The Death of Satire?

A regular reader of this blog made an astute observation a few months ago; in response to a discussion of seemingly ridiculous behavior by some political figure or other, he noted that “Their reality has lapped our satire.”

No kidding.

I was scrolling through my Facebook page, and came across a quote attributed to Congressman Trent Franks, questioning the Pope’s grasp of the bible, and insisting that a proper reading of that text did not require helping the poor. In a sane age, I would have immediately concluded that the quote was fake, but then I remembered an incident I personally witnessed a few years ago, at a debate about same-sex marriage sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council.

Two of us on the panel spoke in opposition to the (then pending) constitutional ban. Curt Smith from the Indiana Family Institute and someone whose name I don’t recall spoke in support. During the question and answer period, Rabbi Dennis Sasso quoted a passage from the bible as a reason to oppose the ban; Smith responded by telling the Rabbi that he’d misinterpreted the bible, and offering to send him some materials that “explain that passage properly.”

In my ethnic group, that’s called “chutzpah.” I’ve never forgotten it. So I suspended disbelief and googled the Trent Franks quote, which did turn out to be inaccurate. (Franks had suggested that the Pope should stay out of “politics.”)

The moral of this story is that it is getting increasingly difficult to tell whether a story is satirical or true. When state legislatures pass laws “protecting” pastors from performing same-sex marriages, or laws forbidding food stamp recipients from buying seafood; when Sarah Palin says things like “Paul Revere warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our guns,” when pretty much everything that comes out of the mouths of people like Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Louis Gohmert, Ben Carson and so many others sounds like a headline from the Onion, is it any wonder that we approach reports about even the most outrageous statements with a suspension of disbelief?

Actually, disbelief over accurate quotations threatens to become my permanent attitude….


  1. About disbelief, I’m reminded of Rev. Bailey Smith’s comment while he was President of the Southern Baptist Convention that “God almighty does not hear the prayer of the Jews.” That was back in 1980.

    It’s now 2015. And I still have not been able to confirm the accuracy of that statement.

  2. Louie Gohmert’s latest statement that President Bush would not have invaded Iraq if he had known Obama was going to mess it up – must be satirical – it is too far-fetched to be considered as fact. I do believe Gohmert believes Americans will never again elect a bald president as his reason for not joining the ever-expanding number of Republicans who are running. We can only hope he doesn’t change his mind and buy a toupee.

  3. So true! It has gotten to the place that I feel the need to label my posts as true or satire. The true quotes from the far right are often so outlandish that they sound like satire. Could this be a ruse perpetrated by Tea Party types? Perhaps they are they making themselves look so ridiculous that their semi-idiotic candidates like Rand Paul and Marco Rubio appear near normal by comparison.

  4. You’re so right. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Congressman Franks’ understanding of the Bible is but one such example. Even so, one would think he’d have the common sense to keep such opinions to himself.

    Nevertheless, whenever I send around the comments of a known satirist, there are always some who think they are true because they so closely resemble what politicians are saying. Think Sarah Palin and Tina Fey. It’s too bad we doesn’t have a look-alike comedians to follow and mimic outrageous politicians of every stripe. Thank God for you Sheila to uncover and report the craziness.

  5. Oops – wish there were a way to correct my typos. It seems I need to proof my proof-reading. Sorry for “a look-alike politicians”. My English teacher would not be happy.

  6. A thought that could get me labeled “elitist”- but I would argue should not – is that the deleterious effect of the Reagan/Limbaugh/Fox/et al slide to dysfunction is that it has empowered ignorance.

    I believe we are all ignorant but luckily about different things. I know some science but would undoubtedly be among the first to die if left without resources in the wild, as an example.

    We used to be more astute IMO about using learning as a significant credibility factor. We respected those who heavily invested in learning as they demonstrated knowledge deeper than ours in any field. Some cultures today still respect education as we once did.

    Our entertainer worship now has us falling for everything but education for hero worship. Remember when “W” famously told a college graduating class not to get discouraged “C” students as you could be President some day?

    The fact today is that we elect our statesmen from among people who know as little about law and public policy as is imaginable for adults. We worship the mutterings those whose knowledge of science is playground level. We think that learned interpretation of Constitutional Law will come from the modern Texas cowboys gathered at the local bar to beat each other into submission about who determines who wears what insignea on their look at how dumb I am uniforms.

    At a time when our collective knowledge is expanding at warp speed our appreciation of individual hard won learning is at a record low.

    Another casualty of inviting the least informed into our living rooms each evening for our intellectual stimulation?

    Seems likely.

