Hoax Versus Spoof: Understanding the Value of Satire
AND NOW YOU'LL KNOW... THE REST OF THE STORY
I've always thought of myself as a non-fiction writer. Professional, but not creative. Someone who deals primarily in the interpretation of technical material for an educated, but primarily non-technical audience.
I don't write novels. I don't write short stories. I don't write poetry — at least, not seriously.
What I do write is expository prose:
Nonfiction, unrhymed text that has the goal of explaining or informing ... as a traditional essay, a letter to the editor, a documented research paper, a Web document, or a press release...English Department, Kent State University in Advanced Writing Course Syllabus
More than 800 articles published in print, as a staff and freelance magazine writer and editor. Several hundred more pieces published on digital media, on my own web and blog site, as well as on blog sites owned by others, LinkedIn, Medium, and now beBee.
However, through the years, satire and comedy beckoned to me with a unique siren call. Writers like Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Neil Simon, and Woody Allen (before he decided to get it on with his "adopted" daughter) made me wish in my heart of hearts I could write dialogue, quips, and punch lines like they could.
Of course, I do understand that satire and comedy are not one in the same. Although both require a very high level of writing skill, comedy is simply funny, whereas satire is edgy and carries an underlying message, social, political, or otherwise. I could go on for a long time about this, and I will to some extent later in this article, but for now let me stay with the story.
I write because I'm Able...
Jim Able on LinkedIn
Then slowly, as I read the traffic on LinkedIn, I began to feel restless. The level of what I have dubbed Insipidipity was going way up, with all manner of vapid material being published by incredibly self-impressed people. I wanted to write scathing commentary. But I felt it would not be well received, and so didn't.
I was also reluctant to have all that more or less potential acrimony attached to my professional profile, as is done on LinkedIn. Consequently, I struck on the idea of creating a pseudonymous member profile on LI, and using that to write some satirical posts that would poke fun at all the foibles exemplified on LinkedIn by members, myself included.
Enter Jim Able. I created a pseudonymous persona, a former academic turned freelance writer who had "rewired, rather than retired." And I began writing and publishing satire on LinkedIn with, if I say so myself, a fair amount of success, with post views running much of the time over a thousand, occasionally breaking 5,000. My satirical posts were picked up several times by different Pulse feature channels, and were running relatively quite high levels of engagement. I was having a ball, with my only regret being I was, of necessity, deceiving some of my online writer friends. Then very suddenly LinkedIn shut down Jim Able's account. Poof. No account. No further publishing. No access to Jim Able's library of posts, not even for me.
All attempts to communicate with LI representatives about the situation went absolutely nowhere. According to them "fake" profiles were not allowed, and the T&C allowed a person to have only a single profile. And by the way, you're not allowed to use a photo that is not of you, nor an avatar, nor a logo. Never mind that these rules are broken daily, even hourly by literally tens of thousand of users on LinkedIn.
And never mind that Jim Able's profile photo was clear and openly intended to disguise a real identity. And never mind that his profile listed only some of his writing and warned readers specifically that "...what you see is what you get." Or that there was never any intent to defraud anyone of anything.
Finally, I concluded that they didn't like my poking fun at the insipid, self-obsessed, self-certifying, and ridiculously self-impressed bull chip artists who comprised a significant portion of the online population on LinkedIn, and were such ready targets for satire.
That, however, is not my point in mentioning that particular situation here. The details of Jim Able's story are available for anyone who is interested at Linked In-Justice.
No, my point in mentioning the situation here is to illustrate that the people I was dealing with, or at least trying to deal with at LinkedIn had absolutely no understanding about the difference between a hoax and a spoof, or between a scam and an innocent deception firmly rooted in literary tradition and exemplified by such well known writers as Mark Twain (Samuel T. Clemens), John LeCarre (David Cornwell), and George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair). It was like talking to the wall.
Actually, it was worse than talking to the wall... since, at least, a wall doesn't say inanely stupid things back to you...
Hoaxes and scams are by definition intended to deceive, scams moreover for the purpose of getting money out of people...Merriam Webster Dictionary
I recently posted on both LinkedIn and beBee the satiric news spoof seen above. The reactions were interesting, both in their individual nature and when compared as groups between the two social media platforms.
