Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

First of all congratulations to my friend Anthony Sacramone whose excellent faith-centric satirical blog Strange Herring has just broken into the Top 50 of all religion blogs as ranked by Technorati.

In praise of sarcasm? It’s interesting that I read the news of Strange Herring‘s recent milestone just as I feel moved to comment on a recent SH post dealing with the subject of sarcasm. In it, Mr. Sacramone (whose pretty good with a zinger himself) constructively lays waste to the assertion of another blogger, Slate’s Simon Doonan. That assertion being that “sarcasm is one of the building blocks of civilization.”

Doonan also goes on about the virtues of his “sarcasm-riddled and sincerity-free” upbringing while worrying that our digital age poses a threat to “wicked insincerity.”  In other words, the art of saying “horrid things to one another” via a twist of the verbal knife.

Now, I’ve got no problem with sarcasm as a form of humor. When in skilled hands (like Sacramone’s), sarcasm can be pointed without being cutting.  My problem isn’t with sarcasm itself but with the idea that it’s somehow to be preferred over sincerity. It’s a truly sick notion that has pervaded much of our popular culture, particularly over the past decade or so.

On TV, for instance, viewers are inundated with so-called “guilty-pleasure” reality shows, night-time soaps and sitcoms in which acidic (usually sexual) put-downs are considered synonymous with wit.  At the same time, non-ironic attempts to gently touch the heart and encourage human empathy are apt to be mocked as automatically trite and manipulative.  But true humor is the art of combining wit with humanity.  That’s when it rings true. That’s when it leaves you with something — other than a bad taste in your mouth.

Exhibit A. This scene from CBS’ classic Everybody Loves Raymond takes place after Ray, Robert and Frank play hooky on family therapy session that the women in their lives pressured them to attend.

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Exhibit B. These scenes from the current CBS sitcom Two Broke Girls are about… Does it really matter?

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In conclusion, increased sarcasm doesn’t equal increased honesty.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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