Hello Everyone, Welcome to the podcast “Close to the Bone.” My name is Carl Vreeland.
This is episode #31, entitled, Satire, Sarcasm, and All That Jazz.
Merriam Webster defines satire as:
- A literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn.
- trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly.
As far back as 427 BC, satire was first used to mock and ridicule society, families and individuals. Aristophanes, the Greek dramatist, is considered “The Father of Comedy.” He used comedic techniques to add levity to an otherwise harsh and aggressive tone and criticism. The idea was that an audience was more likely to listen to social and political criticism if it made them laugh rather than angry. Still, then and now, satire is not always humorous, but it is infinitely ironic. Yet it was, and continues to be viewed as a high art form used by playwrights, poets, novelists, and cartoonists.
Comedy, on the other hand, is meant to be funny. For better or for worse, it goes for the laugh by any means necessary. Often vulgar and offensive, comedy is considered to be a low art form. Burlesque, stand-up comedians, sketch comedy, and variety shows fall under the umbrella of this genre.
Merriam Webster defines comedy as:
1a medieval narrative that ends happily.
b: a literary work written in a comic style or treating a comic theme.
2a: a drama of light [and] amusing character and typically with a happy ending.
b: the genre of dramatic literature dealing with the comic or with the serious in a light or satirical manner.
3: a ludicrous or farcical event or series of events.
You get the gist. . . .
Indeed, satire has spread far and wide since Athenian times. What was once a literary device used in plays and poems, has since found its expression in novels, television, film, and social media. Satirical cartoonists, satirized news reports, and again, stand-up comedians, sketch comedy, and variety shows have played a major role in bringing satire to the mainstream. So much so, that it has become commonplace. Sadly, it has spilled over into our everyday speech. In the hands of the average, unskilled person, satire or comedy more or less becomes pure sarcasm; meaning, satire without a shred of humor. And unfortunately, this has become the tone of expression in and about the workplace, on the street, and in some homes. Under the cloak of cleverness; pointed, biting, scathing, and stinging speech has become the standard. And the media is setting this standard, giving us permission to be uncivil and disrespectful toward each other. Our mode of communicating has become pervasively derisive, aggressive, and hateful. And it has become widely accepted, for the reason that it is often hidden underneath the mask of satire and the guise of humor. Although, one only has to spend ten minutes on Twitter to find the exception to this observation. For whatever reason, Tweeters have no boundaries whatsoever. Sarcasm abounds, and seldom with skill.
Merriam Webster defines sarcasm as:
- a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain
- a: a mode of satirical wit depending for its effect on bitter, caustic, and often ironic language that is usually directed against an individual
Yes, a sarcastic style of speech in comedy clubs or on comedy specials on cable have become common over the past several decades. But today, we are hearing it just about everywhere. Listen to commercial talk radio, watch the talk shows on television, note the ironic tone of the newscasters on the daily news programs, and scroll down the Posts and Comments on social media—sarcasm is widespread. Everyday someone or some group is insulted and caricatured by a comedic media personality, under the relatively safe umbrella of fun. I tend to agree with Psychologist Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D., “Sarcasm is really just hostility disguised as humor.”1
Still, we justify our use of sarcasm in many ways. “Well, politicians are corrupt, they need to be uncovered and brought to justice.” Or we might hear, “Some people are incompetent and they need to be made known of that fact.” These claims may be true, but why must we address them in a disrespectful and harsh manner? Why must we be cruel to people when they make an error in judgement? Is it necessary to be condescending? Must we be mockingly sarcastic when someone is being hypocritical? Why must we crassly cut down someone with disagree with? If our opponent is derisive, must we adopt the same attitude?
You might say in response, “Well, if they can say or do something offensive, why can’t I? I have every right to give it right back to them!” Perhaps, but why do we? Is it because we feel they deserve it? More importantly, what are the reasons behind our intention to ‘get back at them?’ What are the motives behind our actions? What is the energy behind it? Is it aggression or love? Is it to enlightened and help others or is it to belittle them?
No one needs to look at their motives more than what we currently call internet trolls. These aggressive agitators name-call, poke fun at, spread lies, criticize, harass, inflame, and provoke. Their messages are laden with hostility. Certainly, through their example, it becomes fundamentally clear that sarcasm is just another outlet for anger. Yet, many, internet trolls and the general sarcastic populace alike, believe they are simply being witty and making a point they feel appointed to express.
Merriam Webster defines wit as:
1) the ability to relate seemingly disparate things so as to illuminate or amuse
2) a person of superior intellect
Most people believe they are witty, when in fact they are just sarcastic. It takes great thoughtfulness and skill to be witty without being mocking. There are fine lines between sarcasm and wit, and our intent may be innocent, but without being thoughtful about our words, we chance crossing the line into being crass and hurtful. This is often because we are usually going for the laugh rather than considering the person’s feelings. Still, usually underneath cutting remarks is anger, jealousy, dissatisfaction, and discontent.
