This is my entry for July’s Insecure Writers’ Support Group, a monthly ‘blog hop’ with the intent of giving each other feedback and encouragement. The full list of participants can be found at the Insecure Writers’ home site.
Yesterday I published a satirical blog post, titled A Modest Proposal for Dealing With the Muslim Problem and Relieving Tension Between the Races of the Earth. You may recognise the format (of the title and the prose) as being drawn from Jonathan Swift, but there’s still the risk of what I wrote being taken at face value.
What I wrote isn’t the most tasteless thing ever written, (perhaps slightly graphic but against the right targets,) but it was still enough to give me pause for thought, to make me a little uncomfortable putting my name to it.
It’s the kind of thing that will be a problem when writing anything with a real world substance behind it – anything but a transparent, beat-the-audience-around-the-head message is open to misinterpretation.
As I was drafting this post, I read a blog from another writer – who regularly has readers assuming that her main character is basically identical to herself. Obviously any story will draw on things within the writer: the hero will generally hold moral beliefs that the writer considers reasonable, if not necessarily true; the villain will hold moral views which are a misinterpretation of the events around them, and will usually be personally unpleasant in some way. Generally the hero’s belief systems can be seen as roughly reflecting the writer’s, while the villain’s beliefs will roughly oppose the writer’s. However, a more sophisticated writer will muddy those patterns – with an honourable villain who merely happens to be positioned in opposition to the hero; or a hero with dark, unpleasant edges.
Shorter writing holds a greater risk of misinterpretation, and satire, being by definition a twisted version of reality, holds the same risk. But satire, as opposed to straight comedy, should have the intention of making the audience think, of causing them to re-examine the way they see the world – flawed writing, or a flawed reading of that writing can bring Poe’s Law (that a ridiculous exaggeration is indistinguishable from true stupidity) into play.
I’m not trying to claim that my silly little blog post was in any way profound, but I tried to use it to say something that I think is worth saying, and that’s something I intend to do in some, if not all, of the fiction I’m working on. In these stories, I’d rather encourage the reader to broaden their outlook if possible, rather than assault them with what I think is the ‘correct’ morality.
In response to my opening question, I don’t personally believe that satire can go too far – Jonathan Swift’s original ‘Modest Proposal’ has soon pretty brutal imagery, of children being eaten – but that brutality is needed to make the case for how the poorer families were being abandoned by the society of the age, to rile the readers up against an injustice that had become commonplace and lost the ability to shock. The bigger problem, I think, is to miss the target, and satirically attack the wrong people.
Fear of misinterpretation is one of the many fears that hold me back as a writer – perhaps the best approach is to accept that this will happen, and work around it when it does.
*If you had to check whether this was real, then it’s a demonstration of the power of Poe’s Law.