Satire versus cynicism

catch 22
In a Washington, DC bookstore:

Spacey T: I’ve been reading classics this summer. You know, like To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby. Any more suggestions?

Me: What about Catch 22? It’s a great book, and it’s pretty relevant right now.

Spacey T: I’m afraid that reading satire will turn me into a cynic, which is something I can’t afford in my line of work. [Spacey T is a damn good high school music teacher and band director].

Can that be true? I’d believe that there is a correlation between cynics and those who enjoy satire, but surely there’s no causation. Right? Because I don’t really want to stop reading Fafblog! If Spacey T has thus far managed not to become a scornful misanthrope, it’s hard to believe that Catch 22 would push him over the edge.

So then I Googled for a while on the question of satire and cynicism and came across a great line (in a religious magazine of all places!):

The difference between satire and cynicism is sometimes negligible, but at its best satire is righteous indignation to cynicism’s bitterness.

6 responses to “Satire versus cynicism”

  1. Bernard (The Beat is back)

    The “religious magazine” was a great article, I especially like the following

    While the optimist may call a partially filled glass “half full,” and the pessimist “half empty,” the cynic is liable to scoff “Who cares?” and observe that optimists and pessimists are “half witted.” (He may also insinuate collusion between the two in regard to the missing water.)

    I always thought that a cynic was somebody that thought everybody and everything sucked ass. A saterist also thinks that everybody and everything sucked ass but they tried to shame the ass-suckers into being less ass-sucky.

  2. Becky

    Yeah, I’m now even more sure that Spacey T is safe from the potential evils of satire. It depends on the reader. Satire promotes awareness through humor; what the reader does with that awareness is a function of his personality, not of the material itself.

    A cynic could read Catch 22 and say, “Haha, so true–wars are promoted by power seekers who don’t care about the human costs. People suck.” Or suck ass, as Bernard so eloquently puts it. However, someone else could read the book, recognize the insanity that surrounds us, and make a point of becoming more educated and involved the next time the US administration wants to go to war.

    The article I linked to discusses some of the problems with the former attitude; it’s something that’s been on my mind lately. I heard a recent Fresh Air interview with Colin Quinn, and he made the point that everyone wants to have an opinion, but no one wants to do the work it takes to form one; therefore, most people are happy to be spoon-fed the opinions of others (e.g., Rush Limbaugh or Michael Moore). He’s right. For proof, take a quick trip around the blogosphere.

    The Colin Quinn comment is a little off-topic, but the point is that people take the easy way out, which is also true of cynics. It’s so easy to sit behind this keyboard, collecting proof that not only are those in power a pack of self-interested, greedy, rat bastards, but the institutions that allocate the power are themselves inherently corrupt (or at the very least ineffective). These thoughts lead to a sense of futility, and you ultimately find yourself in a place where satire provides some much-needed comic relief, even while it fuels the “people suck” fire.

    Spoken like a true Gen X’er, eh? I’m not yet trapped in the “cynical prison,” and Spacey T’s question and the subsequent discussion made me think that the prison is a dismal place indeed. However, you won’t get there by reading Catch 22.

  3. the kiosk

    How do we become sane, if not by learning to recognize the insanity that surrounds us?

    I consider myself a better person for the five times I’ve read this book… so far!

  4. Bernard (The Beat is back)

    I think that a person gets trapped in a “cynical prison” because they are scared. They got hurt before so they think that it will happen again. They wait for something to happen so they can say “See…I told you!” Sure, something will happen again, but if the cynic enjoyed life between the bad times instead of wasting life waiting for the next “I told you so”, then I don’t think that there would be that many cynics out there.

    For all those cynics out there…The past does not dictate the future.

    Sorry if I sounded cynical.

  5. Bernard (The Beat is back)

    PS I prefer ass-kissers to ass-suckers.

  6. Bernard (The Beat is back)

    By the way, my post was supposed to be a satire on cynics…looking back on it, it looks more like a rant. Does that make me a Rantist?