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The Daily Tar Heel

Reluctantly, satire: A formal request to The Daily Tar Heel's editors

opinion-satire-labels-not-needed

My junior year of high school, my AP English teacher forced my class to read "A Modest Proposal" —a 1729 essay written by Jonathan Swift in which he proposes that Irish families sell their children as food to the rich and elite. 

His essay suggests that since the Irish are already in such poor positions financially, they might as well just sell their children. The essay goes on to offer methods of preparation for cooking the children and calculations supporting the financial benefit of this proposal. 

I can vividly recall a time during a class discussion of this essay when one of my fellow classmates became so worked up about this disgusting cannibalistic suggestion that she began to cry over how senselessly the article regarded the poor during that time. 

For further context, "A Modest Proposal" is, surprise, a satirical piece. Its purpose is to critique British control of Ireland, and it extensively describes the struggles of Irish people at the time.

As an aspiring satirist, Jonathan Swift is an inspiration of mine. To write such vulgar satire — to the extent at which some high school student cries over its absurdity almost 300 years later — is my personal dream.

However, there seems to have been a cultural shift in the state of satire in recent years, most notably for me at The Daily Tar Heel itself. One of my many grievances of The DTH is its constant need to post my, and other columnists, satirical pieces with the label “Satire.” 

Satire doesn’t need to be labeled. The entire purpose of a satire is to gradually draw the reader in and expose them to the point you are making through the absurdity of what you are writing. 

I once wrote an article for this paper in which I discussed who would win in a fight, Mitch McConnell or a Marshmallow Peep. The Daily Tar Heel marked it up with a big old satire label upon publication. Obviously, this is satire. Prefacing every satire piece with a label telling you so, especially something as absurd as a United States senator versus a piece of candy, reduces the entire point you are trying to make — and it looks ridiculous. 

I’ve heard arguments in the past that labeling things as satire, or as a joke in general, is helpful to ensure that nobody takes offense to something and that people don’t get the wrong message. 

To me, this is more reflective of the lack of critical thinking skills in this generation than anything. If your first reaction after reading something is to immediately take offense to it instead of considering that it might not be serious or that there’s a deeper point being made, then you need to work on taking a step back. 

Within the past few years and the advent of social media literacy, there’s been an influx of people solely reading a headline and then making assumptions based on that. If you are not going to take the time to sincerely read something and think critically about what it is you read, then you should not be commenting on it.

More so, a newspaper should not have to label their articles as satire to avoid people taking every single thing they read seriously. On top of that, part of why satire is so effective is because it sometimes does offend people. Causing an uproar creates conversation. Suggesting that parents sell their children to the rich for food is obviously disgusting and grotesque, but it certainly created meaningful conversation about the state in which Irish people were living at the time. 

I’m not saying that satire is exempt from critique. Satire can still cross lines and be offensive in a way that’s not productive and that should still be discussed. My point is that we are losing the ability to think critically about the world around us, not everything needs to be spelled out.

If you are not able to dedicate a few minutes of time to a second thought about something you saw online, then maybe you just weren't meant to get it in the first place. I hope for your sake that you never end up sobbing in front of a group of people over something you jumped to a conclusion about before doing any further research. 

I would like this article to serve as a formal request of The Daily Tar Heel to no longer mark my, and every other writer's, satire pieces as “Satire.” I sincerely hope that this newspaper will commit to believing that their readers can and will think critically about what they are consuming.

@dthopinion opinion@dailytarheel.com

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