Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Civility and Satire #SOL17

In his classic satirical novel Catch 22, Joseph Heller introduced a term that has embedded itself into our political lexicon. A catch 22 is a dilemma occurs when two competing options offer no clear win or benefit to the one caught in its circumstance. 

In Catch 22 Heller explains: 

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Youssarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

An early morning Twitter dialogue Monday reminded me of Heller's novel. The conversation centered on this satirical cartoon: 

I retweeted this post and promptly received a response challenging it as "mean." The responder later clarified that the cartoon itself isn't "mean," but the commentary from TheDailyLiberal is. 

I disagree with the characterization that the cartoon is mean; rather, I see the tweet as a brief analysis of PEOTUS's rhetoric. Certainly, many have noticed and commented on Donald Trump's tangled syntax. Recently, Trump advisor kellyanne Conway admonished the public to look into Trump's heart rather than take literally his words. 

But Trump's words and actions are all we have by which to judge him, and it's these that generate response. 

Failing to comment on Trump's comments risks assessing that silence as "tacit consent." Those who support the man would like nothing more than to silence the critics, hence Conway's admonition to "look in his heart." 

Failing to comment on Trump's rhetoric risks normalizing his criticism of national heroes like Representative John Lewis. 

By definition, satire is biting. It's meant to criticize in a cutting way. Those who respond to it shouldn't feel caught between two competing notions. 

In my own bubble--and I do live in one, as do most of us--I love sharing satire, especially Andy Borowitz's take on Donald Trump. Borowitz is funny and razor-sharp in his critiques. The same is true of Alec Baldwin's parody of Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live.

Yet I know my anger and dismay over the election results, over the hateful rhetoric Trump spewed in his campaign and on Twitter, over Russian interference in the election, over the spread of and acceptance of "fake" and distorted news, all needle me to the point that I have responded inappropriately, more often than I want to admit. 

A few weeks ago, I made a resolution to "go high" in my responses to Trump. I've stopped following those in my FB feed who act mean, particularly those who use derisive diction such as "libtard" and other political epithets. I'm trying to scroll past posts that push my buttons, those that spark my mean streak. 

This doesn't mean I won't share satire. I will. It doesn't mean I'll stop trolling Trump. But there are rational voices on Twitter who push back at the false narratives Trump tweets in the wee hours. Evan McMullen is one such voice. I'll follow this former CIA operative's example. 

We can criticize with civility and satire. As Joseph Heller reminds us: 

Some men are born mediocre, some achieve mediocrity, and some men have mediocrity thrust upon them...[They] agreed it was neither possible nor necessary to educate people who never questioned anything.

Joseph Heller wrote Catch 22 beginning in 1953, but it wasn't until 1961 in the early days of the cold war that it was published. The novel is set in WWII, yet his critique's relevance can't be denied.*

Youssarian laments the sorry conditions:

What a lousy earth! He wondered how many people were destitute that same night even in his own prosperous country, how many homes were shanties, how many husbands were drunk and wives socked, and how many children were bullied, abused, or abandoned. How many families hungered for food they could not afford to buy? How many hearts were broken? How many suicides would take place that same night, how many people would go insane? How many cockroaches and landlords would triumph? How many winners were losers, successes failures, and rich men poor men? How many wise guys were stupid? How many happy endings were unhappy endings? How many honest men were liars, brave men cowards, loyal men traitors, how many sainted men were corrupt, how many people in positions of trust had sold their souls to bodyguards, how many had never had souls? How many straight-and-narrow paths were crooked paths? How many best families were worst families and how many good people were bad people? When you added them all up and then subtracted, you might be left with only the children, and perhaps with Albert Einstein and an old violinist or sculptor somewhere.

How do we live in such a world? That, my friends, is the real catch-22 that confronts us in the Trump world order. 
Each Tuesday the team of teachers at Two Writing Teachers sponsors theSlice of Life story challenge. I'm grateful to these ladies for theirunwavering dedication to living the writer's life. Head over to the TWTblog for more slices of life. 

*Edited to correct publication date and add context for the novel.