The Role of Satire, Snark and Sarcasm in Building Community

The Role of Satire, Snark and Sarcasm in Building Community August 22, 2012

Photo by ganesha.isis on Flickr

Short answer: there is none.

I recently stumbled upon a Les Miserables inspired video parody  in support of a Barack Obama’s second term. I have obvously shared my support of President Obama in the past, but a lesser-known thing about me is that I loves me some Broadway Musicals: In the Heights, Rent, The Book of Morman and Les Miserables being some of my favorites. President Obama AND Jean Valjean together, yes sir, may I have some more. So not only did I click on over and watch it, but soon found out that I am one-degree of separation from one of the performers.

Anyhoo, here is a sample from One Term More, a video parody of One Day More from Les Miserables

One Term More!

With laws that let ’em stand their ground,
Republicans are locked & loaded.

Contraception’s now a sin,
Screwing G.M. in the clutch.
Incivility’s a virtue,
Homophobic. Out of touch.
Filibusters. Budget scrums.
Ultrasounds & speculums.
To the Dark Side they’ve succumbed.

After I watched One Term More, even though I thought the lyrics were witty, the satire right on and I generally supported the politics behind the creation of it, I was left with more than a little discomfort. It was the same kind of discomfort that I get when friends of mine in the religious community post pictures, quotes and updates that – to those with whom we find agreement – may be powerful, prophetic and or giggle-inducing, do little to build up community across the chasms of theology, ideology or politics.

Yeah, I know the smart-ass photo captions are funny and I’m a Debbie Downer.

Now before anyone accuses me of dismissing the power of satire on culture, I do not disagree. Thoughtful satire, witty snark and timely sarcasm can be powerful forces, but it seems that in today’s uber-connected and politically charged climate these tactics serve mostly to galvanizing communities already in agreement in order to be a force against the enemy and they do very little to help build bridges of reconciliation, relationships and commonality. I am willing to be pushed on this, but I simply do not believe bridges are built with snark, satire and sarcasm and I would bet that most satirist are not really interested in reconciliation with those whom they are satirizing.

But it feels so good and makes me happy . . . cue Sheryl Crow.

In no way am I above this, as I too have leaned on what I think is funny in order to take a swipe at someone with whom I disagree. It can be cathartic and, truthfully, when you hit a snark-homer, it feels awesome . . . and when friends retweet, share, comment, etc affirming said awesomeness, all the better. But here is where I experience the tention: as a person of faith, a pastor, one who is committed to the building up of community, I am held to a different standard than the rest of the world. I can be all up in the political battles, but I can choose to engage with a different posture and see the landscape through a different lens. Sure, I want to “win the day” but more importantly, I want human relationships, all human relationships, not just my ideological kindred, to be built up and not further torn apart.

I am not calling on a widespread boycott of all the ironic images with witty political quips ripping the politics of the other party, but I would say that if you choose to post them while also calling for people to reach over and beyond aisles of disagreement, that second part will be harder to believe. Some of you out there have no interest in building bridges and will have a legitimate case for calling me out on the privilege that I have to urge bridge-building, but I stand firm in by belief that those of us in the church can and must model a different way of  living in conflict and disagreement with one another.

This is not a call to weakness, but to graciousness. We can speak truth to power without tearing one another down, we can challenge the beliefs of another without resorting to violent rhetoric and we can stand for human dignity without stripping human dignity from those who may not stand along side of us. Jesus did it all the time, others have done it since then and I refuse to believe that we cannot do it still.

So . . . while I do get a chuckle out of some of what you all post and the serious creativity that politics can inspire, when it comes to choosing how to engage during this political season, I’m going to try my darnedest to muzzle my smart-ass awesomeness in exchange for words of hope-filled idealism.

If you’re up for it, you’re welcome to join me.

And for your viewing and listening pleasure, here is the real One Day More, the 10th Anniversary performance.

Or if you are a Nick Jonas fan, here’s his version and the movie trailer is here.

Browse Our Archives

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment

4 responses to “The Role of Satire, Snark and Sarcasm in Building Community”

  1. Excellent post. I’m not sure I don’t think the opposite on this particular point, though– these things may be okay when looking outward at public figures, but when directed at people with whom we have real relationships, they can do real harm. It may sometimes seem to be a ‘tease’ but can actually be a roundabout way of taking a swipe at someone and then having the chance to disown it by saying “Hey, can’t you take a joke?” But even with public figures or pop culture, it seems to me that it is all too easy for snark to become habitual. That can’t be good for the snarker’s own emotional and spiritual health, let alone the people around them…..

  2. No, it’s not what people want, Bruce. (And thank you for this post.) It’s much easier to live an “Us” and “Them” life. Much more satisfying to be able to point the finger, to call down condemnation.

    Just. like. we. say. “they”. do.

    Maybe there is no “us” and “them” after all. No one wants to hear that, though. If we can’t compare ourselves to someone else, we can’t feel good about ourselves, can we? We have to acknowledge our own failure to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

  3. Yep. I guess when people are in relationship and we are not taking ourselves too seriously, these thing might be okay, kind of like “inside the family” teasing. but when there is no relationship or commitment to the welfare of the other, these are rarely helpful to building that commitment. Then again, not sure that is what many people REALLY want.

  4. I actually had that parody video sent to me yesterday…and I found it ironic that it does the very thing it denounces in creating a “them” so “we” can deride their humanity as well as their insane views. While I stand on the same side of the issues as the video-makers, and while I know that parody depends on that sharp edge, I was unhappy the entire time I was watching it. I hope we don’t let our political discourse descend any further, or we’re going to have an even harder time being a community than we’ve already had.