Two weeks ago, my friend Jane asked me how I kept from screaming when I spoke to that wealthy guy with the expensive BMW who complained about high taxes (“The High Cost of Wealth,” 10-14-11). Other readers have wondered how I stayed under control when I met a family stocking up on fattening foods at Safeway because healthy items cost too much (“Supermarket Politics,” 3-25-11). Or whether I was wrongly making fun of the unemployed man at a highway gas station along I-5 who opposed tax increases on the wealthy and wanted government out of Social Security and Medicare (“Tea Party Wisdom,” 8-19-11). One reader took me to task for my list of revenue-producing measures that targeted “un-American” activities (“Let’s Tax Un-Americans,” 9-16-11).
Okay, I’ll fess up—if you don’t already get it. And most of you do. I make up stories to make a point. And of course, I stretch my fictional characters just a bit. Or more. That’s the nature of satire—identifying human foibles and magnifying them to point out greater truths.
It’s in this vein that my new novel, SLICK!, will come out in another week. Set in the fictional Persian Gulf sultanate of Moq’tar, SLICK! skewers Middle East politics and American foreign policy with equal vigor. Yes, SLICK! draws some unflattering portraits of Arab sheiks and American diplomatic personnel—not to mention hyper-capitalism and Islamism. But most of all, it does what all satire should do. It targets hypocrisy. And if people and events in SLICK! sometimes seem over the top, I’ve simply reflected the world as it is.
Think about it. Muammar Qaddafy rules Libya with a bloody hand for over forty years, proclaiming himself “King of Kings.” On top of that he wears costumes out of old Hollywood “B” movies—or is it Frederick’s of Hollywood? Then revolutionaries flush him off his throne, kill him and display him in a meat locker at a shopping mall. You can’t make that up. Or take conservative congressman Larry Craig (R-Minnesota). He staunchly defends family values only to be arrested for seeking to initiate a homosexual encounter. Ditto Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, ejected from office after being outed for gay encounters. And Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, after Wall Street eviscerates America’s economy, exclaims that he’s just “doing God’s work.”
What’s new? When I was young, John F. Kennedy presided over Camelot. Only later did we find out he was head honcho at the White House’s version of “The Chicken Ranch.” And what, you never heard about Richard Nixon’s enemies list? And don’t get me started about Bill Clinton “never having sex with that woman.” You can’t make all that up, either.
Fortunately for the satirist, you can make up a lot of other stuff. A world of material awaits. (I’ll bring out a follow-up to SLICK! set in Central America next year.) That’s why satire is so important to maintaining healthy societies and restoring sick ones to health. The satirist, the comic and the political cartoonist all bring hypocrisy to light using humor, a weapon feared as much by the powerful as guns or bombs. Because the pompously criminal and the criminally pompous dread the light that shines when they’re exposed with their pants down.
And I’m not making that up at all.
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