I’m not racist; I’m just bad at satire

Satire is not only an important tool, but an art form. Using comedy to bring attention to absurdities challenges popular beliefs and forces the world to reflect. Since its practice began more than a millenium ago, there’s no doubt that it has great influence on our society.

Take, for instance, the ancient Greeks, who wrote satire for the stage that mocked conventions of their time, or Shakespeare, who satirized romance in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Jonathan Swift, a prominent Irish political figure in the 17 and 18th centuries, even satirized the British by saying that they ate babies, outlining the cruel and oppressive regime governing his country at that time.

We see a few main threads sewn throughout the historical fabric of satire: comedy, relevance, and influence. That’s really what satire is: an exaggerated portrayal of a relevant issue attempting to influence the audience’s mindset.

These days, with so many forms of media at their disposal, satirists have the means to make fun of almost everything. The Simpsons did a great job of exploring fame in the episode “Bart Gets Famous.” In the episode, the U.S. becomes infatuated with his catchphrase “I didn’t do it,” but eventually Bart gets tired of being known for his one line. Satires like these don’t cause much controversy, but other attempts are more provocative.

Consider the recent SNL skit where Dakota Johnson and cast members performed a parody of a previous Super Bowl commercial that depicted a father saying goodbye to his daughter as she goes off to war, except in the SNL skit the daughter goes off to join ISIS instead.

I thought the skit was genius. Not only was it poking fun at sports culture, but also the growing manipulative nationalism in the US. Many were offended by this, exclaiming  that “it insults our military” and “only feeds ISIS’ need for fame.” I don’t know if these statement are true, but the skit did prompt the question, “How far is too far?”

Both sides of this debate have valid claims. But ultimately it seems nothing is too holy, sacred, important or sensitive that it can’t be made fun of. South Park is rather famous for this, as the show  makes crude and insensitive remarks about almost everyone and everything in the news, from manatees to Kofi Annan to Al Gore to PewDiePie, no one is safe.

Some may not agree with South Park‘s methods, but then they should ask themselves, “How would the show’s message differ if they only targeted certain people or ideas?” That’s the line between satire and discrimination, and that brings up one of the most complicated issues to this day: free speech. There’s a lot that I could write about this, but to sum it up into a statement: democracies grant the right to the freedom of speech. No one can or should be able to take that away.

But, regardless of that, with freedom comes responsibility. People forget that, which is why when I started to see the online trend, “Je Suis Charlie,” I was not just annoyed, but disappointed. Just to clarify, what happened to the magazine Charlie Hebdo was a tragedy. However, in all this self-righteous confusion, the masses lost perspective. Charlie Hebdo is also a homophobic, Islamophobic, racist publication that purposefully provoked radicals into reacting (these links should help substantiate that: one, two, three).

To visualize this, think of a giant puddle of oil. That oil is free speech. Charlie Hebdo lit a match and dropped it on that puddle. What happened? They gained sympathy for deliberately offending a group of people for absolutely no reason.

Charlie Hebdo is not satire; it’s hate speech, and that’s not what the world needs. What the world needs is Jonathan Swift, The Simpsons, SNL, and South Park: equal-opportunity mockery that takes sides only against foolishness.