I got an email today from the harmless but delightfully stinging satire site Babylon Bee. It is a rarity in today’s political world of viciousness and vengeance, a satire site with a whimsical bent and a Christian and right of center perspective. You can find it (until you can’t—which is the point of today’s screed) at: babylonbee.com
You may be thinking: Christian satire, about as much fun as Christian head banger rock. You’d be wrong. Babylon Bee’s humor is as good in its way as The Onion but without the cynicism. A few recent headlines will give its flavor: “ ‘You Can Reopen Now!’ Governor Newsom Shouts At Row Of Abandoned, Dilapidated Buildings,” “In Hard-Hitting Press Conference, Press Demands To Know Biden’s Favorite Disney Princess” or “Joe Biden Wins Nobel Prize For His Incredible First Day As President.” And yes, it makes fun of Trump too: “Space Force Carries Out Coup, Trump Declared President Of Space,” and “Trump Pardons The Coronavirus,” are just two examples.
It is so good that stuffy people like Snopes.com and other “news” sources routinely do “fact checks” on its pretend stories and describe it as “fake news.”
The email from Babylon Bee was headed: “Big tech tyranny is not a myth.” Because the tech lords, e.g. Google, Facebook and Twitter, who control what we see, read and hear, are using the January 6 attack on the Capitol by deranged Trump supporters to try to silence rightwing critics everywhere.
Babylon Bee fears it will share the fate of Parler, where, until recently it had 1.2 million followers. “Then came the incident at the Capitol, after which Trump was banned from social media and Parler became a scapegoat. Apple and Google removed the top-ranked Parler app from their stores and Amazon pulled the plug on Parler’s servers, instantly cutting The Babylon Bee’s access to our largest social media audience.”
This is no small matter to the satire site: “It’s huge. We are heading in a bad direction, and we’re heading there at lightning speed. Parler did nothing but host a site where conservatives congregate and speak freely. If that’s beyond the pale, no conservative sites are safe.”
Let’s be clear: You can be a conservative or libertarian; oppose big government, the Green New Deal, redistribution of wealth, and the destruction of liberty and freedom through COVID lockdowns without thinking it’s a good idea to fly to Washington, don a bearskin and Viking helmet, paint your face, storm a government building and try to kidnap the vice president. The great majority of Republicans and conservatives, like me, were shocked, angered and appalled when that happened. They and I are not terrorists. Just as you can be a Democrat/progressive and abhor the destruction of property, the burning of cities across America and anarchic mayhem that happened over the spring and summer.
Telsi Gabbard, former congresswoman from Hawaii and Democratic presidential candidate last year warned on Twitter: “[T]he John Brennans, Adam Schiffs, and oligarchs in Big Tech who are trying to undermine our constitutionally-protected rights and turn our country into a police state with KGB-style surveillance, are also domestic enemies, and much more powerful, and therefore dangerous, than the mob that stormed the Capitol.”
Satire has always been the stunted stepchild, whom step-siblings like to kick under the dinner table and blame when he retaliates by flinging the peas at them (Perhaps I’ve given away too much about my childhood.)
Probably the most famous satire in history was Jonathan’s Swift’s brutally brilliant “A Modest Proposal” in which the mordant 18th Century essayist appeared to suggest in all seriousness that Great Britain deal with overpopulation of Ireland by selling Irish children as meat. Swift was not known for gentle humor, but 300 years later, we still read him, even though we know almost nothing about the politics of his day.
Satire doesn’t usually do well in pop culture, although I would argue that most prominent politicians are self-satirizing to the point that no self-respecting humorist would swing at them—particularly as it is considered bad form for humorists to skewer liberals and Democrats. President Obama, to use one example, was apparently yanked from the womb permanently coated in Teflon. He was too awesome to make fun of. But Trump’s more unrelenting acolytes don’t have a sense of humor about him either. They watch Alec Baldwin’s SNL send ups with low gurgles of outrage, not because Baldwin sucks, which he does, but because they can’t abide any digs at their hero.
And who can fail to laugh at the once-serious Ted Cruz? Who once crusaded as a great constitutional senator and scholar, and whom candidate Trump once said that his father had a hand in assassinating JFK—and that his wife was ugly. Cruz’s retribution for such calumny? Licking the mud from Trump’s shoes for four years. Now that is satire!
Satire does seem to thrive as animation, as the popular “The Simpsons” and “South Park” can attest.
The problem with satire is that only a percentage “get it.” I know because when I do my annual April Fool’s practical joke invariably someone named Forrest or Karen will respond in white hot outrage: “That WASN’T funny! How can you make a joke like that? How DARE you? I’d rather cry than laugh at that.” All you can do with such people is to cackle rudely.
Laughter may be the best medicine, but for many, satire is a teaspoon full of Ipecac.
If you don’t like satire, then I don’t want to know you because, well, you’ve discounted half of my comedic output over the years. If you buy me lunch, or just toss me a few peanuts, I’ll continue to know you but I’ll still think you have no taste.
But why allow people to say or write “lies”? Allowing cuckoo for Coco puffs right wingers to bloviate about QAnon, and Trump “winning” the election by 20 million votes is an extension of the opinion professional courtesy we give left wingers who claim the world will end in three years if we don’t rejoin the Paris Accords, that America was founded on slavery and that America will be better if we allowed everyone to walk freely across the border, start collecting payments and immediately vote.
Satire exists to puncture the vanity of the powerful, to lower the quality of the debate and to have fun doing it. Satire and all irreverent humor are vital to our freedom and are worth fighting for. If a source of satire like Babylon Bee is forced out of existence, we are all poorer.