Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Why Indian Satire Fails

The bite of wit has always come from its ability to connect to audiences by using as few words as possible. It also comes from generating a punch that amplifies itself when it meets the reader's preconceptions and insecurities. Satire has globally exploited these qualities to succeed, with The Onion being, arguably, the best popular publication that religiously follows these principles. Take for instance, this headline: Fucking Loser At Movie All By Himself. It's a great marriage of brevity and an assault on a common unspoken insecurity--it hurts so much that it's funny. This is rarely, if ever, the case with Indian satire publications.

To begin with, Indian satirical publications don't have a good track record when it comes to brevity. One of the biggest enemies that sites like Faking News and The Unreal Times have are commas. Commas prove to be useful tools to journalists when reporting a loaded story, but in satire, where being loaded is not a desirable quality, commas prove to be a nail in the coffin to quality. They destroy brevity by crowding the headline and fuzz the point of the satire, effectively reducing the body to a "funny article". Satire's much more than that, and deserves thoughtful and impacting material.

"Vengeful Punctuation Mark Insulted by Blogger, Attacks His
Mock Satirical Headline."
Another failing is that Indian satire rarely strives to depict scenes that hold true outside the country. Every headline has to be distinctly Indian (Modi, IIN, Congress, AAP, rinse and repeat), effectively shutting us out of international attention and global feedback. The Onion may be based in the United States, but most of its headlines are relevant (and relatable) to international audiences, and this is a testament to their editorial quality and rigour. Most importantly, it shows that they have realized that a universalist perspective is needed to make their satire work. The quality that The Onion has achieved is majorly through this principle that Indian publications are yet to let sink in.

One misconception that might arise is that Indian satire's failing can be attributed to the general lack of education and being "well-read". This is not the case. Nobody illustrates this better than The Caravan, a magazine I respect for its thoughtful analyses of everything from the 1984 anti-Sikh riots to the future of Indian comedy. When The Caravan tried its hand at satire, though, it fell flat. See for instance, this cringeworthy annotated version of Jawaharlal Nehru's Tryst with Destiny speech. I can only attribute the lack of byline to the fact that even the author knew that it was a mess of a piece. Another satire headline that they published recently: Modi Government To Set Up A Department Of Clean Chits Under Home Ministry. The headline exudes the classic journalistic excess that respectable satirists avoid with vigour. The length of the article is enough to make not just humorists, but even open-minded readers nauseous.

This goes to show that satire needs professionals too. And not just professionals from related fields like journalism, but people who write humour for a living. The Caravan clearly doesn't cut it when it comes to satire, because that's not what The Caravan is. Incidentally, that is also what the likes of Faking News (which I resist to call Faking Satire) and The Unreal Times are not. This is because they are not run by humorists, but by an uncertain amalgamation of random contributors and journalists. Professionalism does not have exceptions anywhere, satire included. In a field like satire, where professional standards do exist, but are unclear and often-times unwritten, it is difficult for much quality content to exist, let alone get enough attention to keep itself going.

It is best for satire to be left to those who are best at it--comedians, satirists, and humorists. These are the professionals who can actually string together everything about satire that makes it meaningful and enjoyable. Facebook commenters, journalists, and aspiring journalists (like myself) often find their way into Faking News' bylines, and it is best for us to stay away from a genre that is unwieldy for us, and leave it to those who can make it what it deserves to be.

1 comment:

  1. Just in case you didn't notice, American satire is globally more digestible, because we digest so much information about America and American culture through multiple other sources. And, people like FN are appealing to the LCD, to drive eyeballs to get some revenue.