The world isn’t perfect. In fact, some parts of it are SO not perfect that even talking about the imperfections will get you dirty looks and cold shoulders. This presents a problem if you are the sort of person who wants to actually do something about the various injustices and inequalities out there, or at least make them more visible to those who can. In the past, there was a tool available to deal with these sticky situations. It was called satire. You could mock, parody, and exaggerate the issue at hand until the absurdity was glaringly clear. Evidently, you can’t do that anymore.
Jonathan Swift was an Irish essayist way back in the 17th and 18th centuries. Lots of people remember him for Gulliver’s Travels, but he wrote another short work that I like to reference periodically. It is called A Modest Proposal. This essay humbly suggests that, if the poor of Ireland wish to get out of their predicament, they ought to sell their children as food to the rich. Now, Swift was not a cannibal poet, though I think we can all agree that is an awesome thought, and I’m going to name my band that. He was joking. In the piece, he lists off a handful of more valid ideas as being worthless idiocy. These were ideas that people in real life thought couldn’t be more extreme and unworkable. The “let’s all eat some baby” idea proved that there were worse options available. The very fact that we are still talking about this, and that it isn’t considered one of the most deplorable books in the history of man, suggests that people got the message as it was intended.
Now let’s jump ahead a few hundred years. The good folks at Twisted Pixel produce a game called Comic Jumper. I’ll let you guys recover from the cultural whiplash for a moment. I realize that “Colonial Era Political Poetry” to “Video Game About Comic Books” is kind of a sharp change in direction, but they share similar methods. You see, there is a depressingly large swath of the Internet public who insist that CJ was a work hostile to women. The main character is, shall we say, unenlightened in his attitudes regarding the opposite sex, and his chest-mounted cohort Star is even worse. They don’t have a healthy attitude toward women, and the situation goes down hill when they enter a comic based in the silver age of comics, back in the sixties. The villain is a woman named “Mistress Ropes”. She wears an apron. She has a space station shaped like a rolling pin. She is a villain because she demands equal rights. It wasn’t exactly subtle.
I could completely understand the outrage and dismay some people have shown if Twisted Pixel was depicting the main character as a role model, but that is not the case. I’m going to issue a SPOILER ALERT now, but one would assume that after this much time any fan big enough fan or reviewer professional enough to actually play the game to completion would have done it by now. The punch line of the entire title is that Captain Smiley learns NOTHING. He throws away the alliances he earned, produces an over the top exaggeration of his first comic over again feeling that more explosions is the answer, and ends up alone and penniless after he is swindled by the developers of the game. The only person in the game who is legitimately competent and useful is a woman named Gerda, and failing to respect her advice is what screwed the protagonist over. The one character who is a bigger womanizer than the hero resorts to building robot women, and ends up cowering from little girls. This is not a game glorifying the mistreating women. This is a game illustrating that only idiots mistreat women.
And therein lies the issue. At some point it became socially incorrect to actually depict the behavior you are trying to counter-indicate. Maybe it is just me, but regardless of the lesson I am trying to learn, examples always streamline the process. Right vs. Wrong. Goofus and Gallant. It is the essence of education. Driver’s Ed teachers help you appreciate why you should take driving seriously by showing you a drunk driver smeared along three miles of interstate. Firefighters show you why you should follow the correct procedure for deep frying a turkey by causing a massive culinary fireball. South Park shows you why moderation is important by showing the people of the town going overboard on both sides of an issue. People have become so uptight, though, that Goofus is officially out of a job. Which raises a question: How do you show the error in one’s ways if you aren’t allowed to show them making the error? “Hitler did some really bad things. I won’t tell you what they are, or show you any pictures, but trust me when I say that whatever it was, it was bad, and you shouldn’t do it.” “Here’s an episode of the Care Bears. Note how they are happy. Therefore, don’t do drugs.” I question the logic of trying to educate by providing less information, rather than more.
I’m not going to say that Comic Jumper is a subtle treatise on the evolving role of women in popular culture and the workplace. In this case, the satire was there mostly for laughs, but the degree and motivation in no way decrease its effectiveness. If you are willing to give the creators of something the benefit of the doubt and resist the knee-jerk outrage reaction when they touch upon one of your pet topics, I think you’ll find that more often than not, there is a message you can agree with. Then again, if you were the sort to calmly apply logic and reason to things that don’t seem to warrant such, you probably didn’t have a problem with CJ to begin with. And if you aren’t? Well, you probably didn’t make it to this sentence.