An embarrassing high percentage of readers on LinkedIn thought it was for real. They just didn't notice that the logo says "CNNN", nor that the tagline refers to the "Cable Neverland News Network". Nor any of an additional more than half dozen clear clues, no not clues, signs in the text of the bulletin. Even when some of them did notice, they commented that the piece was full of "typos".
A few commenters who recognized that the post was not for real, said they figured it out because "... the author was dumb enough to mispell Microsoft as Macrosoft, Federal as Feral, LinkedIn as LinkedIt, and Jeff Weiner as Jiff Weener. At which point, you are asking yourself, "WTF?"
Ya know, it's not just that these people rely overly much on images, and don't really read. It's that they don't understand what a spoof is.
A spoof makes fun of something but does not seek ultimately to fool anyone... mislead momentarily, perhaps... but not fool...
Understanding that provides, I submit, some insight, as well, into the nature and value of satire. Satire is also not intended to fool. For example, when Tina Fey impersonated Sarah Palin on SNL, the goal was not to convince people that she was Sarah Palin. the goal was to look enough like Palin to catch the audience's eye and get them to look twice, then focus on the underlying message or theme.
To my mind, satire is first and foremost a logical reductio ad absurdum — making a point by taking a premise or other statement or position to its extreme logical conclusion(s), and thereby exposing that premise, statement, or position as untenable.
Now, if you've stuck with me right through to this point... you're probably not a millennial with the attention span of a gnat. And if you laughed at that because you're not a millennial, and yet can still remember what we're talking about, then you'll likely recognize the duality of the underlying message — which, sorry, I am not going to explain to you.
In closing, let me leave you with this: If I am preaching anything it is that we all need to pay attention to the substance of what we read and watch. And when it comes to matters of published news and opinion, we need to work to overcome the urge to fasten on the images in front of us, while we assume things about what we're reading or watching.
And if you think that advice is trite and unnecessary, watch how many complaints are going to come in accusing me of oneor more of the following: 1) being political, 2) laying a smear on Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, 3) posting a dumb, poorly done Photoshopped image of Trump and Palin, 4) trying to trick people into thinking Sarah Palin is down on Donald Trump, 5) being a dumb-ass for supporting Darrell Hammond and Tina Fey for President and Vice President of the United States, or 6) being unpatriotic for not wanting to make America great again by walling it off from the rest of the world.
Now you know... the rest of the story...Paul Harvey in The Rest of the Story radio show sign-off
As to Jim Able and his satirical writings, if you've looked at the blog page at the other end of the link given earlier, and paid attention to what I've written here, you do now know the rest of the story.
And if you think you seen the last of my satirical writing, however much you might want that to be the case, you're wrong.
For wherever in the world there lives over the self-seriousness, wherever conceit and self-adulation reside, there shall I go via my writing, to right these and other wrongs, to... Oh, bull chips. Who are we kidding? — Phil Friedman
Author's notes: First thing to notice is that the photo above is of Paul Harvey, not Cory Galbraith, who is my nominee for the lead (in drag) in the upcoming remake of the movie The Goodbye Girl.
Next, I want to dedicate this post to my writer-friends who accepted and stuck by me after finding out about the true identity of Jim Able. I never wanted to deceive you, but I felt that Jim had to grow his satiric wings on his own, and that was the only way. Those writer-friends are among the best bloggers around and include Andrew Books, Milos Djukic, John White, and all the early members of the LinkedIn group writers4writers, too numerous to mention here, but locked in my memory forever — or at least for as long as Jim Murray continues to share his Aricept with me. (And no, Jim is not a pseudonymous creation of mine; no mind, satiric or otherwise, could be so perverse as do engage in that deception.)
This post is a continuation of my "If I Say So Myself" series of philosophical musings with an edge. An index of some of my previously published philosophical reflections can be found at"
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About me, Phil Friedman: With 30 some years background in the marine industry, I've worn numerous hats — as a yacht designer, boat builder, marine operations and business manager, marine industry consultant, marine marketing and communications specialist, yachting magazine writer and editor, yacht surveyor, and marine industry educator. I am also trained and experienced in interest-based negotiation and mediation. In a previous life, I taught logic and philosophy at university.
The (optional-to-read) pitch: As a professional writer, editor, university educator, and speaker, with more than 1,000 print and digital publications, I've recently launched an online program for enhancing your expository writing: learn2engage — With Confidence. My mission is to help writers and would-be writers improve the clarity of their thought, master the logic of discussion, and strengthen their ability to deal confidently with disagreement.
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