A Satire Deconstructed

Yesterday, I discovered a flurry of traffic sent over by another blogger who critiqued my article about the declining popularity of church teen dances.  I don’t have a problem with this.  We are all entitled to disagree with each other which is one of the perks of living in this country. However, I do think it important to clarify that the article was a satire.

If there’s one thing that’s easy to skewer, it’s a satire when you don’t understand it’s a satire.  By definition, a satire is loaded with outrageous statements, exaggerations, and a healthy does of irony, but it is all tossed out there with a wink and a nod, hoping that the audience gets what you are really driving at.  So while you hope to make people laugh, you run the risk of being considered a monster.   Most of my audience did get it, but there was one who did not. She decided to skewer me, and many of her readers happily participated in the roast.

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Believe it or not, dances were awkward for me too.

This has not the first time a satire has been misunderstood.  Jonathan Swift, the founder and king of satire, gave us A Modest Proposal where he suggested that the English help the Irish poor by buying and roasting and eating Irish children. No, he didn’t think children should be roasted, but his satire did draw attention to the plight of the Irish poor and also rebuked the English who treated the Irish pretty badly.  However, a literal reading of his piece would make one think that Swift was a genocidal manic as does a literal reading of my piece makes me look like the mother of Norman Bates.

I also understand that everyone has a different sense of humor and given that I was writing for a primarily Mormon audience, Ms. Bluemke and the other 233 of you who rebuked me may not understand some of our Mormon culture that provides the framework for this satire.   Ms. Bluemke is obviously intelligent given how well she wrote her article, but ironically, there is a huge misunderstanding here, the very point I was trying make in my satire by showing the huge gap between what parents and their teens want.

So I will be clear about my intent.  I was both pointing out some of the challenges facing our modern dances.   I believe this is due to the generation gap between teens and their parents (and grandparents).   Teens don’t get why so many of the older generation loved dances so much neither do the older generations understand why teens are avoiding them.  I received several e-mails from people who were able to bridge this gap.  One DJ attended a youth dance and found that they were playing music from the 60’s to the 80’s which the teens were clearly not enjoying.  However, when he runs his dances, he plays music that the teens want, and he gets them all dancing.  On the other hand, another couple has had great success by introducing the older dances again—the Chacha, the swing, even the polka, and they are also finding great success.

However, I just got pretty much attacked.   While I was fine with those that disagreed, I did have a hard time with the obscenities, the name calling, and the cruel things said not only about me but about my family.

I understood the risks when I decided to blog about my family.  I have always had concerns about privacy, but I’ve also wanted to reach out to other mothers.  As a lot, we mothers are too hard on ourselves, and I feel that we need to laugh more often.  Writing this blog has helped me see more humor in my life and made other mothers laugh as well. I write mostly about my general incompetence; posts about our unreliable tooth fairy, our boy who keeps swallowing nickels, and my challenges with ADHD. I often let myself be vulnerable too, asking myself whether I am flunking motherhood, which by the way, I’m not. My kids assure me that I’m in very safe C+ territory.  However, I don’t know if I have the stomach for such unkindness especially since I don’t exactly get uplifting comments at home, i.e.,  this dinner tastes gross and Why didn’t you wash my jersey?

There is also a running joke among parents that our other worst critics are people who haven’t had children yet.   How many times have I heard the story about a mother, a grocery store, a toddler throwing a tantrum, and the perky young couple who glare at her and her toddler? For those of you that haven’t raised teenagers yet, parents are generally trying to get teens to do things they don’t want to do (school, homework, shower). Direct confrontations are brutal and so yes we sometimes resort to incentives as well as positive peer pressure. While some of you might think these attempts are quite nefarious, please understand these attempts for what they truly are—desperate.

The rest of this way too long essay will do two things.  

1. Take Apart the Satire

2.  Share ALL the facts so you get a better perspective of what happened at the dance.  

So first, taking apart the satire.  Can I just start by saying how much I don’t want to do this?  I feel like a magician showing you how I do all of my tricks.   The audience doesn’t want to be told how the magician does it but wants to feel like they are clever enough to figure it out for themselves.  Exposing the secret eliminates the puzzle, the fun, and the wonder.  Also, people in general don’t like to be told what to think and satire lets them draw their own conclusions.  (I want you to do the same although I would at least hope we could agree that this is a satire.)

Why write a satire in the first place?  Why not just come out an say it?  I got twice the traffic on Why Aren’t Our Kids Going to Youth Dances? than I did on my highest ranking post before it.  Jonathan Swift had ranted and raved about helping the poor for ages, and no one listened until he wrote a satire that suggested simply roasting the poor children.  Then people started paying attention.

So here goes this tedious task.  The block italicized quotes are the original satire, while the commentary is in normal paragraph form.

I asked my son if he was going to go to the church dance, and he looked at me like I had asked him to jump over the moon. So I called one of his friend’s moms to see if she was making her son go, and a few hours later, a group of boys, some more reluctant than others, were on their way to the church without a basketball.

A miracle indeed.

The purpose of this paragraph was to laugh at the great gap between what parents and what children want.  There’s also a gap between the sexes here as women (and girls) are generally more excited about dances than boys are.

Before my son left, my husband and I offered to pay him a dollar for every girl he asked to dance. He shrugged his shoulders and grunted, which of course means “yes” for a 15-year-old, and we were elated that we had thought of bribing our son to be a gentleman. Innovative parents were we.

Again, I am laughing at this attempt to get our son to be a gentleman because by very definition, a gentleman cannot be bribed.  It would be very dishonorable you see.  The “innovative parents were we” was not to be taken literally, especially since our idea completely flopped on us.  

Then he texted:

There are like 20 people here.

What? I was confused. This tri-stake dance had been well-advertised with posters and plenty of announcements. Surely, the cultural hall would be so packed with kids that they would have to slow dance with each other the entire time. Sigh.

Again, I was exposing the huge gap between a mother’s hope and our oh so modern reality.  Did I really want them to be slow dancing the whole night?  No!  (But, hey a little slow dancing is fine by me.)  I thought that the “sigh” at the end indicated that this was all tongue-in-cheek.

For those of you that are not Mormon, a stake is a group of anywhere from five to ten congregations.  Thus a tri-stake dance would include somewhere between fifteen and thirty congregations, each with roughly two hundred families.  Thus, this truly was a poor turnout as close to a thousand teens had probably been invited to the dance.

I didn’t understand it. Where were all the youths?** