Satire in the Age of Outrage

by Akim Reinhardt

Jonathan Swift | Satirist, Poet & Clergyman | Britannica
Jonathan Swift

Satire seems all but dead for now. Maybe it’s because the world became increasingly ludicrous, culminating with a real-life president as ridiculous as any satire Jonathan Swift or Dorothy Parker could dream up. Donald Trump’s bizarre presidency may have been the peak of absurdity (fingers crossed), but it had been building for a while as right wing extremism became more and more cartoonish, TV evolved into formulaic lunacy, and QAnon convinced millions to believe the Lizard People conspiracy. This rising tide of insanity neutralized satire by making reality itself seem like parody.

As the world became almost unfathomably strange, many people reacted by demanding seriousness; social and political critics understandably turned very sober. And this too marginalized satire, which addresses serious issues by mocking them.  Its seriousness is dressed up in pasquinade. Satire doesn’t loudly demand righteous justice or offer up moralistic lessons. It exposes crimes by spoofing them. It’s neither judge nor jury, but rather the jester who sends up the corrupt and lecherous court.

For a while I’ve observed that satire is caught in the middle, between the craziness and the sanctimony. Between the outrageous and the outraged. This was driven home to me last week when I watched the film Slapshot, which I’d not seen in over 30 years. A 1977 comedy about minor league hockey, it comes from an era that was ripe with satire. But I suspect most audiences today would not recognize its satirical edges. Partly because it’s nearly half-a-century old and the culture has shifted in numerous ways. But also because satire currently flies over many people’s heads. Read more »

Tchotchkes and Latkes

by Akim Reinhardt

DavenportsI still remember the first time I heard it. It was back in the late ‘90s, when I had cable. There was this openly gay guy, bald, a little overweight, a beard I think. He had some design show about sprucing up your house.

There weren't a lot of openly gay men on American TV back then. They were just breaking through into mainstream culture. There was the sitcom Will & Grace, and those five gay guys who taught straight men how to dress. Anyway, this guy, whose name I can't remember, was enough of a national sensation that Saturday Night Live spoofed him for a while.

I was sitting on my velour davenport watching cable TV. I flipped by his show. He was pointing out all the bric a brat cluttering a room and said: “I'm in tchotchke heaven.”

Except he didn't say it right. He said choch-kee. Kinda rhymed with Versace. I cringed.

I was living in Nebraska at the time. I didn't have any real desire to move back to my native New York City, but there were certainly things I missed about it. After all, it was still the 20th century, before Manhattan had transformed into a playground for tourists and millionaires, and Brooklyn into an equivalent for the six-figure crowd.

Back then I would watch Law and Order repeats and really enjoy the opening segment where some bit characters would stumble across a corpse. Those people playing those bit characters often seemed liked they'd been plucked right off the street. I cherished little New York moments like that. The mere sight of fellow Bronx native Jerry Orbach as Detective Lennie Briscoe would make me wistful for the old days when Orbach did drug store commercials on local TV.

So to hear this hammie cable hack say choch-kee was like a kick in the gut. Stop mispronouncing my word, I thought. Then he said it again. I changed the channel.

Read more »