Satire And Baekdal’s Sad Feelings For Jeff Jarvis

There was, according to your perspective, a hysterically funny/horribly wrong clash on the internet about somebody named or not named Jeff Jarvis.  One Jeff Jarvis (not the pediatrician, @drjeffjarvis, but the egomaniac who thinks he’s the only Jeff Jarvis in the world).

The fake Jeff Jarvis published a piece about the real Jeff Jarvis in Esquire, and the real Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor, used his clout to get Esquire to remove it. Which, naturally, caused all hell to break loose, especially when the real Jeff Jarvis made law-noise, because what about his rights?!? For a ‘splainer, see Ken White’s dissection at Popehat.

In defense of his friend’s honor, a fellow named Thomas Baekdal propounded the curious challenge of arguing that satire is only satire if you tell everyone it’s satire.  Otherwise, it’s a lie.

The first thing you think when hearing about this is ‘that it can’t be right’. How can a professor of journalism be instrumental in taking down a satiric article? Doesn’t that go against everything we know as journalists? Aren’t we supposed to protect satire as a form of free speech?

Well, yes. But this wasn’t satire.

A rather firm conclusion by Baekdal. And his rationale?

The problem wasn’t really the story, but that people didn’t know that it was a satire. When people arrived at Esquire’s site, they would only see the byline ‘By Prof. Jeff Jarvis’.

And this is where the problem lies.

Restraining myself from the urge to respond, “Cite?” is kinda hard. “People”? Did Baekdal take a survey? I’m skeptical that anyone authorized Baekdal to speak on behalf of the “people.” Perhaps recognizing that he’s treading on idiotic ground, he devolves into Gertruding:

Let me say this first. Satire is a very important form of free speech. Nobody wants to outlaw satire. In fact, satire is often instrumental in raising important questions and topics that are often hard to convey using more serious forms of reporting. And our history is littered with great examples of satire that have both been in the public interest, and acted for the public good.

So satire is “very important” when it’s in the “public interest” and serves the “public good”? Putting aside the fact that Baekdal adds these free speech qualifications out of his ass personal sense of values, he steps back from the precipice just as he’s about to teeter off the edge.

So we need satire, and not just the good kind. We need satire because of satire. It’s vitally important for a healthy and free society.

The problem, however, is that satire is also a form of deception. It’s basically a lie, used creatively to raise important questions or issues.

And what makes the difference between something being satire and something being a lie, is whether people realize it.

Boom. There’s his point. The difference between satire and lies is whether people realize satire to be satire.  Upon being schooled (see Popehat) in the legal absurdity of his rationalization on behalf of his buddy, Jarvis, he tries to wrap up his argument in the latest rhetorical craze.

After publishing this article, I got a number of (angry) comments over at Twitter, saying that my definition of satire is completely wrong and dangerous.

The main argument appears to be that it shouldn’t be up to the stupidest of readers to define whether something is satire or not. In other words, just because people don’t know that it’s satire, doesn’t mean that it isn’t.

Also, some people went on to say that satire is not defined by the readers at all, but by the intention of the creator.


Angry comments? Not up to the stupidest reader? Intent of the creator? Okay?

But that doesn’t change my original point that it is only satire if people know about it, or potentially realize it afterward.

Conceding that he’s dead wrong on the law, and that there will always be someone stupid enough not to recognize satire for what it is, he persists. Logic not being his strength, he tries to make his point by a couple of anecdotes which conclusively prove he sucks at arguing. It might also prove he’s unaware of logical fallacies, except he apparently grasps that inductive reasoning is the last refuge of idiots, and shifts gears:

You see my point?

Satire only becomes satire when it’s revealed as such. If a publisher never reveals it, it is just lying.

This the key, and the point I’m trying to make. Legally, you might disagree with me, but ethically it’s pretty obvious. Satire and lies are two different things, differentiated by the knowledge of the intention of why it was done.

And so, it’s ethics. Not just ethics, but “pretty obvious” ethics.  Because . . . Baekdal says so. Because . . . the virtue of speech is determined by the recipient rather than the sender, which has become the dominant perspective of those who would silence hate speech as well.

Speech is no longer determined by what one says, but by what someone else hears. It may not be the “legal” reality, but it’s real to those who feel entitled to make up their own rules for speech.

So, our responsibility to our readers is much higher today than ever in the past. Again, legally, it’s a gray zone. But as a publisher, it’s really not.

Some people will still be fooled. I mean, there are people who believe the Earth is flat. But my point is that it’s not the goal for a publisher to mislead its readers, not even through satire. The goal is to enlighten the readers, to do something eye-opening. And sometimes, satire is a great way to do that.

