This piece in The Onion, “Heartbroken Chris Brown Always Thought Rihanna Was Woman He’d Beat To Death,” was brought to my attention by fellow Abortion Gangsters, many of whom are offended and some who were triggered and hurt by the language used. I take the position that this piece is brilliant.
The Onion has gone to a very dark place since Newtown, and I really appreciate it. They used to live in the ridiculous, the truly out there and funny and bizarre. I considered them occasionally satirical, but not satire. Following the Newtown shooting, it has appeared that the staff snapped. “Reality has become ridiculous, so we’ll just live here.” The Onion has gotten mean. This piece on Chris Brown is mean. The stuff they’re saying about the NRA is mean. Vicious even.
I love it.
They’re targeting the people with all the power who get away with claiming to be victims: of “society,” of “people,” of “opinion,” of “the media.” They’re targeting those with way too much power to be victims of any of those things who are allowed to lay claim to pity and sympathy. The target here is Chris Brown. His behavior, the way in which he’s been allowed to frame that behavior, to narrate that behavior. And it is dead on. It even reclaims the tone he himself uses to reclaim the narrative of what he’s done – which is beat a woman near to death and then go on TV and explain why that experience really helped him grow as a person. This is vicious, pointed satire in a way we don’t see anymore because people with power have been allowed to wallow in faux outrage and shock (ALL people with power) until true satire is no longer socially acceptable.
Here’s a definition of satire I find to be accurate and encompassing, via the all-knowing Wikipedia, with vital points highlighted:
Satire is a genre of literature, and sometimes graphic and performing arts, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement.Although satire is usually meant to be funny, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit as a weapon.
A common feature of satire is strong irony or sarcasm—”in satire, irony is militant”—but parody, burlesque,exaggeration, juxtaposition, comparison, analogy, and double entendre are all frequently used in satirical speech and writing. This “militant” irony or sarcasm often professes to approve of (or at least accept as natural) the very things the satirist wishes to attack.
I know everyone’s heard of it, but has everyone actually read A Modest Proposal? It’s mean, it’s pointed, it’s harsh and cruel and it is aimed SQUARELY at those with power. You could glance at it, especially at the time, and say that it was trivializing the problems the Irish and the poor were facing, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t about them.
That is the key to this. Satire is not about the people who suffer. As advocates and activists, when we talk about abuse, we start from the abused: what they need, what they deserve, how we can help. We then turn to the question of the abuser, always with the needs of the abused still in mind, even in that context. Art – and I argue here that satire is art, I argue even that this Onion article, in what it does, is art – does what we as activists and advocates cannot effectively. It goes for the jugular. It says, “I will destroy this so we can rebuild something better.” It is destructive, not constructive. By these means it makes our problems brutally, painfully clear.
As advocates and activists some of our work obscures the reality of abuse by necessity. The reality of abuse is that abusers have all the power. In this instance, Chris Brown, the abuser, has a power far beyond that of the ordinary abuser, but only in that it is amplified. As the abuser, he not only got to tell the story of what happened, he got to tell it on television, to millions. He was not only given back his career, he was given back his million-dollar-plus career. He is a public example and he has largely been a public example of how to beat someone and get away with it with community service.
We make problems about the people who suffer. Satire makes the problem about the people who cause the suffering.
Does this make it right? Does it make it good? No. But it is productive in the sense that it produces. This piece produces outrage, anger, a grim knowing smile – it produces feelings, something all of our millions of collective hours of work on behalf of survivors often fails to do. And without that production, our fight stands still. I honestly believe this is brilliant. I believe this short piece could do more work toward changing our society than a thousand shelter hours. Does “brilliant” mean “good” or “wonderful” or “gives me immense enjoyment”? No. It means none of those things. It only means it may change the whole conversation. Whether or not you think it’s worth it is up to you. That’s a value judgment the reader gets to make.