“All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare wrote and with the advent of social media, his words couldn’t be truer. So many comedians exist on the internet that late night television shows have hired as writers some of Twitter’s leading lights. (“Satirized for Your Consumption,” by Ben Schwartz, The Baffler, #27, pg.152.) Even former targets of satire are getting into the act.
After all the disclosures about CIA activities—torture, assassinations, paying off unscrupulous political leaders, and orchestrating coup d’états – the agency opened a Twitter account with the following disclaimer: We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet. (Ibid pg. 146)
With one liners like that, it’s no longer possible to know who’s satirizing whom. In fact, writer Ben Schwartz gives an account of one comedian, Dave Chapelle, who became the victim of an avatar who used the performer’s identity to satirized someone else, one of Chapelle’s comedic friends, as it happened. Barbs between the avatar and his target flew across the internet until Chapelle became uncomfortable and invited his friend to lunch to explain what was happening. When they sat down to break bread, the comedian was surprised to learn his friend didn’t have a Twitter account. The man knew nothing of the barbs. Chapelle’s impersonator was waging a war with another imposter. (Ibid pg. 148)
The point of satire is to skewer the ego of a target, most often a politician. Strip away his or her mask with humor and your reveal the fool beneath. In Shakespeare’s day, the joker was a truth teller. But, as the example with the CIA shows, targets have grown canny. They’ve learned to use satire to deflect the truth, posing as good fellows, capable of taking a joke and giving one. “Sock it to me,” Richard Nixon once said during a 1968 appearance on Laugh In (Ibid pg. 152.)
Nixon’s performance shows that using satire to deflect satire isn’t new, though there may be more of it thanks to the internet. In the 1980s, while serving in political life, I, too, became the target of a newspaper columnist. He mocked my schoolmarmish manner, particularly when I dissected contract language to expose ambiguous or poorly written sentences. My niggling saved the government from costly mistakes, though the columnist neglected to point this out. My manner was what offended him.
The day after his column appeared, I took my seat at a hearing and in high pulpit tones, I replied to my detractor, though he was nowhere in sight. I reminded him that Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of England at the time, had been labeled a schoolmarm by the English press and wore the title with pride, thinking it a synonym for being efficient and honest.
My performance drew a few laughs from the sparsely filled room and I was gratified. Still, I regretted my missed opportunity. Think how much better my deflection would have been had I been seated beside Johnny Carson.