Is the mass murder of children a fit subject for satire? After all. wit is indispensable to satire, whose favorite targets are power and its abuses. What happened at a Parkland, Florida, high school should provoke anger, not laughter.
In fact, the response of our regular practitioners of satire, the late night TV hosts, offered few, if any laughs. John Oliver mocked the politicians’ “thoughts and prayers”, and their plea that “now is not the time” for gun control….You know what? Yes, it fucking is.” But “fucking” long ago lost the power to shock. And Colbert, Noah, and all the other hosts were intent on conveying shock.
Of course. humor does not come naturally immediately following a national tragedy. The hosts’ responses, including applause for the high school students organizing protests and fury at the NRA, were entirely appropriate.
But once a little time has passed, sharp-edged, critical humor as a means of expressing our anger becomes entirely appropriate. In fact, a high school publication, Teen Ink, makes the point in a student essay: “Gun Control: A Satire”, arguing that “fear is good… the best method of control”, and that gun control would lessen our fear and put us on the same level as other countries which are weak because they have gun controls.
Inevitably The Onion has been heard from, suggesting that “the nation was constantly hearings voices encouraging it to buy a gun.” In any case, says the magazine, there’s nothing to be done about it; for after every mass shooting The Onion has carried the same headline:’ NO WAY TO PREVENT THIS’ SAYS ONLY NATION WHERE THIS REGULARLY HAPPENS.” Then The Shovel weighed in with a demand for stricter gun laws that would “require Americans to count to 10 before buying firearms.”
Cartoons poured forth – some mocking the anti-gun cause, (controls would put Americans at the mercy of thugs and terrorists). But most derided the NRA, the Republican Party, President Trump, and the nation’s love affair with guns. Steve Benson offered an entire series under the heading ‘The Business End of a Gun”, one depicting a member of Congress holding up bags of NRA money, another showing NRA cheques preventing gun control checks, and another piously claiming: “This country has gone 0 days without a mass shooting.” And John Cole, noting the anti-gun demonstrations by high school students, draws a student leading Trump by the nose on the issue ”… and a child shall lead them.”
Perhaps the students, together with major business groups cutting their links to the NRA, can make a difference. Perhaps next time it happens The Onion won’t use the same old headline.
Meantime, for my own take on the issue turn to the first of the “Offensive Songs” on this same web site. Here’s the lyric of the last verse of that song:
If you're a gun fanatic
Any limits on the sale
Of your weapons automatic
Cannot possibly prevail.
For a person who is choosy
To restrict would be a crime
And even though an Uzi
Can kill 50 at a time
Guns don’t kill people, people do.
But if you feel insignificant it's true
When your finger's on the trigger
You believe that you're much bigger.
But guns don't kill people,
It's people who kill people,
Guns don't kill people, people do.