Why We Need Satire and Parody in our Tribal Republic 

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It’s 2019, but Orwell’s 1984 has finally arrived. Ridicule. Exaggeration. Totalitarian vice. Our morning cup of political news is pressed slow and hot with darkly brewed sarcasm, overflowing with the heavy cream of a gaslighting government—so much so that we wake up questioning our very sanity as we pour through our daily Twitter feed. If you don’t laugh in these tough and turbulent times, you just might cry.

In times of crisis, contemporary parody and satire provide content or creative space that can use humor to navigate taboo or tough topics in our democratic society. As avid consumers of digital content, where do we draw the line between sinfully silly or slander? Can we use a film, music video or cartoon to push back against the political gridlock of power? More importantly, are we willing to whittle away at our constitutional right of free speech by allowing a daily barrage of tribalistic lies and uncomfortable truths to smack us in the face from our smart phones for the purpose of political warfare?

Parody and satire can only function in a democratic society that values and protects free speech. Political satire is offensive, blasphemous, disrespectful, terse. Without the legal protections needed for a free speech society, satirists and parodists in autocracies must walk a dangerous tight rope of humor that can lead to bans, censorship and prison—even death.

Charlie Weekly is a French satirical newspaper that features jokes, cartoons, and non-conformist reports that mock everything from Catholicism to Islam. On the morning of January 7th, 2015, Charlie Weekly staff were gathered at for their weekly editorial meeting when two armed and hooded men, identifying themselves as part of Al-Qaeda in Yemen, entered the building and unleased a spray of gunfire for 5-10 minutes at the journalists’ heads in the meeting. They murdered all but two. American CIA officials stated that the motive was “absolutely clear: trying to shut down a media organization that lampooned the Prophet Muhammad.”

American satirists enjoy more freedom from such persecution due to U.S. laws surrounding “Fair Use,” that provide cover for our First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. Copyright infringement or defamation laws cannot used to stifle the voice of satirists and parodists, if their work meets four factors for consideration:

  • the purpose and character of the use
  • the nature of the copyrighted work
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market.

These elements sustain a platform in our democratic society for artists to use satire and parody without fear of legal repercussions that could lead to censorship or oppression.

Parody and satire aren’t just entertainment, they are critical tools to speak truth to power during tough ideological wars and times of cultural upheaval. The dark humor of parody and satire offer another path to illuminate the public, push back on power grabs and initiate conversations in the public sphere. You can even save a cow.

Congressman Devin Nunes is suing an anonymous Twitter parody account called @DevinCow for $250M for defamation, forcing courts to reaffirm or deny the fair use. The goal of good satire and parody is not to slander or demoralize, but rather to energize public debate and encourage critical thought.

Everyone has the right to defend and protect their character and reputation—especially from Internet trolls and opportunists trying to build their follower counts or get the most likes. We are all players in the online games called Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The only way to breathe is to unplug—not an easy task in America’s political cyberwar.

Social media has created a toxic platform for “selective outrage” and a reckless disregard for brazen falsity that can destroy a person’s career, jeopardize their safety or crush a career in one tweet. This applies to anyone—celebrity or civil servant—in the public sphere. Satirists can now manifest as anonymous rage-aholics with an intent to harm their targets in the town square we call Twitter. A malicious statement can turn viral on a whim, reaching a global audience. What legal recourse is possible for people like Devin Nunes? We must look to the courts to set new guideposts for an evolving ethical dilemma that can ruin a person’s life for a quick laugh or meme.

While it is true that the Internet is driving new legal scenarios that could never have been imagined until now regarding defamation, the courts will ultimately be forced to clarify or distill evolving interpretations of libel and slander for satirists. No person or court could have imagined the digital revolution, the Internet and the creation of social media platforms that reach a massive global audience in seconds. There is a catch, though, because for one person to win a defamation suite, another must be punished for something they have written or said. The First Amendment wasn’t created by our Founding Fathers for easy, comfortable speech. It was created to protect speech no matter how offensive its content, how disagreeable the idea or how outrageous the claim. Like Devin Nunes’ Cow on Twitter.

Anti-SLAPP laws (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) were created for this very reason. They provide an off-ramp to dismiss meritless lawsuits from entities in power that are filed to oppress anyone exercising their First Amendment rights. Devin Nunes has filed his defamation lawsuit in Virginia, rather than his home state of California, because Virginia’s anti-SLAPP law is much weaker than other states and doesn’t not force Nunes to provide early proof as to why he would win the case so he gains a press advantage in having his case actually heard, regardless of his thin-skinned claims.

Need a dose of satirical sunshine in this blustery era of political madness? You can find it—depending on your political point of view—with Randy Rainbow. Yes, Rainbow is his real name. The Emmy-nominated comedian recently released a satirical parody (yes, both) music video called Cheeto Christ Stupid Czar. The irreverent spoof mocks Donald Trump’s recent comments from a 2018 interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, before nose-diving into iconic Christ-like images while singing his alternate lyrics to the theme song from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar. Rainbow leans hard into the President’s questionable statements about being “The Chosen One” and “King of Israel.” He has built a viral empire with musical spoofs such as How Do You Build a Problem Like Korea? from The Sound of Music, and GOP Dropout from Grease!.

“I hope they’ll go and maybe binge me a little bit and see what I’m trying to do, which is kind of be as much of a spoonful of sugar as I can in these troubling times, use comedy as my weapon of choice, and get people to laugh instead of cry and sing instead of scream.”

Cite this paper

Why We Need Satire and Parody in our Tribal Republic . (2021, Feb 08). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/why-we-need-satire-and-parody-in-our-tribal-republic/

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