But only if people realize that it’s so.

If Baekdal wants to give satire trigger warnings at the top of his writings, go for it. But to the extent he believes he gets to make the rules for anyone else, he’s just another guy who mistakenly thinks his feelz are so important that they should be applied to the rest of the world.  Just like every other narcissistic and unduly sensitive dumbass. Like the people too stupid to get satire that they need someone to explain it to them. Like his buddy, Jeff Jarvis.

15 thoughts on “Satire And Baekdal’s Sad Feelings For Jeff Jarvis

    1. SHG Post author

      I considered whether to include a link in this post, but decided against it. I really couldn’t care less about Jarvis, per se, but about the harm guys like him and Baekel are doing to law, logic and thought in the process of rationalizing away their personal butthurt.

  1. Thomas Downing

    Wow, this Thomas Baekdal must be really clueless. Or maybe it’s just his complete lack of anything resembling a sense of the absurd.

    I had never heard of Jeff Jarvis, or Prof Jeff Jarvis, until today. I haven’t read an issue of Esquire since maybe 1978. I hardly qualify as familiar with the writer or the publication, or the subject. I might be pardoned for thinking that this thing was straight news – for the first couple of paragraphs. But before long the satire becomes so broad that it is self-evident even without any contextual knowledge.

    Baekdal’s opinion piece is so full of rot it makes my brain hurt.

    1. SHG Post author

      And you figured it all out without anyone giving you a trigger warning. You must not be one of the “People.”

    2. Christopher Best

      I’ve actually been a fan of Jeff Jarvis in the past. Even if I wasn’t, though, this piece was such an obvious joke it almost ceased being funny. There’s no way anyone thought this was serious. The worst I could see is someone thinking Jarvis was parodying himself.

      Jeff’s honestly hurt my feelings by acting this way. He’s always championed the importance of free speech (you know, like you’d EXPECT of a Journalism professor). But now suddenly it’s NOT okay? How is that right?

      Won’t someone think of MY feelz?

  2. Lucas Beauchamp

    How would anyone know that this paragraph from the maybe-fake Jeff Jarvis’s article was satire?

    “Similarly, instead of vesting too much authority in one person, the President of the United States, with all the temptations for abuse that centralizing power entails, we can and will distribute our power. Netizens will be co-opted to both fly drones over Pakistan, East Africa, and other trouble spots, and also to make the difficult call: Does this house really look like it is harboring terrorists? And should we deploy a Hellfire missile at the house or not? Cast your votes!”

    Only the parallelism error in the second sentence gives a clue that something is not right.

  3. Erik H.

    Satire is harder and harder to recognize these days. Anyone who reads online news must find their “you’ve got to be kidding; nobody would say/do/think THAT!” filter to be wrong surprisingly often.

    If I read the whole thing, or if knew Jarvis (I don’t) it would be obvious satire. But when I first read it I skimmed the first paragraphs, concluded “oh, he’s one of those people,” and moved on without further thought.

    It’s unquestionably protected speech. And it should unquestionably be protected speech. But as Popehat notes, it probably sucks for Jarvis.

    1. SHG Post author

      Nobody likes to be the target of satire. Nobody blames Jarvis for being pissed about it. It’s the claim that he and his friends are making that because it doesn’t come with a trigger warning it’s not satire but a LIE!!!

  4. Scarlet Pimpernel

    What I find amazing is how prescient Baekdal was when he wrote the following in an article found on his web site here [ED link deleted per rules].

    ‘I had the chance recently to discuss the future of the internet with a group of young entrepreneurs. Beyond being affected by their enthusiasm and excitement, I was stuck at the innovative solutions they were working on to real world problems. Problems that, in hindsight, seem to be custom made for solutions that utilize the crowd sourcing of Netzens. One team in particular impressed me with their creative approach to technology. Recognizing the difficulties that publishers, editors, writers, college administrators and professors have in determining what qualifies as “free speech”, they are in the process of developing a smart phone app that utilizes a unique up/down voting system to definitively resolve those issues. But beyond a single app, their long term goal is to utilize the data they gather and apply the computer learning developed by Microsoft, so that questions regarding “speech”, “satire” or other difficult concepts can be resolved proactively rather than reactively.’

  5. Marc not-R

    I know @drjeffjarvis . . . Really nice guy, was in school with him a long time ago (though after my time far above Cayuga’s waters). Too funny that he comes up here in a post about satire, the first amendment and egomaniacs.

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