Tom Lehrer once quipped, “I know that there are people who do not love their fellow man, and I hate people like that.”
What a resource pithy, wry contradictions can be! Splendid mockery of human thoughtlessness is among the best balms that caricature or satire provides us.
After the mockery ends and the derisive laughter fades, however, mindless self-contradictions persist. Our balm starts to burn as those “in on the gag” realize that the caricature models as much as it mocks.
- On talk radio at this moment a host is saying something as fatuous as Mr. Lehrer’s gibe, but no laugh track is wising up listeners.
- Emboldened by the anonymity of the Internet, someone is posting an insipid remark but will not earn a “Billy Madison” rebuke: “Mr. Madison, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.” Instead, the insipid remark is taken for sophistication and races about the blogosphere.
- A letter to an editor is repeating a calumny that never will be refuted as a reason to demand more civility in politics.
On the rare occasions when parodies happen, mockeries savage the contradictory and the inane. Almost all of the time, however, the inane, the hypocritical, and the self-contradictory savage us.