What’s a humorist to do when reality becomes absurd? So absurd that even intelligent, well-read people mistake it for truth?
During the campaign, I saw many articles by The New Yorker‘s resident satirist, Andy Borowitz, shared by people who mistook them for actual journalism. With all the “fake news” [proper translation: propaganda] flying around the interwebs, it’s become increasingly hard to tell humor from hyperbole.
And so The New Yorker has added a banner to its Facebook posts of Borowitz’s columns: “The Borowitz Report, Not the News.”
Click on the link and you’ll find this above the headline:
This isn’t a case of readers being unable to tell real news from propaganda, a trend this NPR report rightly calls “dismaying.”
It’s not because we’ve cheapened and corrupted the meaning of words to the point that vast numbers of people no longer believe the giant, undifferentiated enemy they call “the media.”
People can’t tell truth from satire these days because the truth has become so unremittingly absurd. This is not normal. None of what we are living through in the United States right now is even close to normal.
Reality becomes absurd: Trump’s first legacy
When reality induces more spit-takes than comedy, we’ve left our satirists precious little room to ply their trade. I mean, President Trump says he will serve not just as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces but also as Executive Producer of The Apprentice. Eight weeks ago, that might have been a headline on The Onion. This week it was a news story in Variety.
In the opening sketch on the December 4th Saturday Night Live, the actors broke character several times to remind the audience that the behavior they were skewering was not something their writers had dreamed up in a bourbon-soaked trance. One after another looked straight into the camera and said, “He really did that.” Because—guess what?—he really did.
The question is, what will we do?
It’s not just a matter of saving the Republic. Unless we act soon, our satirists will be put out of business completely. Saturday Night Live will become a news show. Andy Borowitz will turn into a journalist. And then who will amuse us?
One day we may be return to a world in which we can laugh at absurdities rather than fear or elect them. I hope I live to see it. I hope you do, too.