Hi, I’m Matt Javidi. You may remember me from such Gaucho Marks articles as “Queer Spanish Teacher Forces Students To Conjugate Preferred Gender Pronouns” and “Deltopia Sexual Assault Victims Tacitly Agree Now’s Not The Best Time To Mention It.” If not, look them up. I’m sure many of you will experience the same reflexive outrage that readers felt when Gaucho Marks, the humor/satire magazine I founded in my second year, first published them. You were also probably offended by a satirical “Nexustentialism” piece in the Daily Nexus that joked about the Islamic State terrorist group establishing a caliphate in FT. Don’t bother looking that one up, because the editors of the Daily Nexus removed it from the website after what appears to have been a fairly negative Internet reaction.
This reminds me of an incident a few years back involving the greatest inspiration to both Gaucho Marks and the Nexustentialism section. At the 2013 Academy Awards, the Onion, a Pulitzer-deserving bastion of news satire, live-tweeted the red carpet news coverage of the ceremony. After a close up of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” star and nominee Quvenzhane Wallis, the Onion tweeted, “That Quvenzhane Wallis is kind of a cunt, right?” That tweet caused an enormous backlash on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, Reddit and probably made for a pretty good icebreaker on Tinder. The outrage reached such a pitch that, for the first time in its 20-year history, the Onion apologized for one of its remarks. A publication that frequently receives threats and cease-and-desist letters for its caustic, satirical content finally caved under the pressure of the online commentariat.
As an avid fan of the Onion, I was appalled and ashamed. These were the same people that published articles like “School Bully Not So Tough After Being Molested” and “Autistic Child Ruins Marriage He Was Born To Save.” Besides, anybody who really thought about the tweet would have gotten the joke; people are so quick to express hatred towards celebrities merely for the attention they get, so what if those same feelings were directed at a nine-year-old girl? Satire’s core purpose is to expose an issue by caricaturizing it, and the idea that somebody would call a little girl a cunt the same way they’d call Gwyneth Paltrow a cunt is ludicrous. If anything, the Internet’s reaction to the article was proof of its efficacy. But instead of reflecting upon the way they react to celebrity culture, as I’m sure was the tweet’s intent, the great digital hive swarmed to its battle stations and wagged a massive finger at the Onion for even suggesting that Ms. Wallis is a “c-word.”
Maybe I’m reading too much into it, and if I’m being honest with myself, the context doesn’t change the fact that the tweet was a pretty weak joke. But the Onion hurt itself by apologizing. Over the past 20 years, The Onion has created its own universe. In this universe, Joe Biden is a beer-swilling, hard-partying Lothario who washes muscle cars in the White House driveway, famous athletes behave like elementary school children and the Royal Baby is the spawn of Satan. The Onion’s apology for the Wallis tweet shattered that universe and reminded us that the Onion, just like every other media outlet, actually exists in a world that punishes weirdoes, hates clowns and feels entitled to the same cozy emotional treatment that babies get (why do you think our generation misses the 90s so much?). Reading that apology was like watching Charlie Chaplin clean up a mess he made in one of his many iconic slapstick scenes.
Anyway, 600 words into this op-ed and I still haven’t talked about the Nexustentialism piece. “ISIS Seizes FT, Establishes Gaucho Caliphate” is kind of offensive, sure. It’s offensive to a terrorist network that just happens to call itself “Islamic” despite expressing a perverted interpretation of the Quran. However, neither ISIS, nor its victims, are the subject of the joke. What’s funny about ISIS establishing a caliphate in FT is the sentiment that the infamous housing complex is a bacchanalian hell hole that would crumble under so-called Islamic rule (a secondary joke in the piece is that the I.V. Foot Patrol wouldn’t do anything about the caliphate). The only people who should be insulted by the article are ISIS, FT residents and the local police. ISIS will take care of the Nexus once it’s done dealing with the rest of the planet, FT residents probably won’t remember reading this long enough to hold a real grudge and the police can fuck themselves if they don’t like it; they’re the police. If you read the article without really thinking about the subtext, you would assume that it’s merely trivializing the Islamic State’s horrific actions for the sake of humor. However, the article is more effective (yes, Daily Nexus staff, I finally admitted that you know how to do this. Bake your own damn cookies) because it brings that horror to Isla Vista. It’s an example of what’s known as Juvenalian satire, or satire that caricaturizes the darkest aspects of humanity as a means of criticizing them and starting a conversation. The typing tantrum thrown by the Nexus readers clearly demonstrates that it worked.
“Now, wait a minute, Matt. I doubt the Daily Nexus consciously wrote that piece with social and political justice in mind. I’m pretty sure they just wanted to make an ISIS joke about UCSB and get clicks, much the same way you once used abortion, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and tons of other serious issues to do the same!” You may be right, disgruntled fake person. Let’s assume for a moment that you are. The Daily Nexus made a dumb, exploitative, offensive joke in its satire column. So what? It’s a satire column. It is, by nature, offensive. Furthermore, it’s more offensive to those who deserve ridicule than those who don’t. But rather than stick to their guns and remember the barrels in which their ink is bought, the Daily Nexus decided that being liked was better than being clever. And honestly, I understand that decision, especially in light of the budget cuts the paper has had to make. Would the article really have caused enough of a fuss that advertisers might threaten to close their accounts, as I’m sure they did for the Onion after the Wallis tweet? Or would the backlash have dissipated in days, as it always does, leaving both the Nexus and its easily-bruised readers exactly the same as before?
Retracting that piece hurts the Daily Nexus even more than apologizing for the Wallis tweet hurt the Onion. It shows that they don’t care about integrity, or intent or even comedy. They care about image. They care more about pandering to their readers than challenging them. It shows that they’re scared of dialogue, and therefore scared of satire. If that’s the case, they shouldn’t be producing it. When I briefly wrote for that same column, my editor imposed many restrictions on the content of my submissions, such as not using the President’s real name (“what about ‘Flobama’? That’s funny, right?”). Satire does not flourish with boundaries. You can’t just apply the same editorial standards to which your journalism adheres to a piece of comedy. It isn’t an easy form of writing, and doing it badly only makes the real news look worse. As Ron Swanson once said, “Don’t half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing.” The Princeton Review thought the Daily Nexus was pretty good without the satire column. I say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Now that I’ve shat upon the Daily Nexus enough, I’ll turn my attention to its pissed-off readers, and the pissed-off readers of Gaucho Marks, and the Onion and any other comic who’s fallen victim to the sonorous whine of the Internet. Do you have any idea how weak you look when you direct your anger at comedians? These are the people trying to make suffering palatable, to spread optimism and perspective into the darkest places, to make you laugh, damn it. When you take that away from them, and from the people who depend on them, you’re damaging the world in ways that ISIS only dreams of. If ISIS knew that Americans were afraid of joking about them, I promise you they’d laugh. They’re laughing now. They’re laughing while they behead and rape people because they know that we won’t do anything about it. We’re too scared. We’re too weak. And it’s your fault. You waste your time haranguing those of us who are trying to whittle away at terror, bit by bit, because you’re too cowardly to do it yourself, too powerless to make real change. Your causes, while just, suffer when you behave this way. Who wants to be championed by someone without the mettle to withstand a joke, especially a bad one? How do you expect to stop injustice when its mere caricature cuts you this deeply? The next time that you see or hear bad satire, ignore it. Or, even better, figure out how to improve upon it. Just don’t blow your next anger-gasm at comedians. They’re doing more for the world than you are.
Matt Javidi is a ‘14 UCSB alumnus and the former Editor of Gaucho Marks.