  7. Margaret,

    Unfortunately, I’m sure your perception is correct about the ruse going on in the Republican Party with the Presidential race.

    That’s exactly how the Tea Party/Theocrats were able to elect Lenny Curry the new Mayor of Jacksonville on Tuesday. A complete “nothing.”

    But he was better than the “bad joke” who was the incumbent.

    It just gets worse and worse. The Republicans are calling Curry’s campaign a paradigm for the Presidential race. Where is Mel Brooks? He is sorely needed.

  8. Cue Mel Brooks! He would be perfect for what is going on in politics right now.

    @JoAnn: We can only hope that no baldies from either party will shop where Rand Paul bought his rug! That may be the worst one since the toupees selected by certain Grand Ole Opry stars from a few decades ago.

  9. These people I’m sure are all product of ‘bible college’ which are far less taxing than community college–and most public high schools. I have know several people with these degrees and the most notable common denominator is a totally uncritical refutation of in any facts which dispute their religious beliefs and a complete inability to spell. You also have to ask yourself how kids who went to Jewish an Catholic private schools are so far ahead, academically, than say, kids from our own Faith Baptist?

  10. I like the Mel Brooks reference. As we’ve slid down hill our comedians have gotten smater and our politicians dumber. I think that Tina Fey is much closer to qualified as VP than Sarah is. Same with John Stewart vs all of the current Republican Presidential candidates.

  11. Pete; obviously you let your fingers do the walking…I’m sure regular commenters on this blog will let you slide in view of your informative comments thus far.

  12. With this highly knowledgeable crew of people posting comments here, I am surprised no one has mentioned the previously announced death of satire — or maybe I am just dating myself.

    Tom Lehrer, satirist and mathematician, was asked why he stopped performing. In one version, he responded that satire had become redundant after Richard Nixon was elected President. In the more quoted version, he said that political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize [for bombing Cambodia].

    And yes, things may actually have gotten worse comparing satire to reality.

  13. Methinks outrageous comments by politicians are designed to raise campaign donations and little else

  14. “Rabbi Dennis Sasso quoted a passage from the bible as a reason to oppose the ban; Smith responded by telling the Rabbi that he’d misinterpreted the bible, and offering to send him some materials that “explain that passage properly.”

    In my ethnic group, that’s called “chutzpah.” I’ve never forgotten it.”

    Are you at all hinting or suggesting that Jews are more expert at interpreting Scripture than Christians?

    Babylonian Jews (a group that included the Pharisees and invented Rabbinic Judaism) invented the Talmud precisely so they could avoid the obligations and duties in Scripture.

  15. Gopper,

    I don’t think Sheila was hinting that the Jews were more expert at interpreting the Bible. Just the opposite. I think Smith was the one who thought he was more of an expert.

    Instead of “putting down”the Rabbi, he could have given his position via his own biblical interpretation. But Smith thought he was the “BIG EXPERT.”

  16. Thank you Marv; I couldn’t come up with a polite response to Gopper’s comments.

  17. “I think Smith was the one who thought he was more of an expert.”

    And??????????????? If he did?????????????????? That’s the very issue.

    You’re issuing the same slur as Sheila seemingly did.

    Smith the minister thought that Sasso the rabbi was incorrect about a passage in scripture. Sheila classified Smith’s position as “chutzpah.”

    Get it, Marv? Sheila said that a Christian minister claiming to hold a superior opinion about scripture over a rabbi was ipso facto chutzpah, “shameless audacity, impudence.”

    Sheila didn’t object due to the quality of arguments of Sasso or Smith. Sheila’s complaint is categorical: a Christian minister claiming superior understanding of scripture over a rabbi drew the foul. Belief in categorical superiority is bigotry.

    Both ministers and rabbis have equal access to the identical text.

    It really should be obvious that a rabbi has no categorical greater ability to research and interpret scripture than a Christian, or a Hindu, Buddhist, etc. Some rabbis have a greater perspective on scripture than some Christian ministers, and some Christian ministers have a greater perspective on scripture than rabbis.

    Let the quality of perspective speak, not the category.

    There’s always the possibility that Sheila was in a hurry to get the morning copy to press and didn’t employ a proofreader, so her sentence doesn’t say what she intended or that I am applying a certain reading when another is available.

    Unless clarification is made, however, it appears that Sheila believes rabbis stand above ministers in interpreting Genesis through Deuteronomy.

  18. Gopper,

    I’m not speaking for Sheila. She’s very capable of speaking for her self.

    I’ve been a Unitarian all my life. I don’t think there is only one way to interpret scripture whether it be from the Jewish Bible or the Old Testament. Reverend Smith feels otherwise, so do you. Finis

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