Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Publish and Perish

Je suis Charlie.

First they came for the bad movies ridiculing narcissistic megalomaniac North Korean dictators, and I didn't speak up because I'm not a huge fan of bad movies.  But it sent a chill down more spines than mine.  Maybe it will work out.  Maybe Hollywood will make mocking the Kim regime the recurring joke of the Oscars.  Maybe the entertainment industry will realize the disastrous precedent of appeasing a bully and stand together against cyber-terrorism, although the inital response was not encouraging.

Then, today, they came for the satirical cartoonists.  The cartoons which incited slavering barbarians to take twelve human lives in outrageous violence were tasteless.  That is pretty much how satire rolls.  Some genres of literature, such as pastoral poetry or biographies of medieval saints, do not make room for satire.  Like the character Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy, they may have their straightforward appeal but are rarely the headline attraction. But satire has always had a strong popularity, and has come into increasing influence in the internet age.  Journalists everywhere are shocked by this brutality against some of their own, and rightly so.  But satirical writers are taking it very hard.  The Onion put on deep mourning today, swathing its usually ebullient wit in somber words of inoffensive (at least it is to be hoped) vagueness.  For, all satire aside, if the barbarians succeed in shutting down tasteless tabloids, the most reputable journalistic outlets are not safe from a similar fate.

Now, satire has always been a double-edged sword and a dicy occupation for those called to practice it.  My late mother, from whom I must have inherited my appreciation for the genre, took a class at college called "comparative satire," but she herself was disgusted by some of the content and referred to it as "comparative raunch."  Juvenal, Martial, Rabelais, Swift... down to political cartoons of the last two centuries... none of these have been perfectly appropriate for the finest drawing rooms and salons.  And yet, somehow the ruling classes that were the targets of biting satire adopted an affectionate, mostly tolerant attitude toward the satirists.  True, Juvenal and Martial prospered during the reigns of (mostly) benevolent emperors.  All satirists have to live with the possibility of popular backlash when they "go too far."  But going too far is the very definition and strength of satire.  Without satire speaking the truth to power using biting wit and uncomfortable metaphors, power corrupts much more quickly than it would otherwise.

Sometimes in human development, biological and medical issues arise which the doctors describe as "incompatible with life."  A baby born with certain conditions, tragically, cannot long survive and nothing medical science can do makes any difference. It is a quiet tragedy affecting the immediate families of the afflicted, but usually unnoticed by the rest of the world.

It is becoming ever clearer that there are some cultures that are not compatible with civilization. I'm not talking about modernity -- primitive and tribal cultures can have rich civilizations without being modern.   Unfortunately, when a culture is incompatible with civilization -- that is, barbarian -- the rest of the world cannot remain in blissful ignorance.  The death throes of a culture incompatible with civilization are deadly to anyone else who lives in proximity to them.  And in a global society, that is all of us.

How do you tell if a culture is incompatible with civilization?  Well, a pretty good indicator is its reaction to satire.  What should the response of the civilized world be?  I recommend a greatly increased dose of satirical mockery ... from behind very secure walls, and with strong military backup.

Martial! Thou shouldst be living at this hour.


Mardra Sikora said...

Very interesting, food for thought. I personally believe that most of the cultures "incompatible with life" are actually sub-cultures. And every culture has them, sadly.

R. Martin Snyder said...

What is a sub-culture and what makes them incompatable in comparison to what isn't a sub-culture? Cultures seem to have eb and flow. They change based upon their foundational understanding of what is authoritative. The majorities have become minorities and some of the minorites have become the majorities. To whom do we render submission and two whom do we render authority seem to be the war of Politics.