Satirists rule debate now. John Stewart may have retired but satirists like John Oliver are hailed as a leading critiques of government inanity. The Onion and its peers struggle to describe things that aren’t actually happening. Political candidates & business leaders satirises themselves with their strict focus on ideology, message, image and popularity. Some of our greatest satirists are accidental ones.
The need for satire has also been fostered by the extent to which our institutions no longer engage with reality. Science is attacked. Data is scorned. Ideology rules. When a president needs to literally show his people melting glaciers, satire seems easier than persuasion. Satire is also a way to have the ‘in joke’ and bind a community against those who won’t change.
Satire has always been away to have the awkward conversation with power. The jester is often the voice of reason. Humour can lead us to see the hidden elements of culture and to discuss the elephants in the room. Those arguing for change need to use as much mockery as they use conflict. At least a good joke can keep a smile on people’s face and embarrass the corridors of power as we fight for change.
However, satire has its limits. Satire can expose but it rarely proposes. We need to combine our satirists with debate about new models and new approaches.
We can keep our satire. We need to help our institutions back to reality. We need to start conversations from facts. We need new hypotheses and we need to be able to test and learn our approaches. We need to engage conflicting views and move them. We should keep our snark and our smiles but let’s use them to foster change not move in comforting circles.