Me Scusi

If there is any way to waste time on the internet, it is to find a source of easily accessible, quick clips of comedy. Reading longer articles is laborious, and watching long videos can be shameful, but the promise of just one more funny clip is a time vacuum. The advent of the gif has made this type of comedy omnipresent.  Some jokes take precision and timing, but a gif is like a one-liner: easy to follow and no set up required.


Alex Diebold wins bronze in the Olympics but  gold in precision and timing.

Gifs can be taken at face value, however, when taken out of their original joke and thrust into a new one, the effect can morph from slapstick to satire.  My favorite website for this type of comedy is, where thousands of pages of such images exist.  For example, the editor took a clip from an already funny show, Arrested Development, and applied it to a real life situation: people awkwardly trying to say words from another language.  The post is given the caption

“When someone pronounces a non-English word with an accent”

Toby gif


“When I thought I had a snack saved but then I remember I already ate it”

Chris Pine gif

In the case of the Chris Pine gif, there is nothing inherently funny about longingly staring off into the distance followed by some heavy contemplation.  Combine it with a few words detailing a situation most people have faced, and you have satirized that situation.  The gifs are exaggerations, but possibly the way we really feel.  I always feel silly when I try to pronounce Les Miserables (on the many, many occasions that this has happened) because I know how it really should be pronounced, yet I feel awkward trying to fumble my way through a language I never learned.  Even when it is a word in a foreign language that I do know, the switch in pronunciations for one or two words is unsettling.  I usually end up taking the easy way out with Les Mis, but then I feel like a coward.  So when I hear another person try to pronounce it with a French accent, it catches my ear.  I may not have the reaction of Toby in the clip above, but seeing the clip makes me remember the awkwardness of those situations.  I laugh because it is such a childish way to react, and I love it.  Whatshouldwecallme fulfills the role of  satire in that it is a humorous way to criticize ourselves.

The effectiveness of gifs, and satire in general, is hugely indebted to the internet.  The world is connected like never before, people have access to all kinds of information, and with the age of social media, individuals are expected to share parts of their lives with the online community.  I find it funny that some people do not quite understand that what you put on the internet is accessible by almost anyone, and we see people posting pictures of themselves committing crimes on Facebook.  In a New York Times article written by Noam Cohen, he states “People from all walks of life — hairdressers, chefs, politicians — use [twitter] to blast out every thought and professional accomplishment to their followers.”  Not only is there greater access to satire because of the internet, but more people can produce satire.  It is no longer left to those who work for newspapers, magazines, or those who host TV shows.  For example, the people behind whatshouldwecallme are two girls who became friends in college.  That’s it.  They wanted a way to share inside jokes with each other, and it turned into a popular website for people looking for a quick laugh.

I think that the explosion of available satire due to technology is showing a shift in the way news is handled.  I think it is much easier to deal with a situation through the use of comedy, which allows the news to be more accessible.  If enough interest is piqued by a certain story, then the viewer has the ability to perform more research.  Satire can be a nice way of appealing to more people.  Fortunately, with so much access to information, those who know how to look for credible sources are open to a huge opportunity for learning.  Unfortunately, the ease with which articles can be produced, and the difficulty accessing the background and credibility of posters, allows for a greater chance of stumbling upon bad information.  I do not think these changes are representative of trends in intelligence.  Those who are curious and willing to put in extra work will be paid off well, while those who are cherry picking debates that establish their beliefs may well have been able to do the same thing before technology.  Technology is just another tool to more efficiently access what we need.


The satire, the smarm, and the Oliver

As I attempt to sit and do homework on my computer, my mouse meanders over to safari and clicks. One of my many saved websites, Cracked, opens and I begin reading an article. “I’ve had a long day,” I say, and tell myself that after one more article I will finally get to that homework assignment. Procrastination seems to be something that I share with many students, but the subject of my procrastination is almost always intended to humor me. A recent study by Comedy Central claims that people are looking for quick comedy now more than ever before. Is a study on comedy performed by Comedy Central considered good science? That is a concern for another time.