That said, sarcastic people see themselves as intelligent, clever, humorous, and entertaining. Amidst a crowd, they yearn to be the wittiest in the room. Many of them play this game of who can outwit and outsmart the other. The most gifted can uncaringly and unapologetically cut someone down or “put them in their place” with great skill and speed. And this prowess comes from many years of practice, which usually begins in childhood. When we are exposed to sarcasm by family and friends early in life, we are manipulated into learning how to play the game as a way to defend ourselves. Whether it’s a kid at school or a family member poking fun at us, we are expected to take it well. “Hey, Miss big nose, from whom did you inherit that schnoz from?!” Or we might hear our sibling say, “Glad I didn’t wind up with thunder thighs like you.” We are expected to learn the rules, develop a hard shell, and never show ‘em that we’re upset or hurt. And if we’re going to dish it out, we have to be able take it.
Merriam Webster defines teasing as:
1a) to make fun of
1b) to disturb or annoy by persistent irritating or provoking especially in a petty or mischievous way
As children, the message was confusing, “I was only joking, lighten up.” We were told it was all in “good fun.” But deep down we knew it was not. They said, “Oh, I’m only teasing. Don’t you know ‘you always tease the ones you love.’” But is telling a child they have a big nose, loving? Is teasing and laughing at a child for mispronouncing a word kind? Is calling attention to an innocent child’s mistake funny? Is embarrassing or humiliating a child, especially in front of others okay? I think not. It is hurtful. It can make a child feel unsafe and self-conscious. It can emotionally scar a child. Fact is, I can’t tell you how many grown men and women I’ve met who are still wounded and self-conscious as a result of the teasing they experienced as a child. The echoes of the hurt still reverberate deep within them. More than that, many adults even carry around the pain from a remark or incident that may have taken place only a few years ago. And when something triggers that memory of a past wisecrack, they relive it and replay it. They beat themselves up for not having responded to it differently and more cleverly. They fantasize that if given the opportunity, whether the same person or another spews a similar witticism, they’d be ready to respond with a more satisfying comeback. “Yes, I have skinny arms, but I’d rather have them than those ugly feet you’re dragging around.” Sometimes the comeback, or rather response, is far worse, like when a teased teenager decides to jump off the roof of a building because he was laughed at, humiliated, and shamed, much too often. Or, a couple of bullied kids decide to play shoot ‘em up.
Unfortunately, aggressive teasing and sarcasm has become ordinary, and many of us have become insensitive to it and the harm it causes. As adults, we need to be more mindful about our words and actions. We need to be examples for our children. We must stop teasing and stop responding with aggression when we are attacked. We need to stop playing the same game. Yes, we hate being caught “off-guard” when someone throws the sharp comment at us. We are taken aback, surprised, and shocked when sudden aggression occurs against us. We are sometimes so stunned, that we are at a loss as to how to respond. One might say then, it would make sense to prepare, to protect ourselves from these verbal offensives and such, that it would be worth the worry to anxiously anticipate an attack. But living in fear of abuse is no way to be. We don’t want to live life being on-guard all the time, preparing to have a quick-witted response, awaiting the rude remark. It keeps us on edge, distrusting, and existing in a state of high anxiety.
Yes, anger arises when we are blindsided by someone. And even though we desire retaliation and revenge, we mustn’t act on it. No, we shouldn’t strike back. It’s not in our best interest. Instead, we should honestly and calmly respond, rather than reacting harshly. Or walk away, and try to acknowledge the hurt underneath the anger. We can respond rationally and honestly at a later time, when the anger subsides. “I’m trying to understand why you would say that to me? Did I say or do something to cause you to say that? Why would you say I look old and tired, especially in front of others? How would you feel if I said that to you?” See, that’s more honest and less reactive, isn’t it? Yes, it’s vulnerable, but it gets right down to the heart of it.
To be clear, teasing someone lovingly, as to make them laugh or smile, can be purposeful. It can be a good decompressor and de-stressor in an intimate relationship. And being playful and affectionate can add humor and spice to a relationship. Although there is still a risk of going too far when teasing someone. And we must be careful not to push our partner’s buttons. We need to be mindful about our words and actions. If we are angry or resentful, we should have a sit down and talk it out. Passive-aggressive teasing can be tantalizing, but it is hurtful.
In the end, wit and teasing has its place, as long as it is used in a mindful, non-harming way. As for satire and sarcasm? perhaps it should be left to the professionals; the satirists.
Well, that’s all I have, as always, thank you so much for listening. If you like the podcast, please leave a Review or Rating on Apple, it contributes to the success of the podcast immensely. Leaving a Review only takes a few minutes, even just a star rating, which only takes a second, can make a difference. You can do it anonymously. Also, check out my website, carltvreeland.com, you’ll find several podcast transcripts there on my blog page, and there’s also a link to my YouTube channel, 12 Steps to Heaven, which deals specifically with alcoholism and drug addiction and much more. Again, thank you for listening.
- Think Sarcasm is Funny? Think Again. Sarcasm is really just hostility disguised as humor. Article by psychologist Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D. Published on-line for Psychology Today on 26 June 2012.