Sep 8, 2016

Reflection on Political Satire Experiment

A few months ago I wrote a satirical piece on Trump selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate.  What was meant to be a lighthearted bit about an impossibly irrational and doubtlessly entertaining duo quickly turned into a rather darker demonstration of the trust people place in anything that remotely resembles reputable "news" outlets, as well as the long reach of Poe's law on the internet.

Long story short: if you're not the Onion, you'd better issue a lot of disclaimers, because people find it difficult to believe that satire can be written elsewhere.

Writing and sharing this post has lent some interesting insight into the world of satire and the media in general; here are the lessons learned:

1) People only read headlines.

Is this really surprising?  Not terribly, but it was surprising how carried away people got with their "information" after reading only the first few words.  The majority of people seemed to find details, specifics, and evidence not all that necessary when their assumptions (imagination) can fill in the blanks so much quicker.

2) No one fact-checks.

Going hand-in-hand with #1, people are very inclined to assume that "news" is true if it agrees with their preconceptions.  In this instance, many liberals were inclined to believe it because it meshed with the assumption that "crazy would attract crazy", not to mention that it would be a hell of a show and the nihilist in all of us was secretly begging for it to happen.  Conservatives tended more to follow the bipartisan trend of "it looks like news so it's probably true." and assume without questioning.

Regardless of individual political affiliation, there was terribly little fact-checking happening, and over the course of hundreds of comments I can recall only a single instance of someone reverse-searching the images and connecting them to a campaign rally a month before where the pictures were taken.

3) People who don't read the article really don't like finding out it's satire afterwards.

They felt lied to.  Deliberately deceived, even.  I put not one, but two or three disclaimers with the word "satire" explicitly used.  The following quote illustrates the overall ridiculous tone of the article:

"The disinterest in facts and public statements of any form shown by Trump supporters represents the start of a new age in politics, one where little things such as political correctness, previous experience, relevant knowledge, or thinking before speaking are no longer pre-requisites to holding the highest office in the land."

I didn't really think the satire could be any more transparent when I wrote this bit:

"You know, I wanted to make it really clear to the public that this campaign was a publicity stunt and never meant to be taken seriously from the start," Trump was reported as having said Tuesday afternoon.  "It doesn't seem like anyone has caught on yet."

Yet nonetheless, some individuals were remarkably distraught about the "deception" they were forced to endure.  To be honest I'm at a loss for words, let alone solutions, for individuals so easily heartbroken.

4) The people who do recognize satire may smugly comment "satire" regardless of how many similarly minded chaps have done the same immediately before them.

Okay we got it, you read the disclaimers and saw through the paper-thin facade of political plausibility.  While I suppose that does put you a few steps ahead of the majority in this Facebook sample group, it's not that much of a crowning achievement that you need to spam the article with "satire" once you figure it out.  These are the people that go to friend's parties only to rattle off spoilers from Game of Thrones.

In the end this was an interesting experiment but one that I'm a little wary to repeat in any way.  Learning about the media and particularly how little people pay attention to the important bits isn't exactly something that inspires confidence in the future of the country and the world.  However, it did teach some interesting lessons rather quickly, not to mention that it's just plain fun to write slightly outside the boundaries of reality.  Just make sure the audience knows it too.

No comments :

Post a Comment

Questions, comments, concerns, complaints? Leave your thoughts below!