Mean or Meaningful? Rush Limbaugh, Sandra Fluke, and the use of satire
This week I wrote an article titled “Satire and Sandra Fluke: Was Rush Limbaugh really wrong?“. It stirred up quite a discussion on an already hot topic.
As a supplement to it, I wrote the following explanatory comment on satire at the suggestion of my friend Lindy Abbott:
Satire has many forms, sometimes involving sarcasm or irony (calling something the exact opposite of what it is in order to humorously demonstrate what it really is), and sometimes involving hyperbole (calling something a vast exaggeration of what it is in order to illustrate a point), and often times a combination of or midway point mixture between the two.
The purpose of satire is to mock folly in society – and that is also what the purpose of comedy generally is. One filmmaker I’m acquainted with explained that comedy is about tearing away facades, and thus focuses on characters that everybody likes to laugh at but nobody really wants to emulate. I’ve seen some Christians argue that such satirical forms are wrong because honesty is important to GOD. However, there are passages in the Bible that come across to me as satirical and sarcastic (in Ecclesiastes, for example), and we know that GOD Himself laughs and scoffs at people sometimes (i.e. Psalm 2:4).
“For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity,” Rush Limbaugh explained in his apology. That is the general definition of satire, and political pundits and comedians do it all the time. In this instance, Limbaugh was attempting to satirize not a person but a culture – a culture some of us call the “slut culture”, which is a culture that desires to throw off a yoke of personal responsibility and morality and replace it with a yoke of government subsidization and technological evasion of biological consequences. This is prevalent among youth today.
Limbaugh satirized this through a variant of hyperbole – by saying that the woman who wants her predominantly sexual tool (contraception) funded by somebody else is technically a slut or a prostitute, and that if she wants her Catholic institution and eventually the taxpayers of her country to pay for it, she might as well make sex tapes to prove that we’re getting our money’s worth out of such a subsidization.
Now the deft way to handle satire throughout history to avoid getting one’s self beheaded is to keep the joke generalized instead of personalized – and this is where Rush tripped. If he had kept it generalized by making up a hypothetical woman in Sandra Fluke’s scenario, it might have worked out better. But because he mentioned her by name in the jokes, and because his assessment was so accurate, he hit too close to home.
Of course Rush doesn’t REALLY want to watch a sex tape of Sandra Fluke, and of course he doesn’t REALLY think she is officially a prostitute. The problem is that his cultural satire was so literal that it was believable, and thus people even started calling it libelous. Notice that in cases in which men like Ed Schulz, Bill Maher, Keith Olbermann, David Letterman, etc. have said crude things about conservative women, they always get a free pass after apologizing (or not) because their insults are so absurd that supporters can dismiss their mean words as simply metaphorical slip ups from the tongues of grumpy old men.
The irony in this is that while Rush was mocking the reasonably extrapolated ACTIONS of Sandra Fluke and the female peerage she represents, those other men were desecrating the actual PERSONS of Sarah Palin, Laura Ingraham, Michelle Malkin, etc. Which is really the misogynistic thing to do?
EXTRA: This article by The Washington Times Communities’ resident comedian, Eric Golub, is an example of satire through a variant of sarcasm: Sandra Fluke right, Rush Limbaugh wrong: Why I switched sides