Glam Dicenn

In ancient Ireland, bards were supposed to be able to perform a kind of satire that was so punishing that it could cause boils to rise on the head of its target. This satire, glam dicenn, was traditionally reserved for very bad kings -- especially kings who didn't pay their bards.

The power of satire is something I've been thinking about lately. It is a more powerful weapon than we readily acknowledge, one that really does have the potential to destroy. Sarah Palin, once a successful and highly popular governor, was asked what in her experience qualified her for the job of Vice President. She made a reasonable argument that governors have to handle civil defense matters as the head of the National Guard for their state, and that Alaska has an unusually sensitive position because of the issue of Russian aerial incursion given its proximity. Almost no one remembers her answer, or the responsibility that really does attend to such a position. What everyone remembers is Tina Fey's satire: "I can see Russia from my house!"

The result of such mockery, carried on day and night at a national level, seems to have destroyed Ms. Palin. She ended up reduced to a caricature of the successful, plucky woman she was in 2008. She discovered that being willing to play that caricature was lucrative, as people loved the idea of her as a ridiculous figure so much that they would pay for it. In the end, she made herself over into what they mocked her for being.

I was thinking of this when I saw John Oliver's treatment of Trump -- and Mike Pence. It's a long bit, and the only part I'm interested in really is what is pointed at the VP. He was mocked as being a Salem Witch Trials-era figure. This is intended as punishment for the sin of taking traditional moral positions on things like marriage and abortion. These positions are shared by many millions of Americans of all races. In the case of marriage, his position was quite modest compared to the resistance pushed by Roy Moore of Alabama: he signed a law protecting moral objectors from being dragooned into wedding ceremonies they found blasphemous, and then revised it when objections were raised. This willingness to reconsider his position given further argument is described as him being "forced to sign" another bill, but in fact you can't force a governor to sign anything. Nobody was there with a gun making him sign it. He was reasoned with, which proves that he's reasonable.

Further evidence of his being reasonable occurred this weekend, with the Hamilton mini-controversy. Mike Pence strikes me as a good guy. I think we don't agree on everything, but I never expect that. He's a very ordinary Republican in most respects.

So, when Oliver says that Pence is "even worse" than Trump, and goes on to mock him viciously, I'm wondering what the effect of this unconstrained use of satire must be. Trump deserves all the satire he gets, I think. Hillary Clinton likewise deserved to be mocked. Yet if we use satire against everyone, we lose anyone with whom we can reason. Everyone becomes, in our minds, a mockery. No one is left to talk with.

I would propose a restriction of the weapon of satire on the order of the ancient bards. It's a weapon that should be used with care. As an opening position, is it possible to construct a list of figures in American life who don't deserve to be treated this way? I am especially interested in figures from the opposition: people who deserve to be treated with a modicum of respect, even though we disagree. Any nominees?


raven said...

They ( you know, "them") should be careful. They are wading barefoot in a pond with a snapping turtle. Trump apparently bit off some dangly bits a day or so ago when he called out the media big wigs in a private meeting, and then released that message on youtube.

A clearer message of irrelevance could scarcely be sent to the old media.

E Hines said...

I would propose a restriction of the weapon of satire on the order of the ancient bards.

I'm not convinced we need impose a restriction. A weapon that gets used against everything soon ceases to be a weapon, and it also becomes a target.

Eric Hines

Grim said...

I'm not sure that's completely true.

Let's say that Trump wanted to work across the aisle with Democrats who support some of his plans (e.g., ending the TPP). It's way easier for him to do that with Bernie Sanders than with Elizabeth Warren ("Pocahontas"). The mockery, even where richly deserved, results in a kind of damage.

It's not just that she will be less likely to work with him. It's that you and I and everyone on his side will regard concessions to her as ridiculous. She's a figure of fun, after all, not someone to be taken seriously. You don't make concessions to an object of mockery.

E Hines said...

The mockery isn't why I wouldn't deal with Warren; it's her utter untrustworthiness. Her vote, even for my bill, has no value to me. It's the same with most of the Progressive-Democratic Party leadership. I'd work with the rank and file, I'd work with Sanders, but Pelosi, Clyburn, Bacerra, Schumer, Durbin, Murray, et al., I'd bypass and go to the rank and file. I cannot trust any deals made with those leaders.

Eric Hines

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Joe Lieberman? Of course, satire of him would likely be benign and even he might ruefully nod to it.

Grim said...

How about Tulsi Gabbard?

douglas said...

Why are we even speaking of concessions? The left has made a living out of convincing everyone that gridlock in Washington is bad, and so they must do something, and then ask for two loaves so they can get one, and the Republicans are left with nothing but getting to claim 'it could've been worse'. Enough. The election was held, they lost, and in a polite tone, let's get on with the changes in policy- without the concessions and 'compromise'. We've been suckers long enough.

There's a long way to go before I"m going to be much interested in compromise or concessions.

douglas said...

Satire restrictions? No thanks. Satire is fine, even good sometimes, but really, I am much more interested in people understanding that satire isn't reasoning, but is based on confirming preconceptions (often untrue), and shouldn't pay much attention to it either way.

Grim said...

Why are we even speaking of concessions?

I wasn't. I was speaking of something that I take to be in my interests, and yours, and our own. It's of benefit to everyone, us included, not to destroy the capacity to reason with the ones who are reasonable.

Nor was I talking about restrictions, but about self-restraint.

E Hines said...

Lieberman isn't a Democrat. Gabbard is rank and file; although she's an up and comer. Folks like her, too, are the only hope of an honest Progressive-Democratic Party.

Eric Hines

Ymar Sakar said...

Lieberman got kicked out because he wasn't obeying Democrat leadership and other Demoncrat big wigs. It's that whole Chain of Authority.