A quick lesson in satire.

Since I wrote at length about Suzy Lee Weiss’ editorial letter about her college rejections, I thought it worth a minute to address her response to the wide variety of reactions she inspired.

Ms. Weiss told Today (you’ve gotten on the Today Show, by the way):

“It was a joke,” she said on TODAY about her controversial op-ed, which also takes swipes at diversity, volunteering, overseas service trips and even her parents. 
“It’s a satire. That’s the point. Just like ’30 Rock’ is a satire, which pokes fun at things that are politically correct. That’s what I was trying to do.”

I guess I can take your word that you were trying to be satirical; I don’t know you and I’ve no reason not to, though I’m quite skeptical. If I’m honest, I question that you were actually trying to create a satirical piece of cultural criticism. It seems more likely that the defense of “relax it’s just satire” works as a convenient shield for you as it has for so many others who’ve needed to defend what they’ve said or written. Satire is a tough idea to pin down, but what the Wall Street Journal published is not satire, Suzy.

It’s hyperbolic and overblown for intentional purpose, sarcastic and mean-spirited–all of which can be elements of satire. But it fails to clear the bar of satire because you’ve offered nothing more than scorn. While it is true that satire can be filled with scorn, some of the best satire is, it is not only scorn. It can be hyperbolic and cruel (like American Psycho) or funny and light-hearted (like 30 Rock, as you invoke). To be satire, though, it must always be more than these things.

If your letter was meant to be satire, you would have directed your ire at the reason you are mad as hell: admissions officers did not accept your application because you did not meet the absurd requirements elite universities now uphold. You would have used your scorn, sarcasm and justifiable (short-term) anger to expose what is a real problem with our college admissions process.

Instead, you wrote a letter attacking individuals and groups unrelated to that process and who were of no party to your rejections. Gay and lesbian kids, Native Americans and minorities, charity work, your parents, even Elizabeth Warren. You go after everyone except the perpetrators of your slights.  The purpose of satire is to discredit immoral systems, attack the human folly that results from cultural normativity, mock our social conventions. It’s far more complicated than ranting at the gay kids who are lucky enough to be gay, or the racial minorities who gets all the breaks.

If this was satire you would have understood that your race and wealth make you a member of one the most-influential and powerful social and cultural groups in the entire world (short of the topmost segment only by gender). You would have seen the connections between the “Be Yourself” dictate of contemporary culture (a meaningless notion ripe for a good thrashing) and the lack of any self-awareness in your letter. You could have argued, for example, that the system has solved a problem through over-correction, which would have made your comment on the Today show about “being judged on things that we cannot control” particularly apt, since, yes indeed you will be judged on what you cannot control, and as you were born a white American of wealth, the things you cannot control have set you up for great (long term) success even if you must live through a Big 10 college-experience.

These are just some recommendations for you to you consider as you continue writing.

Keep that in mind, though, that it’s not okay to be mean and then call it satire to cover your tracks. Satire is really, really difficult to produce. We can’t all be Tina Feys and Jonathon Swifts.

Okay, well, bye forever.

Previously: Hey, Suzy Lee Weiss, Welcome to the Midwest

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One response to “A quick lesson in satire.

  1. Pingback: What I’ve Learned about Blogging | Third Ten Million Years·

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