CSotD: The Perils of Sarcasm and Subtlety

If we sing the praises of a comic strip that hits a news item on the moment despite its lead time, we should point out when one doesn’t, but today’s La Cucaracha (AMS) isn’t that simple a case.

It’s not just that we haven’t seen “another Biden bank collapse,” and not just because there’s no such thing as a “Biden bank” in the first place.

The FDIC stepped in after Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank failed last month precisely to avoid panics and bank runs, raising their level of protection to avoid having depositors lose their money. So far, so good.

Had the strategy failed, had more banks collapsed, had the crisis triggered a panicked slide into a major depression, La Cucaracha might appear prescient, attacking the Biden administration for a failure and thereby boosting GOP prospects in 2024.

However, on second reading, I suspect this is a kind of Archie Bunker joke about ignorant people who think that happened, and who, further, resent their children. If that’s the correct interpretation, it’s a different matter, because I hated Archie Bunker from the get-go.

Even as a brash college student, I was aware of the dangers of sarcasm, and nothing I’ve seen, or written, since has disabused me of that caution.

The problem is that a substantial portion of your audience is never in on the joke, and the fact that people began selling “Archie Bunker for President” merchandise was evidence that he was the hero of the show to a lot of viewers.

This isn’t just to pick on Norman Lear, though he didn’t apparently sue anyone for the Archie for President merchandise. I felt the same way about Barry Blitt’s 2008 New Yorker cover: It wasn’t that I didn’t pick up on the sarcasm. I just suspected that a lot of people seeing the cover would think, “Yes, that’s them!”

And I admire Blitt’s work. I just felt this was too straight-faced, that it didn’t have a “tell” to identify it as sarcasm.

It is a wisdom born of experience: I’ve tried to play the wise-ass a few times and gained, instead, praise from the people I was hoping to embarrass.

Swift observed that “Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own,” but, although he gloried in the mischief of being misunderstood, it is a dangerous game in dangerous times.

And so Snopes devotes a good deal of time to explaining that articles from the Onion, from Babylon Bee and from Andy Borowitz, were satire and sarcasm, because they keep being passed along by people who mistake them for genuine reporting.

As noted here before, it’s becoming a challenge to come up with satire and sarcasm that outstrips the things said and done in all sincerity.

Lord knows — or, at least Oliver Schopf knows — there are plenty of perfectly serious challenges out there, including how to responsibly cover an inveterate publicity hound when he has done something clearly newsworthy and will surely glory in any coverage he gets.

But here he employs the smirk and the overall absurdity of the depiction to clearly telegraph his intent. It’s not subtle, but the point would be lost in a subtle commentary.

Nick Anderson similarly uses absurdity to hammer home his intent, and, while he doesn’t risk being subtle, he does, intentionally, risk offense.

Will Fox viewers be offended? Tucker’s biggest fans likely mirror his admiration for Vladimir Putin, and they can hardly be unaware of how Russian media repeat Carlson’s material on state television.

And wotthehell, they’re already offended by the thought that the Deep State has proclaimed Biden president.

The real issue is, will anyone be converted? That is, will the cartoon have an impact on the middle-of-the-road voters who might rethink things?

Well, it’s sure not subtle enough to go over their heads.

Pedro X. Molina (Counterpoint) has been red-hot lately, and there’s no hint of subtlety in his quick and timely commentary on Tennessee’s move to disenfranchise liberal voices by expelling their elected representatives.

A touch worth noting is that he draws a young student as the offended party in this farce, which not only gives him the opening for the “Tennessee” sweatshirt, showing that the state has truly been victimized, but it points out the youth of the demonstrators in the Capitol building, and of those most likely to rally for the special election that will follow.

As for the dialogue, it is a sharp dig at the real “reform” that the old elephant is about to bring on himself, inshallah.

Though it’s not a sure thing, as you may suspect after reading responses from Tennessean readers, and contrasting them with those of Fox viewers.

Fort Sumter, remember, was only the opening volley.

We’ve seen another opening volley in our civil war, memorialized here by Mike Luckovich, as long-time suspicions about the honesty and neutrality of Clarence Thomas have exploded on the national scene, thanks to a Pro Publica investigation showing not only that he accepted massive gifts from a Republican activist, but failed to follow the law in reporting them.

Not much subtlety here: We’re not talking about a set of golf clubs or an occasional dinner, but half-million dollar trips and chances to snuggle in with GOP movers and shakers at an exclusive private resort, as well as six-figure donations to the Justice’s wife’s pet political projects.

Overnight, the revelations about Thomas have pushed the Tennessee disenfranchisement scandal from the top spot on Google News. This isn’t a George Soros tit-for-tat miniscandal but a full-bore crisis that even SCOTUS is going to find hard to sweep under the rug.

Though good old hostility, ignorance and hate will always have a place in our national conversation.

Michael Ramirez (Creators) leaps on the negative response to Budweiser’s sending of Bud merch to a trans activist, repeating the groundless, foolish notion that transgender people simply choose to identify as a particular sex.

You know: The way gay and lesbian people choose who they are attracted to, and the way Black and Asian people sit down and make a conscious decision not to be White.

Although, it being Passover, Easter and Ramadan, this seems like a good time to remember that one truly does consciously choose whether to stand up or to surrender. That really is a conscious choice.

In honor of which, next November, each thoughtful, charitable person’s vote will count as one, while the vote of a mindless bigot will only count as … one.

(Sorry — was that too subtle?)

8 thoughts on “CSotD: The Perils of Sarcasm and Subtlety

  1. “. . . because I hated Archie Bunker from the get-go.”

    That makes two of us. I have to confess, however, that when Sammy Davis, Jr. kissed Archie, that was a scene I did go and look for, once YT came online and I became aware of both YT & SD, Jr.

    1. And he can have a sense of humor, though. The “Identifies as Beer” sign made me smile.

  2. JGM anticipates my comment: agree or disagree with Ramirez’s politics and analysis, he’s usually one of the best draftsmen (draftspersons?) in comics, but that’s not a successful drawing. I’m sure it’d be indecipherable when printed in a newspaper at half that size in black and white. To answer JGM’s question, it’s a little white goat, which is completely obscured by the background detail and the elaborate harness Ramirez put on it.

    The challenge of readers/viewers missing the point comes up in a lot of media. Partly it’s the lure of the anti-hero; Walter White wasn’t supposed to be admirable, but because he was the protagonist of “Breaking Bad” the viewer (or at least some viewers) can’t help but root for him. In comic books, more than one writer has been dismayed to see a character they meant to be a reprehensible homicidal fascist catch on and become a cool fan favorite. Protesting “No, he’s supposed to be the bad guy!” is spitting into the wind.

    Harmless in fiction but dangerous when it carries over into life. I’m sure at least some of Trump’s appeal is that he’s so obviously an unrepentant villain that people whose media has taught them that unrepentant villainy is cool love him. You can’t vote for Walter White, Archie Bunker, Lex Luthor or the Punisher, but you can vote for Trump and laugh your ass off all the way home from the ballot box.

    1. Thanks! I didn’t even notice the goat. And even after reading your post, I had to use a magnifying glass on my 27-inch monitor to see it well enough to realize it was a goat. It may as well have been a Clydesdale Terrier.

      1. I had the same problem. Didn’t make out the goat so couldn’t understand the text

  3. >> “And I admire Blitt’s work. I just felt this was too straight-faced, that it didn’t have a ‘tell’ to identify it as sarcasm.”

    i agree with your point about the risks of misinterpretation, but in Blitt’s defense i’d say that here, contextually, the logo is the “tell”.

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