The art of reading satire

"A Modest Proposal," 1729

Because I have an overdeveloped sense of schadenfreude, I read Failbook. One of the trends on the site are posts that show people linking to articles from The Onion and treating them like they're actually true. (This happens with The Borowitz Report, too, but to a lesser extent.) I laughed as hard as anyone at the nimrods who react in shock and horror to The Onion*. After a while, it reminded me of how some of my fellow students reacted in our eighteenth century literature class when we read "A Modest Proposal," by Jonathan Swift. Even three hundred years later, they didn't realize Swift was kidding.

People don't know how to read satire.

Reading is supposed to be fun. I read "brain candy." But letting yourself sink into the text isn't always enough. Sometimes (often), you need to look deeper and start interacting with the text. What is the author telling me with this story? If you find yourself getting angry with what you're reading**, you may be reading a piece of satire and it's even more important that you look behind the curtain and find out what the purpose of the overall story is.

And, whatever you do, please remember that The Onion is always kidding.


* Retraction Watch recently reposted a story from Gawker about a science magazine that repeated an article from The Onion non-satirically.

On a side note, I'm a devoted follower of Retraction Watch. It's horror for librarians because it shares stories of fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, duplication, and all sort of academic shenanigans. I've been following it long enough that it's gotten a little hard to push students towards scholarly information because I've seen the inside of the sausage factory.

** Unless you're reading FOX News for some reason. In that case, they're not being deliberately satirical. They're just trying to scare you.

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