Monty Python and the meaning of satire

It may be hard to believe, but what you are about to read contains not a single fluid ounce of satire. No, I’m not kidding. Trust me: When I choose to kid, you’ll know it.

Or will you? That, apparently, is the problem with choosing to write satire. One of my first truly satirical (and not merely sarcastic) articles at A Voice for Men carried enough of a punch that apparently a few commenters briefly thought I was serious. A good rule of thumb, if you’re the sort that unknowingly encounters satire from time to time, and you find yourself reading the words of a grown man known for writing about men’s issues who starts to take pot shots at women and girls, suggesting that one be violent with them; is to first reason with yourself that the man in question is not intending to be taken seriously.

I was proud of one commenter on my last article who actually thought, for a short while, that the article to which I linked was being satirical in its attempted take-down of the men’s movement. That’s a commenter who displays the modicum of intelligence that I am certain is requisite to understanding what A Voice for Men is all about. Surely the healthy and handsome young Australian man who interviewed me and several other men would not be so willingly blind as to think that the men’s movement, like feminism, is nothing more than a grievance industry.

Sadly, that was not the case. Ironically, the satire of which he spoke in one of his questions to me, written by one Paul Elam especially for the benefit of men like him, escaped his otherwise intelligent mind. Amazingly, the same can be said of many people who comment at this website.

One of the recent pieces written for A Voice for Men by August Løvenskiolds suffered the same misunderstanding. Several commenters questioned the validity of a man getting upset about butter questions at Wal-Mart. As I am often content to sit on the sidelines and amuse myself from time to time with observing human nature, I remain unconcerned with any fallout that some of our more intelligent adversaries might glean from reading, in the same austere fashion, the complaints of people who don’t understand satire, or who are afraid that such writing will be misinterpreted by too many who have yet to be taken in by the radical notions upon which much of this movement is based.

And now for something completely different:

You may be asking yourself why I would interrupt a non-satirical piece with a silly sketch. I do it for two reasons, neither of which has to do with speaking in a silly, high-pitched whine. Firstly is to confess that it took me years to understand the satire inherent in the sketch and in Monty Python’s humor in general, because I was too busy laughing until I cried. Secondly is to spoil the good fun by taking the comedy apart, therefore explaining the critical importance of critical thinking.

You have the essentials of satire quite clearly laid out in the sketch: You are watching a television program that features commentary on social and political issues, ostensibly for your intellectual benefit. You have one guest who is a representative of the government, and one that takes the opposing view.

The mediator-host thanks both for being on the show and begins by talking to the government official. It is plain from the way he gushes over the minister’s magnificent attire that looks and fashion are apparently just as important as the subject at hand, which is government funding of a basic civilizational need: housing.

From there – since the small patch of brown liquid, the only voice allowed to speak against the government, appears to have nothing to say – it can be safely assumed that any hope of an actual debate that calls into question what the government is doing has now evaporated. The minister can say whatever he wants, in whatever way he chooses, because the pretense of a debate is all that is needed. This is the meaning of the satire.

How observant of television commentary was this silly sketch? Turn on Fox News or CNN. Look at the female hosts. Look at the primping and high fashion. Listen to the male hosts in Italian suits. Marvel at their straight, white teeth. Notice anything missing?

Count on your fingers, because I’m sure it would be possible to calculate without having to remove your shoes, the number of guests on these programs who speak against the government. Oh, against the Democrats (Fox) or Republicans (CNN), sure. However, any voice that is truly contrary to the status quo may as well be a small patch of brown liquid, which could be creosote or some extract used in industrial varnishing. Good evening.

The funniest thing about such satire is that, when in the throes of the pain such satire tries to point out, the individual who encounters it can see that it’s not funny at all. Don’t believe me? Watch Dave Chappelle joke about male-on-male rape:

On the surface, you have a popular stand-up comic using, for shits and giggles, the trauma of men who were victimized at the hands of another man. Underneath, you have an actor who, when once in the midst of telling jokes about people with dark brown skin, noticed that whitey was laughing too hard. He then left a 50 million dollar deal with Comedy Central to convert to Islam.

As should be plain to anyone who understands the importance of satire to comedy, the above video now seems quite different. It should be obvious from the opening line: “I’m one of those people that’s so smart that I’m uncomfortable in this world.” He ends with the truth: A man would rather tell his wife that he was committing adultery with another woman than admit that another man penetrated the most physically and psychologically vulnerable area of his body with his penis, rendering him a faggot, and taking from him his conception of his own masculine identity.

In summation, and in keeping with what at least one commenter on YouTube pointed out, Chappelle made the audience the satire. They laughed and laughed, and probably learned very little. Now in Chappelle’s mind, whitey can laugh all he wants. The joke’s on him.

Monty Python did much the same thing and continues to do so. In an interview where John Cleese, one of the troupe’s founding members, discusses the importance and beauty of comedic satire, he mentions in passing his regret over getting married to a nasty American woman who took him to court after a 16-year marriage that stripped him of his fortune, one that he had spent decades building by entertaining millions.

To make ends meet for his ex-wife and to keep himself alive, he went on what he actually called “The Alimony Tour.” Ha, ha, I have to pay the bitch, so please show up and laugh at my jokes. Robin Williams would have had to do the same thing. Kudos to Cleese for having the emotional strength to pull through. So far.

This is par for the course with Cleese, who did everything but kick Graham Chapman’s coffin at his memorial service. He insisted on laughter. What the attendees probably didn’t know was that Cleese had to be escorted from the hospital room when Graham, his former writing partner and fellow Python, passed away. We laugh lest we cry.

I am convinced that the only reason anyone would read something at A Voice for Men that sounds hateful towards women or seems to call for violent action, then sound the siren of warning that the writer has gone too far, or that the words could too easily be taken out of context; is because there is still a little of the visceral feeling that men are too quick to be hateful and violent. This is not surprising, given the huge number of people out there that still believe in the necessity of what Thomas Paine called “a necessary evil.”

You have to ask yourself what your reflexive emotional and sometimes physical reactions are the minute a man raises his voice, compared to when a woman raises hers. Is it not likely that fear is a more influential factor? What if he does something? Men, not women, are expected to be the biggest doers in society. What if something with the doing goes wrong when the man gets mad? What if he’s mad because he’s filled with hate? Should this be reported as a hate crime?

I take as one of my operating premises that the overwhelming majority of men and women do not mean me any harm, which is why I walk out my door every day. I hold to another operating premise that A Voice for Men is a website about compassion for men and boys. I embrace a third operating premise that such compassion is immediately salient and naturally extends to women and girls. Consequently, when I read something here that sounds disrespectful of women, I already know what’s going on: somebody’s joking. It happens every time.

This leads me to the logical conclusion that people who don’t get it don’t get much about the men’s movement, of which this website is a teeny tiny yet marvelous part. Satire shouldn’t have to be explained. When it is explained, like comedy, it falls apart and ceases to carry as much power as it should.

Cleese once complained that “The Ministry of Silly Walks” sketch was a personal disappointment because people missed the satire since they were too busy laughing at his lanky lower limbs flailing around. I was one of them. As I go my own way, I can assure you that I no longer wish to be in that crowd. They’ll never get it. La marche futile.

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