It seems satire is becoming a popular way to confront some of the ridiculousness we encounter on a daily basis. Tom Scocca defines the term for the phenomenon to which satire reacts: smarm. In his article On Smarm, Scocca claims, “Smarm aspires to smother opposition or criticism, to cover everything over with an artificial, oily gloss.” With Scocca’s definition, satire is a criticism of critics. As an example of satire as a response to smarm, here is a clip of “Last Week Tonight by John Oliver.”

In the clip, John Oliver reacts to smarm on climate change. He claims, “The debate on climate change should not be whether or not it exists, it’s what we should do about it.” This point is very similar to that brought up by Scocca: “Smarm…is never a force for good. A civilization that speaks in smarm is a civilization that has lost its ability to talk about purposes at all. It is a civilization that says “Don’t Be Evil,” rather than making sure it does not do evil.”  The debate on climate change seems to be more about its existence, rather than what actions should be taken.  The paper that John Oliver discusses detailed the ways in which climate change is currently affecting the globe, and the claim that humans are the cause of climate change. Smarm abounded as naysayers were up in arms, claiming that climate change is a hoax, and everyone has an agenda. John Oliver, a political satirist, satirizes the naysayers. He points out that the reason people think climate change is up for debate is because that is the way it is portrayed on the news. Additionally, he says, the debate is always one on one, making it seem like each side is accurately represented with a fair chance. In reality, there is resounding scientific support for climate change, and a small percentage of papers claiming that climate change does not exist. In order to prove his point, Oliver uses a more representative sample to debate according to the paper: 97 scientists supporting evidence for climate change, and three people opposing evidence for climate change.

John Oliver used to work with Jon Stewart. He branched off and got his own show titled “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” the title itself showing his satiric intentions. Though in the previous case of climate change satire was used as a response to smarm, satire can have another effect. According to Malcolm Gladwell, satire can be used to deflate the effect of critique. Bringing humor to a situation decreases its levity, and can effectively reduce the strength of the original critique. Gladwell and Scocca are at odds over the reason behind satire, however, I feel that they can both be true depending on the situation and desired effect.  In the case of the smarm on climate change, the use of satire was clearly intentioned to attack the smarm.  As John Oliver said, “you don’t need people’s opinion on a fact.”

Evaluation of Satire in Mark Twain’s “Disgraceful Persecution of a Boy”

In order to better understand the effect of the use of satire in Mark Twain’s “Disgraceful Persecution of a Boy,” one must examine the time during which the piece was written, the author, and the piece both broken up into individual parts, and in its entirety.   The essay was published in May of 1870.  The civil war ended in 1865, and the fourteenth and fifteenth amendment were ratified in 1868 and 1870 respectfully. They were, along with the thirteenth amendment, known as the Reconstruction Amendments. The purpose was to repair the nation after the civil war, securing liberties for its residents. Mark Twain’s “Disgraceful Persecution of a Boy” was written only months after the ratification of the fifteenth amendment. The use of immigrant workers used for the railroad expansion and gold rush caused a boom in the Chinese population in San Francisco in the late 1860s and early 1870s. While still early in his career, Mark Twain had already become known as a humorist by the time he wrote “Disgraceful Persecution of a Boy.” With both the author and the history in mind, the effect of the essay can be seen.

Initial analysis should begin with the title. Clearly it is the persecution that is disgraceful, not anything that is done by the boy. This perspective must be kept in mind, for it can be lost upon the opening sentence as the boy’s actions are illuminated. The boy had been thrown in prison for stoning a Chinese man. The following line introduces the first satirical device, the use of an exclamation point. The line states “What a commentary is this upon human justice!” The immediate switch from a singular event to a generalized statement with a strong exclamation suggests that it is the second line that is more important than the first.  The rest of the introduction looks not at the boy specifically, but what may have led a nice school boy to commit such a crime.  The broad statement in the second sentence allows the reader to see that criticism of the justice system is the underlying theme of the boy’s story.

