Satire in a culture of political correctness is a delicate issue. Just what is and is not satirical? What if satire causes offense? In addressing these questions it is worth recalling that satire as a form of humour is, of course, part of the human condition. Satire goes a very long way back in human history.
The Roman playwright, Titus Maccius Plautus, known as Plautus, grew very rich writing and producing plays that lampooned Roman society, notably Patrician high society. The plots of his comedies typically revolve around a Patrician Roman family with a doddering old patriarch, his nagging wife, rebellious son and the clever slave who continually gets the better of him. The testament to Plautus and his brand of satire is summed up nicely in his epitaph which reads:
Since Plautus is dead, Comedy mourns,
Deserted is the stage; then Laughter, Jest and Wit,
And Melody’s countless numbers all together wept.
However offended Patrician Romans may have been by Plautine comedy, several Plautine comedies survived the are still read and produced in the present. In fact, Stephen Sondheim’s musical “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” is based on Plautine comedy. Our ancestors appreciated satire, recognizing it for what it is: laughter, jest and wit.
In July, 2013, Men’s Rights Edmonton–a men’s rights activist group–generated controversy when they produced posters with the caption “Don’t Be That Girl” as a parody of the “Don’t be That Guy” advertising campaign. The “Don’t be That Guy” campaign addresses the issues of women’s alcohol consumption and how the men dating them obtain their consent to sex. The “Don’t be That Girl” posters lampoon the message that it is men who are solely responsible in such situations, whereas women who drink are not accountable for their actions. Lise Gotell, chair of the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Alberta reacted angrily, stating: “These posters, I think, are quite troubling … What’s been done to transform an anti-sexual-assault campaign into a rape-apologist campaign is just deeply offensive.”
The “Don’t be That Girl” posters are controversial, but as Judy Rebick (Canada’s wealthiest Marxist-feminist) asserted, “Canada has a long history of satire–sometimes very biting satire.” Those who condemn the “Don’t be That Girl” posters would do well to remember this, see it for what it is, satire, and take it in stride.