By now I’d hope that everyone on the internet is at least passingly familiar with the term Godwin’s Law, the rule that states that everyone online argument will eventually reference Hitler or Nazis. A few months ago a friend pointed out another one with which I’ve become rather smitten. It’s also made me incredibly depressed.
It’s called Poe’s Law, and although you can look up the original context at that link, I prefer to think of it like this: It’s impossible to come up with a satirical political stance or belief that is so outlandish that nobody will believe it’s genuine. Someone, somewhere, will defend it earnestly. Another summation covers it nicely as well: “Any sufficiently advanced parody is indistinguishable from a genuine kook.” And I’ve actually seen it in action in a few places, sometimes with rather alarming sincerity.
Given that I enjoy writing a spot of satire here and there, Poe’s Law has been increasingly on my mind when doing so. “Now, I know this is a joke,” I think to myself, “and I find it hilarious. But what if someone stumbles on this and actually believes it? Touts me as their inspiration for whatever ridiculous cause I’ve just stated?” In fact the problem became rather severe several months ago when a friend challenged me to to use themes in Star Wars to support some rather moronic political stances. I must say, I did a brilliant job with this mission. However, in my final read-through and edits, my heart sank as I realized what I’d created. I did show it to him and a few others, but beyond that I’ve been extremely reluctant to publicize it.
Even more alarming is the fact that some actual statements by politicians go vastly beyond even my own line for satire, and yet they find the statements defended regardless. Todd Akin is the perfect example. Cynthia McKinney was another, although she did at least lose out on her elections.
It has unfortunately reached a point where there are some sources of rather delicious satire that I’ve started avoiding because it’s almost too difficult to believe someone DOESN’T agree with it. The Onion, for instance, is one of the most amazing sources for satire that I know of, and I love it dearly. One of their features is a faux-political cartoon artist who does a wonderful job of capturing some of the more idiotic stances held by some cartoonists out there. And yet, every time I read one, I wince: it’s just too real.
I ramble. The ultimate point I’m trying to make is that extremist freaks are ruining satire, by actually believing satire. I blame Hitler.