The Babylon Bee: Satire Done Wrong

30/10/2019

Satire is a brilliant form of comedy that keeps the world bearable. It’s observational humour smacked with parody, mimicry, and no small amount of hyperbole and absurdity. It can often be quite clever and, at times, even confronting or insensitive, joking about topics in a raw and uncensored manner. The best satire relies on a keen understanding of the topic you are satirising, and this is where I think the Babylon Bee, a Christian satire website, fails miserably.

A couple of things need to be made clear at the start, before someone takes this piece the wrong way and gets upset – I’m looking at you, conservative free speech snowflakes. The Babylon Bee is, obviously, allowed to write whatever they wish, and by criticising them I am not advocating they be censored. I am also not saying, for any fans of the online paper, that all of their posts are necessarily wrong or that they all miss the mark regarding good satire.

I’m coming at this piece as an outsider observing specific topics they tackle, and yes, opinion and subjectivity does play a part in this, but there are many cases I have seen that do nothing more than highlight ignorance. I stumbled across the Babylon Been after a few of my Facebook friends (who I knew from church many years ago now) shared or commented on posts on the page, and since then I’ve had more crop up, many of which are rather questionable.

As said above, the best satire or observational comedy is that which relies on a keen understanding of the topic at hand. There are so many successful comedians out there that can leave an audience in hysterics for an hour purely because of their ability to bring a unique and hilarious experience or perspective to even the most mundane of activities. Similarly, with satirical papers like The Onion or the Betoota Advocate, their success relies on their ability to pick out humour in anything, even tragic events like mass shootings in America.

The Babylon Bee can also do this quite well, especially when the topic is related to the church itself. Articles like “God Politely Informs Worship Leader He Heard Bridge The First Time” or “Study: Everyone Else’s Sin Is Much Worse Than Yours” are funny because the writers’ understanding of how typical churches run worship, and even some of the flaws of the church, is high. Churchgoers can relate to the first example, and everyone knows some judgmental prick who sees themselves above others – even if the realisation is that you are that prick sometimes.

But what sparked me wanting to write this isn’t so much their church-centred content. It was their political ideas.

It seems like a cheap jab to point out the political flaws in the Church, seeing as there are so many (referring to the institution; not all individuals or even churches have the same views, obviously), but there is a difference between differing opinions, especially on social issues, and just being blatantly ignorant. And again, not every article of a political nature is bad – even though I am sure the positions they are taking for some of said good posts are equally ignorant. For example, I quite liked some of the recent Hillary Clinton posts – one had her accusing a shop worker of being a Russian asset, another had her taken back to an asylum decorated as the Oval Office, and a third had her announcing her bid for re-election.

Now, those articles I am sure would offend or piss off a lot of people, but I found them hilarious as someone opposed to the entirety of the American political system. Rest assured, however, the Babylon Bee’s distaste for Clinton comes from a position of borderline conspiracy and believing the Democratic Party are violent and reckless socialists. This is where the keen understanding starts to crumble pretty quickly, in two ways.

The first, as with the Clinton examples, are those that are funny from a number of perspectives, but you can tell the intent of the Babylon Bee was born out of ignorance. Anyone who thinks the Democratic party, or even Sanders, Warren, and AOC, is socialist, it can immediately be deduced that they have no understanding of what the word socialist means or what it is exactly that those groups and people stand for.

Another example is the article “Bob The Tomato Praised For Being A Fruit Who Identifies As A Vegetable”. I laughed at that – that is genuinely funny. But take a look at the comments section on Facebook, or the many, any other articles about transgender or LGBT+ issues in general, and their intent is very clear. For every joke that could be made in a light-hearted fashion, there is a wave of other posts and followers that reveal the authors and the readership have very little understanding of transgender issues. They are entitled to the views they hold, just as anyone is entitled to be as ignorant as they like. In turn, calling them out for this is pretty much an obligation.

The Babylon Bee, being a religious group, will obviously bring a religious perspective that many (rational) people would find problematic – mostly because religion is not a legitimate moral or scientific authority, especially when science and reality clearly overtake it on topics like the LGBT+ community. When this translates into the satire they produce, the premise is, by default, built upon ignorance and a lack of understanding. Take the following headline: “Study Finds Disagreeing With Gay, Trans People Not Same As Hating Them”.

That, at face value, sounds okay – disagreement does not imply hatred in most cases. But when your “disagreement” denigrates and denies someone’s very existence, and your beliefs see them going to Hell for being who they are… there’s a place I’d tell you to stick that satirical “study”, but you hate that kind of thing so I probably shouldn’t.

All of that is a lack of understanding revealed through intent – even in cases where the joke might be appropriate or funny, there is a lack of understanding bubbling beneath it. This only becomes more pronounced when the articles are blatantly ignorant or explicitly show a lack of understanding, evidenced by the fact they and much of their readership appear to be Trump fans.

“Trump Blamed For Causing Violence In Typically Peaceful Middle East”. That’s probably because he sparked conflict in one of the few areas in Syria that wasn’t being crushed by warring factions previously, you dolts. The article quotes people, including Bush and Clinton, who are shocked, claiming that everything was a utopia before Trump started messing about. While articles like this might have some minor point to make about the ignorance of some people, calling that out and then claiming Trump is different and a positive change destroys your credibility.

Abortion? “’Abortion Is Healthcare,’ Says Woman Who Apparently Thinks ‘Healthcare’ Means Tearing A Human Being Limb From Limb”. Clear misunderstanding of abortion and reproductive health built on a foundation of oppression, not (again) some perceived moral authority.

Climate change? “Progressive Utopia Of California Becomes First State To Eliminate Electricity Entirely” – people are without electricity and suffering from severe wildfires worsened by climate change, and this is their response. “Marionette Strings Clearly Visible During Greta Thunberg Testimony” – the readership seems to believe the whole thing is a hoax and are very against taxes being stolen to push this false narrative.

Socialism? “Caravan Of Liberal Americans Makes Way Toward Socialist Paradise Of Venezuela” – again, a complete lack of understanding. One, Venezuela is not socialist; two, you think ‘liberal’ means socialist? Cute. Three, no, unlike what some in the comments of that post had to say, California is not turning socialist – it’s quite a heavy victim of neoliberal policies and wealth inequality as well.

Veganism? “Extreme Vegan Has All Meat Removed From Body”. This last one is a joke, this is bloody hilarious – kudos, Babylon Bee.

I’ll repeat that the Babylon Bee are at liberty to write whatever they wish, and if people find their content funny, cool, it’s entertainment. But good satire is grounded in understanding and a range of perspectives, both things that many of the articles I searched through in the Babylon Bee appear to not have. Unless you are a part of their frequent readership or hold the same beliefs as them, a lot of the ‘humour’ will fall flat and come across as simply ill-informed at best.

For sure, the same accusations could be thrown at the Onion or Betoota Advocate. They aren’t perfect, and there are times I have questioned the purpose of a few of their posts, but nowhere near the scale of the Babylon Bee. Even if you “disagree” with them, there is no doubt that what they write comes with the appropriate understanding of what they are writing about. Slapping religion and your personal beliefs on an ignorant or offensive joke is not good satire.

 

Liked this? Read No Cure for Ignorance, Only Better Ignorance for more talk on ignorance!

Previous piece: Hypocrites and Proud: A Response to Andrew Bolt

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