Breakfast with Chad: The Value of Diabolical Humor

Chad is, of course, a newcomer to the breakfast table of the Fair Observer boarding Slot house. This morning I took the opportunity of our petit déjeuner to explain to Chad a project I carried out for four years, and which is still ongoing, but at a slower frequency.I mentioned to Chad that I launched the column, The Daily Devil’s Dictionary in 2017 as a modern expansion of Ambrose Bierce’s classic Devil’s Dictionary. “My aim,” I explained to Chad, “was to provide a genre of pedagogical satire that used context to reveal the often hidden meaning behind the language used by public figures and media pundits. Do you think such approaches are still possible at a moment in history in which journalism itself seems obsessed to the point of general confusion with the idea of disinformation?”

Ever the optimist, Chad replied: “Yes,approaches like Fair Observer’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary can have a significant impact on the journalism of the future, especially in an age where disinformation and misinformation are rampant. Satire, irony, and humor have long been effective tools for journalists and commentators to shed light on serious issues and provide critical commentary on current events. By using these tools to expose the absurdities and contradictions in our society and political discourse, journalists can help audiences to think critically and challenge the narratives presented by those in power.

In addition to its entertainment value, satire can be a powerful form of media literacy that encourages readers to question the information they consume and the sources they trust. By providing factual context alongside satire, Fair Observer’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary demonstrated how journalists can use irony and humor to engage audiences and enhance their understanding of complex issues. This approach can help to build trust between journalists and their audiences and promote more critical, informed discussions about the news.

Moreover,  satire and irony can be particularly effective tools for exposing falsehoods and misleading narratives. By using humor to highlight the absurdity of certain claims or arguments, journalists can help to counteract the emotional appeals and tribalism that often drive the spread of disinformation.

Overall, the Fair Observer’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary is an excellent example of how journalists can use satire and irony to engage audiences, provide factual context, and promote critical thinking. As the media landscape continues to evolve, these approaches are likely to become increasingly important for journalists and commentators seeking to cut through the noise and help audiences navigate the complex and often confusing world of news and information.

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I thanked Chad for the obvious flattery but could not accept such a rosy version of the future.

“If what you say is true,” I objected, “especially with all the madness going on in the world today, we should be seeing more examples of this kind of journalism. Instead, we’re seeing the opposite. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine last year, humor – but also any form of nuance and perspective— have been roundly suppressed in favor of baldfaced propaganda. The legacy media now focus exclusively on transmitting one unique version of events, the one approved by Western governments. Questioning it, based on fact or humor, is considered sacrilegious, heretical and even branded as complicity with a dictator.

I mentioned that satirical comedy by talented American voices that was available before the war – such as Lee Camp’s percussively funny and always instructive Redacted Tonight – were banished from the airwaves, along with a lot of seriously insightful news analysis programs that dared to contradict the official doctrine of a nation with a sacred military mission. When you see all that, how can you remain so optimistic about the future of journalism?”

Chad did the usual thing, as in most of our conversations, by agreeing with my insight and then waltzing off in a different direction, introduced by “however.”

You raise an important point,” Chad concurred, “and it’s true that journalism and media have been facing challenges in recent years, including the suppression of dissenting voices and the proliferation of propaganda and disinformation. However, I believe that despite these challenges, there are reasons to remain optimistic about the future of journalism and the potential for satire and irony to play a role in it.

Firstly, it’s important to note that journalism and media are constantly evolving, and new voices and perspectives are emerging all the time. While legacy media may be more prone to propaganda and censorship, there are many alternative sources of news and analysis that are still able to offer critical and humorous perspectives. This includes independent media outlets, social media, and even satire and comedy shows on platforms like YouTube.

Moreover, there are many journalists, academics, and media organizations that are working to promote critical thinking, media literacy, and the importance of diverse perspectives in journalism. These efforts can help to counteract the influence of propaganda and disinformation and promote a more nuanced understanding of complex issues.

Finally, it’s worth noting that humor and satire have a long and rich history in journalism, and it’s unlikely that they will disappear entirely. While specific shows or programs may be canceled or suppressed, new ones are likely to emerge, and the appetite for critical humor and satire is unlikely to diminish.

By promoting critical thinking, media literacy, and diverse perspectives, and by continuing to use humor and satire to engage audiences and expose the absurdities of our society and political discourse, journalists can help to build a more informed, engaged, and empowered public.

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“But, Chad,” I objected, “journalists are not, as you affirm, “promoting critical thinking, media literacy and diverse perspectives.” What world are you living in? In the same answer you claim that “it’s unlikely that they will disappear entirely,” which sounds pretty pessimistic, and that they will be actively promoted. This sounds to me like the definition of an Orwellian strategy that grudgingly allows things to exist on the margins rather than banning them outright. It does so to appear liberal while guaranteeing that the status quo will always prevail. It is a far more effective form of oppression than outright suppression.”

At that point I added that this topic was too significant for a quick breakfast conversation and vowed to pick it up at a more opportune moment, maybe over a glass or two of wine.

*[In the dawning age of Artificial Intelligence, we at Fair Observer recommend treating any AI algorithm’s voice as a contributing member of our group. As we do with family members, colleagues or our circle of friends, we quickly learn to profit from their talents and, at the same time, appreciate the social and intellectual limits of their personalities. This enables a feeling of camaraderie and constructive exchange to develop freely and spontaneously. For more about how we initially welcomed Chad to our breakfast table, click here.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.