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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Satire, Cooning and my "Merking of OBL" series over at PANK

Tommy Davidson as Sleep N Eat in Spike Lee's Bamboozled

/ˈsætaɪər/ Show Spelled[sat-ahyuhr] 
the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc.
a literary composition, in verse or prose, in which human folly and vice are held up to scorn, derision, or ridicule.
a literary genre comprising such compositions.


Cooning: The deliberate or intentional non-ironic use of negative images or stereotypes for entertainment of whomever the dominant group is.---DJ Renegade


So I wrote this piece: "Ol' Clementine Explains How he and a Team of Navy SEALs Killed Osama bin Laden." It's the latest installment of my humor column over on the PANK blog. And also it is the third part in a mini-series on the death of Osama bin Laden. I called that series The Merking of OBL.

I posted it on Facebook as I do most of my published pieces and the first comment was from poet, Joel Dias-Porter a/k/a DJ Renegade: "Why would you post that?"

He went on to say that the piece went "dangerously close to cooning" and it made me think a lot about satire. One man's insight is the next man's poor taste. Satire is often the search for the sweet spot that's a good distance from blandness, but also not over the line of good taste. It can be tricky to find, but not impossible, when dealing with issues of race. I take issues of black representation seriously. Not to be too sanctimonious, but when you dehumanize people, you can do anything to them. Dehumanizing representations have often been the pre-text to economic oppression, violence, genocide, etc. 

Let me say this, I respect DJ Renegade very much. Last time I saw him read was a nearly transcendental experience, both because of the quality of the work and how it spoke to my personal life. At the precise moment he was reading incisive and probing poems about death--that at the time moved me greatly--my grandmother was 30 minutes away in the hospital taking her final breaths. When I matched up the time of the reading to the time of death, well it was and is hard not to apply some semi-mystical significance to that reading. I say all this to say that these comments don't come from an easily dismissible place, at least not for me personally. This is not some lightweight writer or some random internet crank.

But I think it all turns on irony. It's interesting that both the dictionary definition of satire and Dias-Porter's definition of cooning focus on the presence or absence of irony. I find it difficult to see how my piece comes "dangerously close" to lacking irony. In some areas it felt as if I was laying on the irony too thick, forcing me to go back and punch up the jokes. I also find it hard to see how an intelligent person can be unable to discern the ironic intent of the piece. But I'm not exactly unbiased in my reading of the piece.

Ultimately, it's not up to me to decide if I misfired. What say you, dear reader?

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