilliant satiric masterpiece could compete with.

And maybe that’s our saving grace in the end: when an idea is so unbelievably stupid as to render satire impotent, one only needs to point out the obvious and hope that others are paying attention.

UPDATE: At the Hot Air article on the same topic, you can find an Eyeblast version the video in questions.  Seems the 1010 campaign has been rather tenacious in removing their massive “own goal” from the web ever since they realized that blowing up schoolchildren wasn’t terribly good for PR.

*Ha! I used the phrase “faux-news” without trying to make a snide comment about the Fox News Corporation!  That has to be an Internet first.

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