The Mocking Society
by Mark Zinan
Is political satire and exaggerated physical caricature the last refuge of tribalism for the intellectual class? The resurgent popularity of Saturday Night Live; spurred on by Presidential surrogates Alec Baldwin and Melissa McCarthy provides new impetus for smirks and ridicule. The rebirth of Steve Colbert and the omnipresent media coverage of John Oliver, Bill Maher, et al validate the hold of satire for one half of our country. My progressive social media friends constantly refraining: “the uneducated just don’t understand good satire”. It is a basic pillar of Western Civilization’s Age of Enlightenment.
The Oxford Dictionary joyously proclaims the definition of satire: “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.” Political cartoonist Garry Trudeau, post Charlie Hebdo massacre, wrote in the Atlantic Magazine that satire is the greatest form of “punching up.” In other words, satire allows the powerless to bring down the enriched status quo.
Now, bear with me as we go back in time. Spurred on by World War 2 and subsequent United Nations treaties our United Kingdom (UK) older cousins, enacted the Public Order Act of 1986. Public speech intended to stir up racial hatred is criminally banned. A race is defined as the color, race, nationality, ethnic, and national origins of the victim of the racial hatred. In the early 2000’s; the Public Order Act is enlarged; banned speech includes public speech intended to stir up religious and sexual orientation hatred. A UK police officer is allowed to arrest without warrant anyone he/she reasonably suspected had committed an offence under the Act. (Ok, wrong you say, France and Germany initiated earlier hate speech statutes. Yes, but you can read the UK laws in English.) All three of these major western European countries continue to enforce their hate speech laws in haphazard and non particular ways. Years before the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the Islamic Community of France tried to prevent the magazine from publishing Prophet Muhammad cartoons. The Government of France chose not to prosecute. This past year, in Germany, a comedian was indicted for insulting the Turkish Prime Minister. The German prosecutors found the comedian crossed the line between satirical criticism and pure abuse.
The USA, officially, has no criminal hate speech laws. The Supreme Court provides one caveat. Free speech is not protected if the speech is intended to provoke imminent danger. In the USA, the criminal act itself, not the speech, is the crime. And more severe prosecution awaits hate crimes. Economic boycott of retailers and media is another means of keeping hate speech out of the mainstream. Colleges since the 1980’s began creating safe zones.
Meanwhile, returning back to the present times: ha, ha, ha; we mock Mr. Authoritarian; the strangely haired, baby vocabulary, orange skinned, small hands, AKA the Orangutan. His loyal supporters derisively termed white trash or replaced by the euphemism goobers. How does this ridicule and mocking make us an enlightened people?
If we follow a certain European path, can you not perceive the following news headline; “Today, the US Supreme Court affirmed legislation criminalizing the mocking, ridiculing, or exaggerated physical caricature of any public individual. The Supreme Court will now review the legislation criminalizing the jeering, swearing, screaming, and other boorish behavior at our sporting events.” I prefer an alternative headline; “Today the UK Parliament redacted the Public Order Act of 1986 and amendments thereto.” Parliament belatedly recognizing that controlling verbal abuse rests within each individual and societal refusal to accept ridicule of any individual or group.