There's a fine line between satire and juvenile humor. Let's start there. Satire is specifically suited for adult minds. One needs to understand nuanced dialectics of satire to get any satisfaction from it. It's a thinking mans style. It requires cultural context and knowledge of tone. Whereas jokes or comedy for the sake of laughs, let's say fart jokes or slapstick, are for the easily entertained. Juvenile humor serves cheap reactions. Juvenile humor is suited for the minds of children. Satire is a different animal.
It is a mechanism of free journalism intended to suggest inherent breaks in institutional or ideological thinking. At it's best, satire is the only way to a free self-examining society and at its worst, like in the case of #CharlieHebdo, it's the catalyst that sparks a reform in the broken institution or ideology it satirized.
John Stewart says of satire, "The real outcome of satire is typically catharsis and
whether that's positive or negative I don't know. The difference between a satirist
and a demagogue is we're observers, we don't have the confidence to take the next
step." The satirist lives somewhere between Mount Hope and the cliché tar pits of
culture always trying not to get too high to fall too low. The mechanism they use to
get back and forth, whether a pen, a guitar or newsrooms determine the type of
satire. At least this was the explanation of satire pre‐millennium. We are so
inundated with it from all sides that desensitization may be settling in.
Nowadays, the heights are raised and the lows are deepened. When half of us speak
in double meanings and the other half literally, miscommunication of this advanced
satire is inevitable. I reckon some folks have no idea what is true and what isn't.
The satire radar is out of batteries.
There are only a few rules which I’ll outline later. Most of it seems to be a
God given gift and some of the people with the work, don't have the gift. When the
New Yorker ran a satirical illustration of President Obama as an AK‐47 wielding
Taliban, many Americans did not get the joke. The minority that did were even
reserved in their reaction. The tragedy was that here we had the first African‐
American president in a land where senators were still calling for repealing Jim
Crowe laws. The best satire is an emotional release to some while vulgar and
abusive to others. The best satire approves what it mocks to disable it's stigma then
comes back around with a social message. The New Yorker image didn't come back
around. It charged the ones who saw it as a tragedy while those beyond the race
issue, laughed for a moment. The joke still hasn't landed. So although, it's an old
genre that has classical roots, even in Islam, when done incorrectly is a polarizing
thing. To bring some context, I hearken back to the medieval underground of
Contrary to what Albert Brooks told you, there's a long standing Islamic tradition of comedic satire in many forms. The "hija" translated as satirical prose, is seen throughout the 9th Century used by one poet to mock another. In one case the poet As‐
Salami rips another, Abu‐Dalaf, calling him "...an experienced physician, yet a physician
who does not usually enjoy success in what he practices. [Abu‐Dalaf] went to a sick man
one day, and we commented, 'Cheer up! You have been bestowed the martyr's crown!'"
Abu‐Dalaf responds, "As‐Salami has kept satirizing me, so I have said to him, 'Love of
my heart, my dear one, my master, if you do not remember our intimacy at Ray, then
remember your farting from beneath me at Baghdad." In this short example, taken from
Thalibi's transcription, one poet boasts of the others faults, the catharsis of which
being a juvenile fart joke with a pinch of eroticism. In the process, they sarcastically
exalt each other in one line followed by the put down in the next.
However childish, each poet stuck to the meter of prose and kept the battle on paper
even though according to the history this fiasco was continued by another set of
Baghdad poets. When we search for a more nuanced satire in Islam we quickly
discover the satirical rants of Jahiz who infused humorous paradoxes into the topics
of the day (see "Book of Mobsters", "Book of Misers") His complex psychological,
economic and scientific essays are hilarious in their sardonic tone incorporating
hadiths and religious text with a delicate amount of self‐deprecating humor.
In one story describing how his friend Ziyad found a competent storyteller he
begins with, "The Prophet, Allah's peace and blessings be upon him, used to re‐sole
his sandals and patch his clothing," and after describing how his peers had "leather
patches" and "no new garment for anyone not wearing a worn out one," changes
perspective to that of Zayid. Zayid says, "I went on finding out about people's
intelligence through their food and what they wore on such a day [a scorching
summer day] and I noticed that the people's clothes were new whereas his were
merely enough for decency. So I assumed that he must be a man of discretion for we
know that new things out of place are inferior to shabby clothing."
Here we see a delicate Islamic satirist at work. This nuanced combination
regaled his 9th Century audience with stories of the Prophet and Jahiz' own friends.
Even modern audiences can appreciate it but the same recipes when done wrong
can lead to disaster. And, quite frankly, it has been done wrong more in the last
twenty years then in all of Islamic history. The science of Islamic satire is a question
of balance as Jahiz himself says, "Laughter has its due place and measure, as does
jesting too. When one overdoes either, or does not allow them full play, over much
of them turns into garrulousness and cutting them short ends in frustration."
- Cihan Kaan 01-08-2015
“Reminiscent of Ray Bradbury, the more outrageous satirical vein of
Chester Himes, Amiri Baraka’s Tales of the Out and the Gone, or Sesshu
Foster’s Atomik Aztex, Kaan’s Halal Pork is unique and essential
reading, magically situating everyday debris in a cosmic drift that
allows us to inhabit the universe.”