A tragic note: Satire is no laughing matter


March 24, 2002|By Arthur Hirsch

From: Lionel C. Swift, President,

Association of American Satirists

To: The membership

Re: Our obsolescence

March 22, 2002

My dear fellow satirists:

It is with difficulty and only after many hours of deliberation that I write to inform you that the board of directors and I have decided to cease organizational operations immediately. Recent events bring us to the inescapable conclusion that America no longer needs satire. The news is more than enough. Any attempts to lampoon by exaggeration would force us to rename the organization the Association of American Redundancy.

Mind you, we have not taken this decision lightly. It comes only after months of agonizing deliberation, many lengthy meetings and heated debate.

The last straw came this month. Not only did Paula Jones fight Tonya Harding on Fox's Celebrity Boxing, but the story made the cover of the New York Times' arts section. The details, I believe, only affirm us in this sad conclusion we have reached. Celebrity Boxing also featured Danny Bonaduce of The Partridge Family in a bout against Barry Williams of The Brady Bunch.

Things were looking grim enough two years ago, when Leonardo DiCaprio was hired by ABC to interview President Bill Clinton about environmental policy. We all pulled together, though, and weathered that difficult time. Then Geraldo Rivera was hired by Fox News to cover the war in Afghanistan.

That's where things began taking this difficult turn. The drumbeat of trying events continued.

Washington, D.C. , for example, recently issued a boxing license to Mike Tyson. Tyson has behaved so abominably that his license request was rejected in January by the state of Nevada, which is a bit like Jeffrey Dahmer taking offense at your table manners.

The Tyson episode came at a particularly difficult time for your AAS board of directors, as we were still reeling from the Islamic scholarship story. Perhaps you spotted this item and found yourself powerless to respond in a generally satiric fashion. Earlier this month the Times reported on a scholar's conclusion that the passage in the Quran specifying rewards for holy war martyrs has apparently been misinterpreted all these years. Turns out it's not actually "virgins" awaiting martyrs in the next life, but "white raisins."

Imagine our dismay.

Even in light of Tom Lehrer's observation that political satire died in 1973, when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, this "raisins and virgins" situation seemed to deepen our troubles. Some of us attempted to improvise on dried fruit, to no avail.

"Prunes," one of our board members kept saying, valiantly. "Prunes are funny ... "

Clearly, the story itself could not be topped.

Neither could the column item that appeared a few weeks ago in the Washington Post, reporting that George W. Bush, leader of the free world, was spotted at Ford's Theatre waving to a performer on stage at a presidential gala. The performer was Stevie Wonder, who did not return the wave.

Yes, there has been a follow-up story disputing the original account of the Bush-Wonder encounter. We discussed this, but considered it a fragile reed on which to hang hope. Whether the commander-in-chief, who has access to nuclear weapons, actually waved "hello" to a blind man appears secondary to the prevailing trend. Clearly, the cultural functions of "reporter" and "satirist" have somehow merged. The New York Times, which, as you know, technically has no "funny papers," is putting us out of business.

As a result of our decision, we have suspended further planning for our fall convention, which was scheduled to revolve around the theme of "The Fifth Amendment and Postmodern Deniability," featuring as guest speaker former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling. Those who have already sent their reservation fees will receive a full refund. Membership dues will also be refunded on a pro-rated basis.

Trust that this decision was made with due and careful consideration.

Warmest regards,


P.S.: The AAS employment bulletin board will remain in operation for those seeking to apply their absurdist sensibility in new ways. Perhaps Arthur Andersen is hiring.

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