Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Trigger Warning

Shakesville is upset about the T-shirt below, on sale through the Onion merch site.

The T-shirt's misadventure, according to SKE, is that "If you have to explain your point, you have failed to make it." Does this make me some kind of intuitive genius that I don't need the shirt explained to find it funny - and still manage to find it funny?

SKE cracks derisive about the T-shirt ad, down to the tagline "*Prostitute Not Included", with what must be one of the most meta phrases ever committed to a webpage:
Must be "ironic".
Yes. Yes it is ironic. That's what bloody satire is: irony, sarcasm, or caustic wit used to attack or expose folly, vice, or stupidity. If every parody or mordant laceration of irrationality required some accompanying literal explanation, then it wouldn't be satire. If human communication were limited to straightforward conveyances of information to be received & digested at face value, what a joyless, antipoetic back-and-forth of dull, dry platitudes life would be, robbed of any antidote to lessen the sting of disappointment, tragedy, rage, or inequity.

What is it about laughter that immediately unsettles people? Why is the very hallmark of humanity so often blighted by the preceding tag "inappropriate"? And if jokes about Catholic priests being sexually predatory scum are understood by everyone except the most verklempt malcontents to be not at the expense of their victims, then why not this T-shirt?

I understand that Shakesville is a "safe space" with a clear policy about appropriate targets for disapprobation. The defining criterion for sanction from mockery is to be among those who are victims of both circumstance and real-world discrimination - homosexuals, minorities, and ergo most certainly victims of sex-trafficking. But then shouldn't stupid people & citizens of the American south also be exempt from ridicule? Surely no one chooses to be stupid (a universal & relative affliction anyway), and there are doubtlessly hundreds of denizens of the Deep South who'd really rather not be there but haven't the means to escape to most sympathetic environs. (Need I raise the spectre of Katrina's victims again?)

There is a loophole at Shakesville that allows "jokes about 'off-limits' subjects... by drawing on irony," which I'd have thought would give the Onion a pass. Oh, wait - the fine print:
Invoking “off-limits” subjects is only problematic when it’s unclear at whom we’re laughing—and if we’re laughing at a woman just because she’s a woman, it’s not funny. (Offensive and uninspired to boot.)
Well, alright then. At least it's clear that irony is allowable only at the base level of, say, anti-abortionists blowing up clinics. Uninspired to boot, indeed. To resurrect one of my favourite Christopher Hitchens quotes:
When a precious and irreplaceable word like 'irony' has become a lazy synonym for 'anomie,' there is scant room for originality.

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