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Satire Under Attack

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Issue: 13 Section: Arts Topics: comedy

January 13, 2004

Satire Under Attack

When looking silly is worse than looking evil

by Max Liboiron, Jane Henderson

Promotional photo for A New War by Gim Hope.

Webster's Dictionary credits literature as the traditional medium to use "trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm to expose and discredit vice or folly." Yet in today's multimedia world, satire has entered the mainstream via theatre, television, music, newspaper cartoons, radio, and the internet. Satire is an important tool for those frustrated by the corporate, sponsorship, and political agendas mixed up in their media. The Toronto Star notes that "Satire is being used by a hungry young generation as a way around the converged mainstream news media -- which often no longer serve as watchdogs."

In Canada and around the world, playwrights and webmasters are the leaders in providing an international audience with new sources of satire. RealStupidNews.com, PaulMartinTime.ca, and TheSweatShopNews.com are all recent satirical e-media sites. A Weapons Inspector Calls, by Justin Butcher (also playwright of The Madness of George Dubaya), A New War, by Gip Hoppe and Right as Ron by Judd Bloch are brand-new plays hitting theaters around the world. Both mediums are receiving their share of flack.

In the arts and in the growing satirical news genre, lines are being drawn by those whose vice or folly are the subject of unwanted wit: PaulMartinTime.ca received threats of lawsuit; Right as Ron has been denounced by the Smart family, whose family history the play satirizes.

Roy Clarke, a Zambia resident of 40 years and Post newspaper employee, is, as of January 6, awaiting the judicial review of the deportation order issued following one of his recent news columns. The piece used jungle animals to satirize a corrupt government. The Telegraph in Clarke's country of origin, Britain, notes that "charges of racism against him are unconvincing, not least because he has been married to a leading black Zambian women rights campaigner, Sara Longwe, for 35 years."

"I have been writing the column for around seven years now and what puzzles me is that this latest piece does not differ greatly in form, style, or content from what I have written before," Roy Clarke said.

Two weeks ago in Mumbai, India, playwright Kedar Shinde's TV satire prodding Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal's alleged scam role was aired. In indignant solidarity with Bhujbal, a group of workers belonging to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) attacked Zee TV's offices and employees. Although he has previously been pressured to resign for many reasons (such as the very dealings being parodied), it was this act of violence on his behalf which finally prompted his resignation "on moral grounds." The Mid-Day Mumbai is hailing the sketch as the "the TV satire that brought Bhujbal down," and its sequel has already aired.

In Texas, "Stop the Madness" is on trial for the third time, now in the Supreme Court. In this mock article, printed November 11, 1999, by the Dallas Observer, a six-year-old girl is arrested for the "terroristic threat" of her report on the picture book Where The Wild Things Are. Fake quotations were attributed to two genuine public officials, court-at-law judge Darlene Whitten and her husband, district attorney Bruce Isaacks, who have taken the paper to court.

The main problem according to Whitten and Isaacks is that the parody could be confused with reality. But when reality can become so bogus and illogical as to be mistaken for farce (with false quotations like "It's time for you to grow up, young lady, and it's time for us to stop treating kids like children"), the problem isn't copyright or liability. It's the panicked and hypocritically illogical power being parodied in the first place.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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