Tumblrweed: Literally Unbelievable

The Onion has been around for ages. It’s older than Facebook. Older than YouTube. Almost older than the internet. And yet. Some people still don’t understand that it’s satire.

There’s a great online law – Poe’s Law – that says good satire will be indistinguishable from truth. Literally Unbelievable is a demonstration of the power of Poe’s Law. Capturing Facebookers who don’t know the difference between the Onion and real news.

Banning divorce

California is famous for movies, a governor with a Conan sword and a penchant for acrostic missives, and banning gay marriage with proposition 8.

One of my problems with the vocal Christians who protest to protect the sanctity of “marriage” is the myopic approach they take. It’s all well and good to campaign for marriage to be protected for one man and one woman (a stance I actually feel much sympathy with – though I don’t see marriage as a sacrament owned by the church) – but what about the bit where it’s one flesh. For life.

A Californian man has taken the marriage protection movement to its logical extent. He’s seeking (satirically) to ban divorce.

John Marcotte the man seeking to ban gay marriage

Marcotte reasons voters should have no problem banning divorce.

“Since California has decided to protect traditional marriage, I think it would be hypocritical of us not to sacrifice some of our own rights to protect traditional marriage even more,” the 38-year-old married father of two said.

Marcotte said he has collected dozens of signatures, including one from his wife of seven years. The initiative’s Facebook fans have swelled to more than 11,000. Volunteers that include gay activists and members of a local comedy troupe have signed on to help.

Marcotte is looking into whether he can gather signatures online, as proponents are doing for another proposed 2010 initiative to repeal the gay marriage ban. But the odds are stacked against a campaign funded primarily by the sale of $12 T-shirts featuring bride and groom stick figures chained at the wrists.

Poe’s Law

I love satire. Of most colours. I like it when Christians satirise our own culture, and when non-Christians do it too. Satire is revealing. It is good for teaching. It makes me laugh.

LarkNews is one of my favourite satire sites, I know of a few people who have fallen for its satire in the past…

People reposting satire as real news is pretty funny – like when a couple of mainstream news outlets picked up an Onion piece that reported the moon landing was fake.

Poe’s Law didn’t make the Wikipedia list of eponymous laws I mentioned previously – but you can read it on this page – RationalWiki’s page.

Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won’t mistake for the real thing.

It’s one of those Internet subculture things particular to debates with atheists (along with the No True Scotsman Fallacy) that comes up all the time. It’s a shorthand thing that prevents any real discussion taking place springing from an extreme position. The problem is that sometimes extreme positions may be correct. This is my biggest problem with all the conversational threads I’ve read on the atheist blogs I follow. If it turns out that God exists (as I believe he does) they’re going to look like idiots. This is the problem with Occam’s Razor, and in fact any other eponymous law that becomes common parlance. There are times when there’ll be a complex explanation for something that is true while a more simple explanation with less steps may be wrong. There are times when it’s appropriate to reference Hitler in an argument (Godwin’s Law). There are times when someone will be claiming to be a Scotsman when they’re not (the No True Scotsman Fallacy).

Using these laws in conversations who don’t know about them makes you look like a prat. Especially if you end up quoting them and being wrong.

I’m going to posit my own eponymous law – and I’d like it to catch on. Campbell’s Law. It states:

“As the length of argument on the internet increases the probability of referencing an irrelevant eponymous law or incorrectly identifying a fallacy approaches one.”

I’ll posit a second law.

“Just because someone, somewhere, has described a common phenomena as a “law”, it does not necessarily render the practice a transgression.”

Black comedy

Honestly, I thought long and hard about that title… because it’s semi racist – but it actually really epitomises the nature of the post in question.

The feedback to my decision to make references to making light about the death of Michael Jackson was not mixed. Most people don’t like the idea at laughing at death. I’m of the opinion that “where oh death is your victory, where oh death is your sting” (Corinthians 15:55) is essentially a mockery of death – and once death and sin (which crops up in verse 57) have been dealt with you are free to laugh at it.

Perhaps laughing at people who presumably haven’t dealt with sin isn’t the most sensitive thing to do.

But I digress – the reason for this post – is that I’m wondering about satire and death, and satire and death as “incisive social commentary” – particularly after viewing this Twitter account purportedly from a “Starving African Child” (obviously it’s not really from a starving African child).

It seems to tread close to where the Chaser’s infamous sketch dared to tread – though perhaps not quite so confrontationally, and yet it is as confronting as a World Vision ad – which uses pathos for persuasion rather than humour. Both are tools of persuasion – and yet we frown on one and not the other.

The sense of outrage surrounding the Chaser sketch seemed to be that it preyed on the vulnerable for laughs (while making some sort of point – perhaps their problem was with clarity in terms of the target – presumably cathartic middle class philanthropy… I’m really not sure what their point was), while World Vision et al are drawing attention to the plight of children. Is it wrong to use satire to do this? Is it only wrong when the target isn’t clear? Is it inherently wrong to satirise the vulnerable in order to draw the intended response from those in power?

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