This is How Satire Ends


Not with a bang but with straw men.

Surely the staff of Satire V are good, decent people that work hard to bring laughter into our lives. “In Defense of the Immigration Ban (First Post)”—the top piece on their website as of this writing—makes me think differently, however. It makes me think that the hollow straw men T.S. Eliot describes in “The Hollow Men” take over Satire V every once in a while to write vitriol instead of incisive satire.

This piece appeared a day after an op-ed arguing for the legitimacy of President Trump’s immigration ban was published in The Harvard Crimson. Although Satire V justifiably points out that it sounds clumsy at times, the op-ed makes important points to consider in this debate. But to be clear, I am not writing in defense of the op-ed’s argument. What bothers me is how baselessly vicious Satire V’s parody was in making fun of the op-ed and its author.

Let’s take a look at a few standout lines.

“I have yet to visit Puerto Rico, but I would like to go sometime. (I have the money to do so, by the way ;)”

The first line of the parody already attacks a manufactured boogeyman. I have no clue where the idea that the author of the op-ed was rich came from. The original op-ed had zero mention of money. The original author is not even a public figure. Maybe some Facebook stalking provided such an idea. Or maybe the mere fact that the author is defending a Republican president’s policy is enough to jump to conclusions. But I’ll refrain from drawing those conclusions here.

“My purpose in writing this is entirely to spark pointless controversy, because I fucking thrive off it and it’s not like I have anything worthwhile to say. Also, to remind us all of who we are (or who we should be, i.e. white men), what we (I) foundationally believe in (white supremacy) and the difficult task we face in balancing ‘giving a shit about anyone but ourselves’ with ‘living in fear of the hate we engender by our own actions.’”

Besides the hackneyed and lazy use of parentheticals, it is obvious that the parody turns into a thinly veiled think piece that is—to use Satire V’s words—morally oblivious and intellectually sloppy. Actually, those words are still a little sloppy and harsh. Let’s just say these lines are narrow-minded.

First, these lines are narrow-minded in suggesting that the author of the op-ed had nothing worthwhile to say. I would expect more respect for a fellow Harvard student who has enough brains to end up here and maintain enrollment.

Second, they are narrow-minded in suggesting that the author is a white supremacist. The values of freedom that the author espouses have nothing to do with race. Maintaining those values is difficult in reality, and it often forces us to deal with things like race in ways that do not necessarily amount to white supremacy.

Third, they are narrow-minded in describing the difficulty of supporting important values. It is disingenuous to suggest that the author’s support of national values lacks any consideration of compassion or empathy. More often than not, even when one is compassionate and empathetic, what is right does not always align with what is good.

Lastly, these lines are narrow-minded in continuing the unimaginative use of parentheticals (26 variations of the same thing, by my count).

Then there are the last lines of the parody, directly ridiculing the author:

“Kevin K. Kullen ’18, the former secretary of the Harvard Republican Club, feels the need to insert his shit opinion wherever it’s not wanted in the form of prose that sound like a 9th grader who just discovered a thesaurus. He is the worst kind of section kid. The “views” “expressed” in this article are strictly those of the author.”

This sums up the entire tone of the piece. The contempt for the op-ed author and disregard for any opinion on the right of the ideological spectrum are clear. If these comments came from the opposite point of view, they would not sound all that different from the comments of well-known conservative firebrands like Rush Limbaugh.

Some may think that I am a crank that can’t take a joke, or that I am a conservative defending another conservative. But just take a look at The Onion—the satirical news site that Satire V tries to emulate—and their coverage of Mr. Trump. Despite all of Mr. Trump’s enacted polices that some may describe as horrific, The Onion still satirizes without adding ideological color.

What makes The Onion stand out in their satire is their ability to point out some kernel of truth. For example, an article like “Steve Bannon Marks Draft Of Executive Order He Likes With Noxious Pheromone Secretion” humorously points out what everyone sees: Mr. Bannon seems to have an unusual amount of influence with Mr. Trump. In contrast, baselessly pointing out that someone is rich, a white supremacist, and stupid is more crude than comedic.

I will admit that there are a few lines in Satire V’s parody that are funny in pointing out a kernel of truth, like this one: “Can you imagine if we let in a group of violent religious foreigners set on destroying the native population?* / *Who weren’t white?” But as seen in the previously quoted lines, it is apparent that not enough time nor effort were given to make the rest of the piece just as funny and incisive.

I regret having to write this article as I usually find most of Satire V’s pieces well-done. The straw men propped up and beat down in this parody are not par for the course. But if it’s true that the usual staffers were replaced by the hollow figures in T.S. Eliot’s poem, it only seems fitting for straw men to fight other straw men.

Dan Valenzuela ([email protected]) wonders if Satire V will do better in satirizing him and this article.