The tone of the rest of the essay is serious and the diction is somewhat heavy, which adds to the use of satire when Mark Twain starts a sentence seriously and ends up in an outlandish, unexpected direction. For example, Mark Twain wrote, “It was in this way that he found out that in many districts of the vast Pacific coast, so strong is the wild, free love of justice in the hearts of the people, that whenever any secret and mysterious crime is committed, they say, ‘Let justice be done, though the heavens fall,’ and go straightway and swing a Chinaman.” The extreme nature of the end of the sentence strikes the reader as a commentary on the values of the Pacific coast, but in a way that is condescending. The condescension is the voice of the author, letting the reader know that the anecdotes are used in a way that should evoke frustration. It is as if the author is saying, “who in their right mind would come to this conclusion?” The use of this technique effectively pulls the attention to the heart of the issue. The illustration of the boy connected the criticism to a story with which the readers can visualize, providing clear imagery.

While the use of humor in this essay is dark, it fulfills the definition of satire as given in the previous post. Mark Twain utilizes a style that sets up the reader to understand the subject of the criticism, and with the use of extreme anecdotes he supports his analysis that is rooted in a common story. Given that a writer known as a satirist and humorist wrote the essay during a time of expanded liberties and a period of reconstruction, the reader is well prepared to receive satire-laden nature. Upon the first read the tone is evident, which makes the piece a successful satire.

The Ultimate Question

Voltaire, a French Enlightenment writer and satirist, says to “judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”  Following that statement, I will provide a few answers.  My first answer is Douglas Adams’ novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  One of the story’s more memorable plot points involves the relationship between questions and answers, and how the search for answers seems to only turn up more questions. In the novel, mice are “hyperintelligent pandimensional beings” who sanctioned the creation of Earth, and performed experiments on humans.


They cancelled the show when they realized we were onto something.

The humans were so obsessed with finding the meaning of life that they built Deep Thought, the second most intelligent computer ever to have existed, and asked it to provide the answer to the meaning of life.  Once asked, the computer assured the humans that it must think about the answer for seven and a half million years.  After waiting the allotted time, Deep Thought finally revealed his answer: 42.  The humans were wildly confused, and when asked the meaning of the answer, Deep Thought explained that they weren’t sure of the question they were asking, and once they located the question, the answer would be understood.  Unlike the question posed to Deep Thought, my question promises a much shorter wait time.  What is an example of a work of satire?  A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is an example of Horatian satire: the source for much of the novel’s attention is the idea that humans are the center of the universe, and the importance of the human race.  The never-ending quest for the answers to the universe is quite a ridiculous notion, as presented by Adams.  Additionally, the idea that humans are the most intelligent beings is frequently discussed in the novel.  Adams uses techniques such as exaggeration, humor, and irony, which point to existence in the realm of satire.

A work that is humorous but outside of the world of satire is Dracula: Dead and Loving It.  While I will always love the movie and it makes me laugh, it falls into the realm of parody.  The movie is a spoof, pulling its material from an already existing genre of movies.  The content is too specific to be satire, making fun of Dracula tropes.  The film’s jokes focus on the serious points on which a traditional Dracula film operates, alluding to the main themes but turning them on their head.

A book that I feel blurs the lines of satire is Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  The book criticizes aspects of human society, but it does not do so in a humorous way.  The definition of satire as necessitating humor, exaggeration, irony and ridicule to expose prevailing immorality or foolishness excludes Androids from the label.  As a work of science fiction, many elements of the story are fantastic, and the story that is presented is taken as a fact of the created world. There is a theme of wanting to be seen as something greater than reality.  In the novel, a representation of the ultimate status is the possession of a live animal.  The main character keeps an electric animal in order to keep a front for his neighbors.  His job is to retire androids who were created to serve humans, but went rogue and tried to pose as humans instead.  Androids have an inability to distinguish the meaning of life, in terms of not being able to appreciate the value of a real life.  In this world, Philip K. Dick is critical of those who cannot appreciate that which is natural, and the obsession with social status.  In this way the novel is satirical, as it questions an overarching theme and not a specific subject, but the lack of humor and exaggeration point in another direction.

