When does satire cross the line?

st_francis_leperI recently made an off-cuff share of a post that created a bit of a stir.  At first, I thought that the reactions were over the top; but in the spirit of being open and questioning my beliefs, I took the opportunity to practice taking on the other opinion for a moment to try and understand.

The post in question came on the heels of a protest made by US Vice President, Mike Pense (who Siri auto corrects to Sense for some reason…. pun?), who left a stadium after members of one of the teams took a knee during the singing of the national anthem.  The cartoon shows a figure in a suit kneeing in front of another figure.  He could be picking up a button, he could be proposing marriage, or he could be doing any number of things in front of the standing figure.  In case you’re wondering, the one figure is supposed to represent Mike Sense, (see!!!) and the other Donald Trump.  Siri doesn’t have anything to say about changing Trump.  (That could also be a pun.)

Then my boyfriend remarks, quite accurately, that the image was not drawn in such a way to suggest anything but oral sex.  For example if he was picking up a button, where’s the button?  If it was a proposal, where is the wedding ring?

Then he suggests that the image could in fact be considered homophobic.  By depicting Pense (THANK YOU SIRI!) and Trump engaged in (enjoying? We can’t tell because there are no faces!) oral sex, and by default Sense (REALLY SIRI?) and Trump’s image in this way is actually being homophobic.  Subtle, subconscious homophobia.

Thanks Dan.  Love you lots.  Really.  For real.

He also brought up the fact that we in Queer Culture might not be as shocked by these images because we’re subject to them in advertising and pop culture a lot more than heterosexual culture.  Reaction one, good point.  Reaction two, but there’s no definitive action shown.  It’s implied.  In the same way that the protest Pense (SIRI!  What’s going on here!?) made was implied before it was tweeted.

Point one:  An action that goes noticed because attention is brought to it is suspect of being spontaneous.  That’s a general rule that applies across the board.

He also brought up the important point that I could, COULD technically say that my actions online will have ZERO impact on how people think of me, and that my actions in the real non digital world will be how people judge me.  Case in point, growing vegetables for seniors who can’t get them, running a meditation workshop for the queer community, being available to queers for spiritual direction, volunteering for…you get the idea! (Remember point one?)

Point two:  An action that goes noticed by the people it is intended for is of more value than one that is staged for the actor’s own good, or the actor’s patron’s good.

Case in point the tweet that subsequently went out after the fact by HRH Trump. (Siri why are you not giving me clever suggestions for Trump?)

But in the end, he came up with what I thought was actually the classiest response possible, the one I concluded the thread with.  Which brings me to point number three:

Point three:  Given a choice between clicking a button that will make the problem go away, and clicking a series of buttons that takes time to make a point, people will always make the choice which takes more effort.

Why don’t people do this generally at work?  You know how productive people would be if they put the effort into writing a response that they should be doing putting into their jobs?  Which brings me to capitalism and the misdefinition of the mixed economy and we’re not going there today.

Yes, the image may have been seen by individuals in my feed who were minors, or individuals of a more delicate nature.  Individuals who are activists, who witness hunger and suffering all over the world on a regular basis because people in suites….I’m digressing.  This is about satire and it’s place in our culture.

Sure, there are images that we find offensive and we may have justifiable reasons for this.  We may be offended by the fact that a teen in a high school in the US refuses to say the pledge of allegiance and as a result was expelled, then again allowed to rejoin her classmates.  We may be offended by the fact that in a world of carbon-producing engines people feel the need to continue to drive big trucks that never haul a single thing because of the cool factor, regardless of climate damage.  We may be offended by people speaking about socialism and the costs involved in public services, or we may be offended by the 1% model of capitalism without even understanding the concept of a mixed-economy and how capitalism has never been tried by any modern society; we may be offended by the idea that two men can get married, or that a woman has a right to an abortion.  But what happens when we censor freedom of speech?  What happens when we decide that you have the right to an opinion provided the way you express that opinion doesn’t offend anyone?  Uniforms?  It’s not an easy discussion to have, but avoiding the discussion won’t make the problem go away.  I think the social dialogue that needs to happen isn’t so much about language as it is about dialogue, discussing the roots of offences, why people are offended and offending, and more importantly:  why people would rather hold on to the offences than move towards a resolution?

We’re comfortable being offended.  Our society is set up to be comfortable.  Saint Francis challenged this model of behaving when he took active choices to face, embrace, and move past the victim perpetrator model.  He did this when, after being confronted with a bigger in his father’s shop that was turned away, he chose to go after and give alms.  He made the choice when he stepped off his horse, crossed the road and embraced the leper.  He made the choice when he gave up his life, took on the robes of a beggar, and became a friar.  These are the challenges I deal with regularly.  I choose to be socially challenging, to cross the road and embrace the leper as a way of embracing my own leprosy.  But in doing so, I need to remember that if at any time I take value in being a leprosy I will be finding myself back on that horse on the other side of the road.

As a gay man, I’m confronted with satire every day.  Its not as bad for a lot of people because I’m not black, I’m not aboriginal.  I’m a middle age white man that nobody notices when they say “fag” in the context of a conversation, or talk about how “gay” something is.  I’m ignored when people talk about how disgusting “those people” are for taking a knee, because in most minds I’m one of the crowd.  I’m not a part of the group that is oppressed.  But in the same vein, I’m also the person who hears the comments about religious people and how they have their heads up their asses.  How faith and queerness are somehow at odds.  When you aren’t noticed, it’s very easy for people to assume you’re not effected when in fact you are.

The Trump presidency does effect me.  It effects the part of my family that is Trans.  It effects potentially the parts of my family that want to get married, or express rights as individuals in courts of law.  It effects me as a traveler, who right now feels afraid about traveling in the United States unless I’m going to California or New York.  It effects me because as someone who lives in a province where Trump is as a rule supported, and Trump-isms are becoming the norm for conservatives both nationally and locally, I have to wonder if my rights are about to go under the knife.  I have to wonder if one day I will have to fight again for the right to marry my boyfriend, or adopt children, because that image might be too uncomfortable for someone.

It’s about taking on the opposing view, even for a moment, or for a while, to see if you can understand why that view may have value.

As a Franciscan, and as a Catholic, I have to face satire every day that I wake up, every day that I pray the Office, or going to Mass. And it may not be what you’re inclined to believe it is.  It is a satirical comment that was attached to a cross, a comment made to stir up a response from those who saw it, those who needed to bend their perspectives and consider what they have done, what they believed to be orthodox.  It is a statement I as a practicing Catholic have to contend with every day of my life, a statement that reminds me that truth transcends satire, transcends imagery and ideas and rests inside our souls.

INRI

Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum

Jesus of Nazarus, King of the Jews.

Social justice shouldn’t be about removing the images that are offensive.  Social justice needs to be about embracing them, confronting them, and resolving in our own souls what it is that is at the bottom of our offence.  At the end of the day I want to embrace the process of reconciliation and the action of being in reconciliation, rather than owning, embracing, and spinning my wheels in offence.  (Siri did type offence as offal.  Well played, Siri.  Well played.)

When does satire cross the line?

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