We all know great satire when we see it. When it shows up in our Twitter feed, or we read it on the Onion, watch an honest trailer, or pay money to see a Michael Bay movie.
But what is it that makes great satire great?
1. Good satire—and good parody—loves its subject
I asked a few friends—one of whom is the man behind one of my favorite parody accounts on Twitter (and maybe yours, too)—this question over dinner a while back. The answer was actually pretty simple: as with great parody in general, great satire1 requires you to love what you’re spoofing.
That’s the thing, isn’t it? Let’s not forget that satire has a purpose: it showcases the shortcomings, vices, and follies of individuals, governments, organizations or society as a whole with the goal of improving it through ridicule. This is what you see in The Onion, with its open mockery of what passes for news, as opposed to a classic movie like Airplane, which sends up crisis films so wonderfully. The latter does a great job poking fun. The former implicitly asks, “can’t we do better than this“?
The same is true in social media. The best parody and satire accounts are the ones where the person operating happily imitates and pokes fun at his or her subject, but does so from a place of affection. This is why parody accounts like Fake John Piper and Fake JD Greear are worth following. They respect the individual being parodied, but don’t idolize him. Case in point:
JOURNAL ENTRY: Not being a pastor is tough. Extreme urge to start seashell collection. Must fight for joy.
— fakejohnpiper (@fakejohnpiper) June 3, 2015
(And everyone who’s read Don’t Waste Your Life or have heard the seashell illustration snickered.)
This is also why the satire account Church Curmudgeon is worth your time. The author doesn’t come across as a “hater”, but he or she certainly isn’t afraid to tease about some of the goofiness of North American evangelical churches.
2. Good satire isn’t a mask for malice
There are other accounts though—such as the plethora of Fake Driscolls, Fake Ann Voskamps, and fake Rob Bells—that are simply not worth your time. While they are technically satire, their goal is uncertain. Their words are frequently venomous. There is no evidence of love, or even a desire to see change in the people being “spoofed”. It seems an opportunity to mock not because the individual wants a particular person or people’s view of him or her to change, but because they feel malice toward their subject.
Which is basically bullying, but whatever…
There is no place for such writing or thinking in the Christian life. We are called not to mock others, but to show love to all. Mean-spirited words, even against subjects worthy of extreme ridicule, is unbecoming of the Christian. If you’ve got an axe to grind with a particular person or organization, don’t write it. Don’t read it. Don’t encourage others to read it, either.
3. Good satire is written by people who are actually good at it
I think the reason a lot of the satire online is so terrible is because people don’t realize how hard it is to write. Satire is difficult to write well. Parody is a little easier, but not by much. There’s a reason I don’t write much of it. I’m not good at it—I know my limitations. So my attempts rarely (if ever) see the light of day. I wonder how many of us would do well to follow suit?