Voices

In defense of satire

I’ve watched the mounting anger over the alleged racism of the Georgetown Heckler with no small amount of concern. As a recent Georgetown graduate and a longtime contributor to the Heckler, I can count among my friends and former colleagues several of the writers whose work has now come under fire. But I am not writing because of personal loyalties, or because I don’t want to see my old magazine’s image tarnished. I am writing because I believe that the Heckler’s critics are simply wrong, not only about the magazine itself, but about the entire nature of satire.

There is a misconception, surprisingly widespread even among otherwise erudite college students, that the point of satire is to offend everyone and everything. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, the heart of satire is its target: it seizes on an unpleasant social reality and, by twisting and exaggerating it, undermines the power that it has over our lives. That is exactly what the Heckler tried to do in its supposedly “racist” articles.

Take, for example, one of the Heckler articles at issue entitled, “The Hoya Holds Annual Cross Lighting Ceremony in Dahlgren Quad.” The intent of the fictional piece, obvious to anyone who takes the time to read it, is to lampoon the culture of the Hoya newspaper, a publication that (irony of ironies) was itself accused of racial insensitivity last year.

The Heckler’s critics seem to believe that by merely mentioning a racist or intolerant act, the magazine is, by definition, endorsing it. By pulling isolated lines and quotes out of context, they manage to paint the Heckler as racist, sexist, and homophobic—and make the newspaper appear to endorse a smorgasbord of offensive attitudes.

But look at the article as a whole, and you’ll see that the exact opposite is true. The “Cross Lighting” piece depicts Hoya staffers saying and doing some appallingly racist things precisely because it is attacking and judging the attitudes of racist people. It does not make fun of minorities—it makes fun of bigots. Anyone who cannot see that is either missing the point or being willfully ignorant.

What makes all of this especially painful is that I know, from personal experience, that the political and social opinions of the Heckler staff are the opposite of what their critics seem to believe. Never once have I known the Heckler to publish something deliberately racist. Never once have I known its writers to pick on targets because of their skin color, religion, or sexual orientation. Indeed, much of the Heckler’s satire comes from a deep feeling of disgust toward the bigotry and intolerance that often permeate campus culture. The point of its articles is not to glorify these attitudes, but to take away their power through humor.

And that, to bring back an earlier point, is the very purpose of satire—to exorcise our social demons by being willing to joke about them. Quite simply, the Heckler writes articles about racists and homophobes and reactionaries because it hates those things and it wants them to end. Maybe it takes more than a cursory glance to recognize and understand that intention. But for the sake of the Heckler, and for the sake of satire, Georgetown students owe a little more effort than that.

Zach Rabiroff (COL ’09) is a former contributor to the Georgetown Heckler.



11 comments on “In defense of satire
  1. Pingback: Vox Populi » Heckler alum Zach Rabiroff (COL ‘09) responds to racism charges

  2. Not saying that the Heckler is racist because I get the point they were trying to make, but was it really necessary to use images of black human-shaped pinatas hanging from a tree or hosing down the BSA board to accomplish this point. Especially know that not only are the KKK still a very real part of this country and the violent crimes that the paper used to make a point hit home for a lot of people. At the community for Jack tries to claim that he is portraying the BSA to be the heroes of the black community…HA! That statement in itself should tell you how little he knows about the community he attempts to utilize in his attempt to call the Hoya racist. It is just frustrating to see the struggles that are sacrificed in the name of a good laugh.

  3. It seems a lot of the outrage that remains over our cross burning piece comes from the graphic and extreme imagery used (lynching, KKK, etc). I think people are forgetting that exaggeration is key part of satire, and is a means of pointing out the faulty logic at the base of an ignorant viewpoint. In the article you have President Degoia and Hoya staffers just calmly talking about cross burning and lynching as banal events and defending them on the basis of tradition. While this is going on, no one actually bothers to point out how wrong their actions are. What people found shocking are the inclusion of things like blackface and the kkk. But the point is if these things were occurring on campus, we wouldn’t be silent about them. But we know subtle acts of racism go on all the time, and we just go along with them and people keep doing them without even realizing it. The use of exaggeration is therefore a means to achieve our core point: that racism is wrong and its ridiculous to NOT say anything about it and to let it continue. The whole joke is explicitly predicted on racism being wrong, vile and disgusting, and that its ridiculous when people don’t realize that. The piece also doesn’t mean to single out The Hoya, because we all know the problem is much bigger; its a community that is frequently blatantly racist yet ignorant to its racism.
    I think the important thing that I got out of today’s meeting is that it was somewhat ludicrous of us to include an image of the KKK and references to lynching and expect people to have a calm and calculated reaction to it. These images have profound meaning for many people and the very thought of using them in a comedy piece, regardless of intention, is hard to accept. I wanted to highlight that we didn’t use these images without considering their significance. In fact, it was the significance of these words that motivated us to include them. But I fear that in doing so, we may have lost the true meaning of our piece, and for that I do apologize.

    Nevertheless, it is job as satirists to continue to shock people and challenge what we feel are flaws in our community. To call something morally wrong and to call it comically absurd are not mutually exclusive, in the language of satire they are one and the same. I do think last night’s discussion was productive, and both sides got a lot out of it. The conclusion that we jointly reached is that the problem we’re facing is not just the heckler and how it could be misinterpreted; its the fact that there is so little understanding between groups on campus.

  4. Dane on said:

    Imagine if Mark Twain tried to publish today. The PC folks would never let it go to press.

  5. I love articles at this. When The Hoya produces a piece of satire, it’s racist. When The Heckler produces a piece of satire, it’s not.

    Leave it to The Voice to defend The Heckler and not The Hoya for doing the same thing wrong.

  6. Ankit Goyal on said:

    what the hoya did wasnt satire, it was straight racism. if it was satire then it would intend to lampoon the position it was adopting. so when it says “we need more interracial loving at georgetown” they intend to say that interracial dating is somehow something to be mocked. there’s nothing humorous about making fun of interracial dating. in that case they’d be satirizing people in interracial relationships, and that is straight racist.

  7. It really has come down to this? Someone has to explain to GEORGETOWN STUDENTS how HUMOR works? What the hell? How did this school get so DUMB?

  8. Wow Ankit, you've got balls on said:

    Wow Ankit.
    I like that you have the power to discern what is and isn’t racist. Clearly from your satire, you understand why people would have been so offended from The Hoya. So you had to have one iota of common sense enough to tell what kind of reaction you caused. Very brazen.

    You basically did the same thing The Hoya did — a stupid and poor attempt at satire that backfired badly. And while The Hoya ultimately apologized for upsetting people, you’re digging in. Good for you. Stand on principle.

    But it would have helped if you hadn’t thrown those principles under the bus along with The Hoya.

  9. Wow Wow Ankit, you've got balls, you've got balls on said:

    Wow Wow Ankit, you’ve got balls.
    I like that you have the power to discern what is and isn’t racist.

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