The Headlines Read Like the Plot of a ‘Racist’ Novel
Friday's terrorist attack in London seems like the first draft of an awful work of fiction.
In a classic episode of 30 Rock, heroine Liz Lemon goes on “hiatus” along with her show. In a dream, she wanders the streets of a desolate New York City. At one point, under a bridge, a group of people wave to her. “You’re one of us now!” they proclaim. She approaches, and learns who they are. A travel agent, a TV repairman, and members of other “dead professions.” They tell her that “reality” TV has made her kind obsolete. “Writer” is now a vocation akin to “buggy whip braider” or “typewriter salesman.” Then she wakes in an icy sweat.
I’m not sure we’re there yet. There is still room in our world for palm-sweaty word miners. For instance, somebody has to type up the agitprop that the coiffed talking heads on CNN read at the cameras. If they had to go “off book,” they’d descend into word salad gibberish, like speech aphasia patients, or Jim Acosta at a presidential news conference.
We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Writers
I wonder if most anchors know what the words they read even mean. Or if the writers just give them phrases spelled phonetically. Hence:
Gud EE-ven-ing. Tuh-DAY at the whiiyt haus, PREZ-u-dent trump ree-FUZED to ANSS-er KWEZ-tyuns A-bowt WHE-thur hiz son BAR-rrun trump’s hai skool SEY-uns PRO-jekt uh-MOUNTZ to E-ffi-denz of RUS-shun ko-LU-zhen.
Beyond typing up the latest dispatches from Media Matters and the Southern Poverty Law Center, someone will have to transcribe other things.
- The latest orders from World Controller Soros.
- The newest divine revelations via the Oracle at the Vatican.
- Reports on baby animals at the zoo.
- The words we’re not allowed to use anymore.
- The doublespeak, gibberish, or falsehoods we’re expected to say instead.
- Celebrity sex news.
- Condemnations of Israel from terrorist groups or bloodthirsty dictatorships.
- Hate crimes not yet exposed as hoaxes.
- Budget travel tips.
Satire: The Canary in the Coal Mine
I don’t think I’ll find a niche, though. My worldview on matters religious and political renders me a “dangerous extremist.” And anyway my specialty, satire, is definitely dead. Deader than baroque opera as a popular art form. As dead as those frozen tribesmen scientists sometimes dig up from the Arctic tundra.
As dead as Kamala Harris’s presidential hopes.
Sad, really. Great satires you’ll recognize include Brave New World, The Screwtape Letters, Animal Farm, A Clockwork Orange, That Hideous Strength, and (in cinema) Dr. Strangelove, Wag the Dog, and This is Spinal Tap. But all that’s over now. Satire as a genre depends on outside factors to work. It can only thrive in a society with a broad-based agreement on what is right and wrong, noble and vile, beautiful and repulsive. When that consensus shrivels and dies, satire becomes impossible.
So does society. That means the death of satire is bad news for more people than me.
Real Headlines or Bad “Racist” Novel: You Be the Judge
It’s impossible to satirize our times. Even sober news reports read like dashed-off first drafts of nasty, implausible stories that editors tossed in the trash can by page 13. See the most recent terror attack in Great Britain.
Imagine some poor twenty-something at Random House living in New York City on twenty-something thousand dollars per year. His job? To read the “slush pile,” made of manuscripts nobody has much hope for. How long will he bother to skim a synopsis with the following plot points?
- One of the richest, most peaceful nations in the world for some reason admits millions of poor people with no marketable skills.
- Many of those immigrants hold to a literalist reading of a violent, intolerant foreign religion. Thousands of them live on the government’s largesse, including military-age young men, each with multiple wives and a dozen children.
- Some of these men use their free time agitating for the government to impose their minority religion and its seventh-century mores on everyone.
- Others go off and join foreign armies to slaughter infidels. When they lose, some are welcomed back home.
- Most public alarm and government efforts aimed at curbing “extremism” focus not on these would be theocrats, but on native-born citizens who are so “bigoted” as to criticize them. Or God forbid, question whether the government should be letting more of them move into the country. The people critical of that religion sit under suspicion (and a few of them in prison) for “racism.”
Fighting the Jihadi with a Narwhal Tusk
Already, the editor is rolling his eyes. Who even agreed to consider this drivel? It belongs over at the company’s (booming!) science fiction imprint. But morbid curiosity goads him to skip ahead. He checks out the central plot point.
- One of these religious fundamentalists, born on British soil, plans to blow up the London Stock Exchange. “Usman Khan” gets caught, and sent to prison for just seven years.
- He’s released as no longer a threat, even though he refers to non-Muslims as “kuffurs” (the N-word for infidels) and “dogs.”
- Khan is invited to a conference on how to rehabilitate terrorists. It’s held at a maritime-themed venue called “Fishmongers Hall.” The rehab program “allows university students and prisoners to study alongside each other,” according to BBC.
- At the conference, Khan launches a terror attack, wearing what looks like a bomb belt. He starts stabbing and slashing civilians.
- The citizens of that country, completely disarmed by their government, have no firearms to use against him. Neither do most of the country’s police, who also don’t carry guns.
- While helpless, terrified Britons scream for the special branch of police allowed to carry weapons to show up and save them, Khan manages to kill three people, and gravely wound two others. Two of the victims are well-meaning British liberals who’d been activists for … the early release of Muslim prisoners such as … Khan.
- Doughty British citizens turn on their attacker. One of them grabs a fire extinguisher. Another seizes the tusk of that rare unicorn of the sea, the Narwhal, from the wall. (It’s Fishmonger’s Hall, after all.)
- They manage to wound the attacker. His bomb belt, it turns out, was fake.
- Armed police appear and shoot Khan dead.
- The two men who stopped him receive public thanks. But a cloud hangs over their heads. The last unarmed civilian to fight off Islamist terrorists in London was Roy Larner. A mob of jihadis plowed a van into pedestrians, killing seven on London Bridge. Then they barged into Larner’s pub, wielding machetes and threatening people. Larner took them on, getting stabbed eight times and hospitalized. (Other bar patrons escaped.) After the incident, the British government forced Larner to attend de-radicalization classes (like the one Khan attacked). This was in case getting stabbed by radical Muslims might have made him “Islamophobic.” To this day, Larner’s name sits on a “terrorist” watchlist.
Time to Contact the SPLC
At this point the editor is furious. This isn’t just bad satire. It’s hate literature. Which one of his colleagues thought it was funny to assign him this racist garbage? Time to tell him this was Not Funny. In fact, it might be worth reporting this incident to Human Resources. As harassment.
But wait! What if instead of a prank this is a test? Maybe his higher-ups are giving similar manuscripts to every one of the straight white cis-male editors, to see how each would react? Ferret out the haters?
Yes, that’s what’s going on. The editor carefully drafts a detailed email denouncing this racist novel, taking careful credit for “detecting it and alerting people,” and copies it to the whole editorial department. Once he has hit “Send,” the knot in his stomach unties itself. He sends the author a curt, dismissive rejection email. Then forwards the hater’s name to an Oberlin friend who works at the Southern Poverty Law Center:
This is someone you ought to keep an eye on. A hate crime waiting to happen.