Crazy world leaves little room for satire

By Leonard Pitts Jr.: Syndicated columnist

Satire is my favorite form of humor. In the hands of its most deft practitioners, it makes the ridiculous so plain, the idiotic so obvious, that you cannot help but laugh.

Take “All in the Family” as a sterling example. Literal-minded folks may have taken umbrage at Archie Bunker’s litany of racial, ethnic and religious insults, but we who fancied ourselves hip got the message, understood that the point was not to further bigotry but to make us see how absurd bigotry was.

So yeah, I love a good satire. But “Woofie Loves Snoop” is not a good satire.

Granted, I say that sight unseen. The cartoon, an episode of MTV2’s recent animated series, “Where My Dogs At?” is not airing presently and the network, under fire from critics incensed by the program, has not decided whether it will ever be repeated. So I’m forced to rely on press reports. But they paint a vivid picture.

“Where My Dogs At?” chronicles the misadventures of two stray canines who offer, or so it says on the Web site, a “hilariously uncensored dog’s-eye view of celebrity and pop culture insanity.”

The episode that created the uproar had a look-a-like of the rapper Snoop Dogg, who strolls into a pet store leading two black women. The women are wearing leashes. They walk on all fours. And from there, it gets worse. The women squat on their haunches scratching themselves and, upon departure, one leaves an odoriferous souvenir — that is to say, excrement — on the floor. This, it seems necessary to remind you, is meant to be funny.

Not everybody gets the joke. To the contrary, the thing has drawn howls of protest from a number of prominent blacks, including New York Daily News columnist Stanley Crouch, who condemned the cartoon for perpetuating “misogynist and dehumanizing” imagery.

I agree. But I’m also intrigued by MTV’s defense of the cartoon. The network, whose president is herself a black woman, issued a statement saying that “Woofie” was intended as a parody of an actual incident where the real Snoop Dogg showed up at an awards show accompanied by real women wearing chains and collars. “We certainly do not condone Snoop’s actions and the goal was to take aim at that incident for its insensitivity and outrageousness,” said MTV.

In other words: We didn’t mean to be taken seriously. We were doing satire. Some would say it’s a disingenuous explanation and maybe it is. But consider the implications if it is not.

I love a good satire — did I mention that already? — but for me, this episode stands as stark evidence that our world is becoming ever more satire proof. Or, perhaps more accurately, ever more self-satirizing. I mean, if satire is defined as exaggerating the real in order to show its absurdities, what do you do when the real is a man who leads women around on a leash? Where do you go with that? How do you make it more ridiculous than it already is?

Satire draws in broad strokes. It argues by caricature. But increasingly the social and political life of this country is nothing but broad strokes, nothing but caricature.

From the semen stained dress of a few years back, to the malaprop-ridden man in the White House; to the senator who says the Internet is a series of tubes, to the game show that requires you to eat worms; to Paris Hilton to Nicole Richie to no bottled water on airplanes, real life has become ridiculous and outrageous to a degree that often makes parody superfluous.

At the very least it makes parody more difficult while simultaneously giving moral cover to hacks who use parody as little more than an excuse to be mean and crude.

Archie Bunker left the building long ago and “Woofie” is a poor substitute. MTV, for all the high-mindedness of its stated purpose, is committing the sin it claims to abhor.

As they say in my neighborhood, ha ha hell. You can laugh if you want to. Some of us know when we’re being had.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may contact him at:
lpitts@herald.com