In the past few years, several new “satire” sites have arisen, copying what used to be the exclusive province of The Onion. Two sites in particular, The Daily Currant and The National Report, have become the source of much Facebook and Twitter head shaking and eye rolling among people who disagree with their pseudo-conservative posts. While I’m not sure of the writers’ political stances, the joke is usually supposed to be, “Hey, aren’t these conservatives crazy? I wonder what they’ll say next, maybe something ridiculous like ____________!”. As I see post after post circulated by people that didn’t get the joke, I suspect something a bit more problematic is going on.
One of the ones recently posted in a Facebook group I belong to that is mostly conservative leaning people was a fictional story about a landfill in North Dakota being named after Obama. The article concluded with:
Ordinary citizens in the state also seem to approve of the government’s choice.
“I can’t think of a better name,” says Joe Blough, a plumber from Minot. “It’s darkly colored and it’s full of shit. That pretty much sums up Obama.”
An article in National Report focuses on Bobby Jindal’s alleged secret ties to Transcendental Meditation and Ravi Shankar, with Shankar purportedly saying, “I knew Piyush’s mother Raj, we would meditate together back in Malerkotla.”
What I see in these articles is what many have referred to as “hipster racism“. The concept refers to engaging in traditionally racist behavior ironically or satirically, and using the fact that you’re aware of its wrongness and trying to take its power through humor as a defense. I see this both in the illicit chuckles these articles elicit from the anti-PC set and in the way that the articles are celebrated by conservative news sources that don’t check their facts well enough. The articles have beliefs embedded in them that people want to say, or at least explore, but that society has told them are bad. Through humor, the authors and fans can explore this in a way that’s safe, and doesn’t make them “bad people”. (There’s probably a whole other post to be had about how we ignore our racism because we don’t want to be “bad people”, but that’s a post for another day.)
Incidentally, the same is true of sites I have higher regard for, like The Onion, which has explored some troubling topics and occasionally missed the mark. The Onion, however, apologized when they crossed the line and wrote a (obviously satirical) hit piece on a child (in this case, ingenue Quvenzhane Wallis of “Annie” and “Beasts of the Southern Wild” fame). I’m not asking for an apology from any of these satire sites; they should be free to write what they like and bear whatever consequences result. However, I do think it’s irresponsible to play with these themes in a way that lets our demons off the hook.
Even as I write this, a counterargument arises in my head, which is, “but the world is absurd right now!” I’m frankly not sure what to do with that. We live in a time when our former Vice-Presidential candidate or our current leading Republican Presidential candidate might just make a gaffe that sounds just like a satire piece, or where people are comfortable making racist jokes in public about the President, or for that matter, where a double-digit percentage of the population appears to believe his birth certificate is forged. In an absurd world, maybe we get the humor we deserve.