ATLANTA, GA—Fooling thousands of readers in a prank that the cable news organization said was “just for fun,” CNN published a real news story for April Fools’ Day this year. The story simply contained a list of facts, with no embellishment, editorializing, or invented details. The story also didn’t cite shaky “anonymous sources” and only quoted firsthand witnesses to the event. It was completely factual without any errors whatsoever. Baffled CNN fans immediately knew something was up.”I was reading this story, and I was like, ‘Wait, what is this?'” said one man in New York who relies on CNN for his fake news every morning. “They really got me good. Then I looked up at the calendar and I realized I’d been duped. A classic gag!” “Those little rascals!” he added, shaking his head and laughing goodnaturedly. “As long as they return to their regularly scheduled fake news tomorrow, we’re good. We’re good.”
Since I led with the Babylon Bee, you should know it’s a satirical take. Normally, I wouldn’t try to define satire. Like pornography, as justice Rehnquist once said, “I can’t define it but I know it when I see it.” Only someone who is as politically incorrect as me would would ask such a leading question: How does he know it? Easier to answer for a man than a woman. Pornography stimulates something that you don’t want stimulated in polite company. Satire also stimulates something: you laugh, chuckle, guffaw….Why am I trying to define satire? This morning, I not only got a laugh out of the Babylon Bee headlines, but read headlines from the New Yorker that said “Trump Considering Pulling U.S. Out of Constitution.” It goes on,
“I’ve seen a lot of bad deals in my life, but this Constitution is a total mess,” he said. “We need to tear it up and start over.” Trump was scathing in his remarks about the two-hundred-and-twenty-nine-year-old document, singling out for special scorn its insistence on three branches of government. “The branches thing is maybe the worst part of this deal,” he said. “The first thing we do when we pull out of the Constitution is get rid of two of those branches.”
Okay, this was resurrected from an archived article for April 1. It did not stimulate a laugh, chuckle, guffaw, or any other manifestation of satire. I had to ask myself, why not? I want to give you my most memorable experience of the difference between real satire and a lame attempt at satire. Back in the day when Saturday Night Live was actually live, they followed Monty Python’s Flying Circus on the TV station I was watching in Tucson, Arizona. One night, the Pythons did my absolutely favorite sketch of all time, If Sam Peckinpah Directed Salad Days. If you have never seen it, go to YouTube and find it. My housemates and I laughed so hard and long we literally got helpless. SNL used to copy some Python sketches, so we were looking forward to seeing what they did with Peckinpah. They did a sketch called If Sam Peckinpah Directed Tony Orlando And Dawn. Original, what. Their version literally was sickening. We turned it off because it evoked only disgust.
What was the difference? In the Python sketch, people were being bloodied by completely innocuous objects, like tennis balls and racquets, piano keyboards and other things that wouldn’t cause injuries. That’s what made it funny, someone stumbling around with a piano keyboard through his gut, spouting blood like a garden hose. In the SNL sketch, the blood was caused by sticking knitting needles in the eyes. Instead of absurdity, we got mayhem. Not funny. Absurdity is an integral part of satire. But the absurdity is driven by the actual, just taking it so far that you don’t need to be told it’s satire. In the Python sketch, the actual was the way Peckinpah zoomed in on the blood, but they went so far beyond—piano keyboards and tennis balls killing rather than guns, as in his films—that it became, well hilarious. To us, anyhow. The Babylon Bee headline and text was driven by the actual. CNN doesn’t report straight news, they opine and perform, and the BB took it beyond and made it absurd. CNN would never admit to what they do.
The New Yorker, like CNN, is driven by their political agenda, and they love to bash Trump, which is fine. They also promote Democrats, including supporting the Democrats’ attempts to undermine various constitutional amendments. That’s their actual. Trump, for all his faults, loves this country (isn’t his slogan MAGA?), and replacing or trashing the constitution would never be his actual. What the magazine is doing is taking their own actual, then ascribing it to someone they hate. That’s not satire. They weren’t taking the actual to absurd lengths, they were promoting their political agenda….as usual.