I stay away from commenting on political blogs because I have to watch my blood pressure. But reading a friend’s blog the other day, I saw a commenter heckling the writer with sarcasm. The writer maintained civility, but finally told the commenter how rude he was. At this point I entered the fray and tried to explain to the commenter that we do want to hear what you have to say, but can’t take sarcastic comments seriously. The commenter’s reply was this:
“Sarcasm is a great tool when debating politics. Where would we be without satirists in this country? Its use works quite well. While it may irritate some, its purpose is to illustrate the ridiculousness some adhere to without peering beyond their particular veiled perspective.”
The commenter probably thinks he really taught me a lesson. He did, but not the one he intended. I know from experience that when people are scornful and sarcastic, you must let them have the last word, so I did not point out that these two words are not interchangeable. If you battle a sarcastic commenter, it will never end.
There’s a reason great satirists of the world are beloved. Think Ambrose Bierce, Oscar Wilde, H.L. Mencken, Mark Twain, Dorothy Parker, Joseph Heller, Tom Lehrer, Woody Allen, Christopher Guest, Monty Python, The Onion. Satire is intended to educate, make a point, or show absurdity in a brilliant, witty, and humorous manner. Sarcasm is what gets you sent to your room, embroiled in a bar fight, or fired. Sarcasm is wounding and is a favorite tool of bullies. Satire and sarcasm are the difference between the Wall Street Journal and a tabloid, Masterpiece Theatre and Jersey Shore, leadership and tyranny.
It’s also the most overused and ineffective device used by Internet commenters who are full of their own perceived superiority. I can think of no worse way to get someone to see your point of view than sarcasm. It’s not funny, not clever, not gracious. It’s what ten-year-olds having a tantrum do, what married couples who hate each other do, or what the co-worker nobody in the office can stand does. No good can come of it because it’s intended to be humiliating rather than constructive. Here you are desperately trying to win people over, and all you’re doing is further alienating them.
I am open to discussing politics without fury, with a rational, intelligent communicator. Sarcastic comments put your immaturity on display for all the world to see. It’s right up there with showing the top of your G-string above your jeans or spitting a wad of phlegm in public.