Ridicule and satire

Tristero at Hullaballo articulates something I’ve been grappling with pretty much my entire career:

The objects of satire are often – always? – respected authority figures or ideas within the culture of the satirist. WITHIN the culture, not OUTSIDE the culture. Even in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, the object of satire is not really the third world country to which Bill Boot has been booted by an editor who confused two Boots. It’s the British press’s hopeless, corrupt reporting from such countries. The satire was directed directly at institutions that were part and parcel of Waugh’s upper class British Twitworld.

In contrast, as I see it, Islam is not part of mainstream Danish culture. Mohammed has no genuine cultural authority the way, say, the royal family might. To call the cartoons satire, therefore, seems to me inaccurate. It’s simply ridicule, and ridicule of a figure from a culture that, from within Denmark – the satirizing culture – is Other. Danes are heaping scorn and humiliation on someone’s religion, someone who is not Us. Someone who doesn’t look like us, doesn’t act like us, doesn’t think like us, isn’t as rich as us. And just can’t be us.

And this is why so many right wingers have suddenly become free speech absolutists on the issue of the Danish cartoons. Right wingers hate satire, but they love ridicule.