Make Satire Great Again

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In a recent New York Times op-ed column, a philosophy professor at the Paris Diderot University admitted to having been momentarily fooled by a satire piece claiming President Trump spent his days watching edited compilations of fight scenes from gorilla documentaries.

He actually believed that President Trump “knelt in front of the TV from morning until night” watching videos of gorillas fighting.

It’s not clear why anyone, let alone a philosophy professor with a Ph.D. from Columbia University, would admit to being duped by such a thing. It shows a stunning disconnect from reality and betrays an unconsidered, if not willful, acceptance of the media’s and Democrats’ caricatures of the president.

But instead of mulling over his gullibility and trying to understand what faulty assumptions led him to look so ridiculous, the philosophy professor responded to what he admitted was “excellent satire” with indignation.

He views the gorilla warfare duping as part of a supposed guerilla warfare campaign by new media meant to blur the line between satire and propaganda. It can’t just be that he was a sucker. So he dispenses with his earlier anti-censorship views and argues instead that “some varieties of expression that may have some claim to being satire should indeed be prohibited.”

As part of his recantation, he repentantly recalls the “smirking attitude” he had when a Chinese newspaper chided American satire while angrily admitting that it had been duped by an Onion article claiming Congress was threatening to leave Washington, D.C. if the city didn’t build them a new Capitol with a retractable dome.

But in light of his own gorilla experience, he now believes that the “stiff functionaries” at the Beijing Evening News who had taken the Capitol story as a “straightforward sign of the decline of American democracy,” were “right” to have reacted “poorly.”

After all, the gorilla story is just as plausible as the Capitol story. If nothing else, he is consistent; and we should expect no less from a philosophy professor.

The professor claims that the proliferation of new technologies has made it increasingly difficult to “separate” satire “cleanly from the toxic disinformation that defines our era.” But as much as we might like to blame our gullibility on technology, the fault lies in us.

Satire and intentional disinformation both expose the complacency and laziness we have adopted toward sources of information. And while it is true that technology has made it easier for the partisan hack and the pseudo-intellectual alike to find an official-looking document to “prove” they are right, confirmation bias and unfounded appeals to authority are nothing new.

But before we make any rash decisions about “banning” satire, we should ask whose laziness this satire and disinformation is exposing.

The occasional unsuspecting conservative on Twitter who accidentally shares a fake news story because the headline fit his narrative acts as a living satire of journalists who routinely and essentially do the same—except journalists do it for a living.

Journalists have jumped at the faintest whiff of evidence that could possibly corroborate the phony Russian collusion narrative. They have unquestioningly reprinted claims from anonymous sources that the president is both an evil genius and a bumbling buffoon. They have salivated as expert after supposed expert has predicted Trump’s demise, impeachment, and prosecution—with “bombshells” no less. As long as they are unquestioningly accepting things, why wouldn’t they unquestioningly accept that the president—a well-known Fox News fan—spends his days watching gorillas fighting on TV?

The mainstream media is far less interested in the truth than it is in forwarding its narrative. It unwittingly satirizes itself on a daily basis as it strays increasingly farther from any semblance of objectivity in order to try to fit facts into a narrative. And while serious outlets may release corrections and retractions after they jump over a cliff based on one anonymous source, it’s too little too late. The damage is already done.

But many conservatives on Twitter are far more careful than their mainstream media counterparts—they haven’t bought their own spin. They are so used to dealing with the media’s fake news on a daily basis that they have become wary of accepting any story—even, or especially, stories they hope are true—without doing their own primary source research. And sorry, but linking to a Washington Post “fact check” doesn’t cut it anymore.

Perhaps that’s why the media is so up in arms over “fake news.” Humorless people tend to fear and hate that which satirizes them precisely because it exposes them. At least their fear and hatred for satire is now laid bare. Our philosophy professor writing in the New York Times made that all too humorlessly clear.

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Photo credit: CSA-Images via Getty Images

About Karl Notturno

Karl Notturno is a Mount Vernon Fellow of the Center for American Greatness in addition to being an entrepreneur, musician, and writer. He recently graduated from Yale University with degrees in philosophy and history. He can be found on Twitter @karlnotturno.

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