Having provided three answers to the prompt of a satirical, non satirical, and possibly satirical work, I am left with more questions.  The boundary between satire, humor, and critique is not well defined, and works seem to be somewhat ambiguous.  It is easier to find satire than an absence of it, because the weak definition allows for many different interpretations.  In the search for answers, the questions provide direction.  I feel like the exasperated humans in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; unsure of the questions that will allow the answers to make sense.

My Funny Bone

While at snowboarding competitions, I constantly faced the threat of serious injury, and possibly death.  In my discipline, six snowboarders race side by side down a course that is designed with large jumps, huge turns, and very high speeds.  Completing a course by itself is dangerous, let alone when you have five other people riding alongside.  I no longer had the reckless abandon that allowed for the adventures during my childhood.  After many broken bones, a few surgeries, a handful of concussions, and a seizure, I learned to be a bit more cautious with my life.  That gets pretty difficult when your job is to soar over 80 feet in the air while going 40 miles per hour on a snowboard.  I possessed the technical ability, but occasionally my head would get in the way.  My coach and I had a routine to get past my anxiety.  I would say “I’m so nervous.”  To which he would respond, “first time?”  I would reply, “No, I’ve been nervous lots of times.”  And that was it.  I would have a quick giggle, and I was ready to rock.  One Airplane! reference was all it took to calm me down.  My love of comedy began as a way to relate with my older brother and stop the fighting.  Some of our favorite movies were Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Liar Liar, Spaceballs, Dracula: Dead and Loving it, Airplane, and the Naked Gun series.  Any little reminder of one of those quotes, in almost any situation, and the two of us would spend an entire conversation quoting our favorite scenes.  Almost twenty years later, we still have quote-a-thons.

Humor Photo Blog

The only difference now is that my younger brother is old enough to join, making it our special sibling thing.  Most people get confused by our interactions, but it is how we stay close, and remember the good old days where our only troubles were not quite getting the line right.  Once we were in high school, we began listening to Mitch Hedberg, expanding our comedy dialogue.  In college, we went through an Eddie Izzard phase.  Now, with most of my close friends, we have our favorite lines through which we relate.  The jokes don’t get old because of the meaning behind them.

On another occasion of panic and fear, we used humor to abate the situation.  I was sitting in a chair behind my brother as he threw darts at a dart board.  In a miraculous mishap, he threw a dart and it ricocheted off the board, sailed by his face and into my leg.  I jumped up screaming, but all anyone could do was mock me.  The scene was a bit reminiscent of Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, when Ace is stabbed in the leg by a spear.  At ten years old, I calmed down enough to walk up to my parents and coolly ask them to remove the three inch metal dart from my thigh.

If I am watching TV and I see that any Mel Brooks, Jim Carrey, or Leslie Nielsen movie is on, I will stop what I am doing and finish the film.  Now when I watch the movies, I see memories.  Even if I haven’t seen a movie in a while, I will always be able to pick out our favorite lines.  Just recently, my younger brother was saying that he had to check his schedule for some reason.  The conversation quickly jumped to this scene:

Gets me every time.

More recently, now that my brothers and I are geographically far apart, we share cracked articles that remind us of each other, or that we think the others would find interesting.  It was a pretty momentous occasion when we figured we could find comedy in writing rather than just on film.  While physical comedy (I’m looking at you, Chris Farley) will always be hilarious to us, we can now appreciate written humor.  In that way I think that my sense of humor doesn’t change, it merely expands.  I will still laugh at fart jokes and watching people walk into things, but now I can enjoy a well set up joke that has a bit more depth. It is easy to see how important comedy is, not only in terms of reinforcing old relationships, but of forming new ones.  I gravitate toward those who make me laugh.  I alleviate pain with comedy, and find it necessary for a healthy life.