Monday, November 18, 2013

Tragedy and the Boundaries of Internet Parody

As I was researching and scanning the web for background on the sermon I ended up not preaching this week, I found myself wondering something.

With painful frequency, you will find someone making the claim that it was God's punishment on People X for having done Action Y.  The tsunami happened because God hates [fill in the thing you hate here.]  The earthquake destroyed Haiti because of Voodoo.  That sort of thing.

So I Googled "haiyan God punishment," just to see what I came up with.  Lo and behold, there it was.  There were links from news sources read in the Philippines, referencing an American Christian blogger who had made just such a statement. A blogger going by the name of Jim Solouki at a blog called Creation Science Study had asserted that because the Philippines were tolerant of homosexuality and immorality, God had punished them with the storm.

There was a small array of re-posts and re-links, some from Atheistic bloggers and news aggregators, splashing out the outrage and another terrible statement.  Sure, by a random blogger with traffic no better than mine, but still.  Look at what those terrible Christians are saying again!

I was all ready to parse out that theology, and resist it, but then I actually bothered reading the blog in question.  It did make those outrageous statements, sure.  And there were hundreds and hundreds of responses from anguished people with relatives in the Philippines, many of whom were faithful Christians, deploring what they felt was a complete betrayal of the essence of their faith.

But this is the internet, after all.  Here, truth and falsehood are on a level.  You check a source, and then you recheck it.

I looked around for any reference to Mr. "Solouki."  There was none.  I looked around for any information that might corroborate the identity of the blog or ground it in the real.  There was none.  And then I began to read it, looking for clues.

I've debated with literalists and fundamentalists, and I know what such folk sound like.  There are patterns of language and assumptions that they bring to bear with such consistency that sometimes they sound like the same person.

This blog did not capture that tone.  In fact, it sounded rather different.

Images used were often sexual in ways that Christian conservatives simply aren't gonna put out there.  Scripture was referenced, but only in passing and as a gloss.  Arguments were taken to the level of transparent absurdity.  Links to "faithful" sites were actually links to atheist comedians, or to churches that exist only as parody.

It was evident that this was…well…what atheists have come to call a "Poe."  Meaning, someone masquerading as a faithful person, in an effort to show that the thing they are pretending to be is inherently wackadoodle.

I know it is intended as humor, as a prank that illustrates absurdity.  Like the Onion, or the Borowitz Report, or the still-catches-out-my-friends Daily Currant.

I get parody.  In fact, I enjoy it.  But still, I wonder at what I read on "Jim Solouki's" blog.

Sure, good parody bears with it an awkwardness, toying around with the edges of discomfort.  But the greatest practitioners of prank and parody were best at skewering themselves, and bringing everyone else in on the joke.  That was certainly a potent part of the possibly-late Andy Kaufmann's peculiar genius.

If you're parodying something, and your parody fundamentally misrepresents the the thing you're mimicking, is it parody at all?  Sure, Christians are flawed, and often express themselves clumsily or offensively.  But if no-one from the Christian world resembles the image you're presenting, where's the humor in it?

And if you're the only one laughing, at a deep and real human tragedy, if you have brought no-one along for the ride, it is not funny or incisive.

It stops being meaningful satire, and becomes simple cruelty.   From this side of the equation, it feels culturally oblivious, more akin to watching a frat boy capering around in blackface on Halloween, convinced he's the very height of metahumor.

Sometimes, son, that ends up just making you look like the fool.