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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Are We Becoming Immune To Satire?

A friend of mine from high school recently posted on Facebook a photo of a product she saw at the supermarket-- flavored apples.

These were not candy apples. They were not caramel apples. They were not even those grotesque apples covered with so much stuff they look like they were rolled on the floor of a movie theater.

These flavored apples were pre-packaged sliced Granny Smith apples with grape, orange, or fruit punch flavoring added, apparently geared toward children (or, more accurately, parents agonizing over how to get their kids to eat more fresh fruit). One of her Facebook friends satirically and hilariously commented, "Do they come in apple flavor?"

This got me to thinking whether we are developing a cultural immunity to satire.

I love satire. I have learned more about the world from The Onion than The New York Times.

In its broadest definition, satire is exaggerating something in order to comment on its evil, injustice, absurdity, shallowness, or other disdained quality.

But I think satire as a form presumes that there is a gap in time between the present moment to be satirized and the satirical rendition of that moment. Satire stings like a bee-- first the sharp, itchy pain. Then, the surprise and shock of having been stung. Then, that moment of confusion settling into recognition. Finally, the dull ache that stays with us for several days.

However, the life cycle of ideas in general, and satire in particular, seems to be shorter and shorter.

Images and ideas quickly "go viral". They are exchanged, commented and elaborated upon, and quickly become part of the present moment's conversation.  This accelerated digestion narrows the time lag between the satirical comment and the present moment, and the satire is defused of its sting. 

Further, its not just that satire can't keep up with the world. Rather, the world absorbs the satire and makes it its own so quickly that by the time a satirical piece is digested it has so shaped public consciousness, and influenced it, that it becomes stale and part of the new normal.  We barely feel the sting going in.

How many times has an article from The Onion been reported as real news? How many people can't tell the difference between Stephen Colbert and Bill O'Reilly? How many people realized that Tina Fey was quoting Sarah Palin word for word?

We have a hard time telling the difference. Not sure how we can keep up.

I'll keep a lookout for the apple-flavored apples.


  1. Is satire dead? Maybe, but didn't t they also declare history dead after the cold war was over. I hope it is not. Keep up the good work Doc.

  2. I think it's because satire is overexposed. There's too much of it. Plus you have a whole TV genre (reality) that SEEMS satirical but is not (or is it?).
    PS, Tina Fey did not qoute Sarah Palin word for word -- but Fey's words are widely believed to be Palin's