In Defense of Sarcasm & Humor: A Response to the Earnest
When I was 10, helping my father—the pastor—to prepare for a baptism, I'd hop into the baptismal pool and give a dramatic, Unshackled-style before-and-after testimony, complete with tears, a Damascus road moment, and a changed life. At 15, I'd intone pious-sounding nonsense in what I called my "Christian talk-radio woman" voice. It was a revelation when I discovered the now-defunct Wittenburg Door, a religious satire magazine, and I watched Saturday Night Live—church lady and all—with guilty, absorbed pleasure, though, in fact, my rather conservative parents were not bothered by my love for satire. If anything, they encouraged it, enjoying the irony the first time I was interviewed on Christian talk-radio: now I really was a Christian woman voice on the radio.
The ways we humans speak and behave follow conventions. We perform expected roles and speak conventional lines, and there's nothing wrong with it. Liturgy is right and good and serves important purpose. I wouldn't want Thanksgiving dinner to be a completely different meal every single year—I expect that sweet potatoes will make some kind of appearance—but I don't necessarily need them marshmallow-topped. In other words, we like our traditions—even our traditional ways of speaking and acting.
But every now and again, we love us a good remix, and sarcasm is just that. Last year, our own Karen Swallow Prior skewered the worst Christian clichfamp;copy;s and it became one of Her.meneutics' all-time most popular posts. It's fun—and funny—to look closely at the ridiculous things we all do and say.
Writing for Her.meneutics recently, Micha Boyett rightly pointed out (in response to discussion between Ann Voskamp, Tim Challies, and Beth Moore) that we are in a cultural moment that's rife with irony: "We see everything with an eye roll." It's true: many of us are jaded and suspicious of earnest claims. But to me, sarcasm is a kind of truth-telling. It has the ability to see conventions as conventions, clichfamp;copy; as clichf©, insincerity for what it is.
There's a good reason Jon Stewart is, for many people, the king of information. By posturing as "just" a comedian, Stewart exposes the hypocrisy and absurdity in "straight" journalism and in politics. I sometimes think of him as an analog to the Preacher in Ecclesiastes (no, I'm not claiming Stewart is divinely inspired), who walks through the world seeing injustice in the place of justice, envy, and self-interest as primary motivators, and folly and futility at the end of it all. The style, if you'll excuse the clichf©, resonates.