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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Alexis Petridis smoking his e-cigaretteHe might have a name that’s one letter + punctuation away from “Alexis Petri-dish”, but when it comes to hitting the nail on the head, the Guardian’s chief rock and pop critic is a veritable Mike Tyson (hey, I never said the nail was going to get nailed in)

“Lest one carp, Hilton has been quick to point out that singing is a vocation for which she is eminently skilled. “I know music,” she reassured the Sunday Times children’s section. “I hear it every single day.” While this obviously gives Hilton a massive advantage over those who have never heard any music and thus believe it to be a variety of cheese, there remains the nagging suspicion that this might not represent sufficient qualification for a career as a singer, in much the same way as knowing what a child is does not fully equip you for a career as a consultant paediatrician.”

“”Bounce,” he pants, “like your ass got the hiccups,” a phrase that somehow seems more redolent of flatulence than wild sexual abandon. (“I got the remedy,” he adds later, emerging from the bathroom brandishing the Wind-Eze.)”

“Alas, all attempts to normalise Jackson are derailed by the arrival of Breaking News, a mind-boggling bit of self-justification with a peculiar muffled vocal. “Am I crazy because I just eloped?” he demands imperiously, rather demanding the answer: no, mate, eloping had nothing to do with it – people started looking at you funny because you dangled your newborn baby over a balcony, had so much plastic surgery that your own mother said your nose “resembled a toothpick”, had your hairline tattooed on your face, and all the other frankly strange stuff.”

“On the one hand, there are the lyrics to Give It 2 U – “I’ve got a big dick for you,” he sings while patting his crotch, as if to clarify that said big dick isn’t sprouting out of his elbow…”

“He can’t even insult people properly. For all the controversy, Piggy Bank’s slurs are witless. He calls Fat Joe fat, which, given that he already calls himself fat, seems unlikely to sting the very core of his being.”

“He is also big on lyrics that convey something other than what he means. “I feel a cold flush going through my hair,” he sings on Let the Sun Shine, which makes it sound like persons unknown have stuck his head down a lavatory and pulled the chain. “Hey you know what, I don’t care,” he adds, defiant in the face of
a bogwashing.”

Wilson has sounded croaky since the mid-1970s, but here he also sounds slurred and halting, as if his efforts are being hampered by an ill-fitting set of dentures and a faulty autocue. More disturbing is his emotional tone. Anyone who has noted that Wilson’s face now seems to arrange itself naturally into an expression of horrified bewilderment – suggesting he isn’t entirely sure what is going on, but is pretty certain he doesn’t like it – might be troubled to learn that on Gettin’ In Over My Head, he sings the way he looks.

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J0009L23This is the third volume of Kurodahan’s “Kaiki” series – eerie supernatural stories from Japan, translated into English for the first time. The first one dealt with old Edo, the second dealt with the countryside, this one deals with city life.

City-themed horror tales will probably always be with us. Humans evolved in troupes of around 50, and many of us still feel a fundamental “wrongness” about cities that no amount of indoor plumbing will shake. Some people feel that they’re not fitting in, that they’re alienated and alone. Others feel that they’re fitting in too well – losing their identity, and becoming another bee in the hive. Uncanny Tales 3 has takes on both these themes, and many more.

There’s a lot of good things here, but three stories stand out as more than good. The first is “The Face”, by Tanizaki’s Jun’ichiro. A story within a story, it’s deep and metafictional, but also disturbing and grotesque. A bizarre art film is being released, but the lead actress cannot recall having starred in it. It features her opposite an extremely deformed man with a cancerous second face, a face that couldn’t possibly have been added in with special effects. The story is intense and pacey, and although it was written in 1918, doesn’t seem at all dated or old in its treatment of the new technology of film and permanent recordings, and what it could mean if they don’t seem to match up to reality.

“Doctor Mera’s Mysterious Crimes” finds Edogawa Ranpo behind the helm of a powerful detective/urban horror hybrid story about a doctor who kills without leaving a trace of his presence behind. Virtually nobody writes psychological scares, like Ranpo, and this is him at his best, or close to it. The story grows ridiculous, but Ranpo’s mastery of mood and tension makes it a flavour of ridiculous we can swallow.

Yamakawa Masao’s “The Talisman” comes from 1960, as the Golden Sixties were just beginning. This story tackles the darker side of that period, namely the idea that the rising yen wasn’t lifting Japan’s people along with it, and that Japan had little use for human beings beyond their services to business and industry. The story involves a man returning home, and discovering that another man is already there, and is living his life. The story contains some more complications beyond that (some of them necessary, some of them not), but the crux of the tale is disturbing: is it possible for a man to be completely interchangeable, so that he can be replaced by another without anyone noticing the difference?

Higashi Masao provides an introduction, explaining the role and importance of “Kaiki” tales, as well as what makes Japan’s take on creepy stories unique. Basically, being Japanese is to have unease in your bones from cradle to grave – the island chain is under permanent threat from fire, from water, from earthquakes, et cetera. It might be easy to feel that this lifestyle is transient and short-lived, and maybe so, but the Japanese experience can be written down in books, which last forever. If we want them to.

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