parrotWe’ve all seen it before. It’s like an Internet Walk of Shame. Someone posts a link to an outrageous, offensive article written by some group or organisation they hate, which they comprehensively refute/rebut/demolish in a self-satisfied, 3,000 word orgy of masturbation (excuse the oxymoron). At the end, they take a bow, clearly expecting to bask in customary Internet Applause (tap your fingers lightly on the keyboard).

Unfortunately, someone replies “isn’t that a satire site?” Further examination reveals that yes, it is a satire site. The original poster’s embarrassment becomes palpable. After some squirming, they invariably reply “well, it just goes to show how messed up [evil group] is! It’s impossible to tell satire from their real opinions!” Then the onlookers perform an awkward Internet Foot Shifting (you flip closed two of your keyboard’s legs along a diagonal axis, so that it flops awkwardly from one side to another), until someone gets up the courage to say “it’s not that, mate. You’re just terrible at detecting satire.”

People will cite Poe’s Law, which commonly means: “it is impossible to create a parody of extremism or fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing”. I prefer to think of it as meaning “I got tricked into thinking Landover Baptist was real, and I want to blame some group delusion instead of the fact that my mum raised a gullible little pissmaggot.”

With that said…is there an easy way to tell real opinions from satire, if you’re not sure? Is there a forensics kit you can apply to an ambiguous piece of writing?

I think so, but it’s hard. The key issue is that a lot of people want to be fooled by satire, they want to believe the worst about the group they hate. But here’s what I do:

1. Look for lots of adjectives, adverbs, and repetition. Satirists are venally afraid that you won’t understand the joke, or that you’ll fail to appreciate their wit. They won’t say “Obama’s policies…” they’ll say “Obama’s socialist marxist hitlerist policies…” They can never resist overegging the pudding.

2. Real opinions are self-consistent. Satire will contradict itself for a laugh. This is very important. It doesn’t matter if you think [evil group] are hypocrites, there has to be a kind of internal reality to what they believe. Satire reminds me of defense attorney Richard Hayne’s approach to building a case. “Say you sue me because you say my dog bit you. Well, now this is my defense: a) my dog doesn’t bite. b) my dog was tied up that night. c) I don’t have a dog.”

3. What’s the teleological point behind the writing? Dig deep, and use your reading comprehension. Ask “what’s reading this meant to make me feel?” Maybe the superficial point is that immigrants should be made to keep one limb within a detention center at all times. But what’s the real point? Are you supposed to laugh? Are you supposed to write to your elected politician? If you don’t understand, ask yourself this: why is Wile E Coyote never successful in catching the Road Runner? The superficial reason is that his inventions break and send him flying off a cliff. The deep reason is that he’s in the hands of writers who think it’s comical that he fails. Similarly, try to read between the lines.

Hopefully this was helpful enough for you to perform a customary Internet Head Nod (grab your monitor and sagely raise and lower it a few times.)

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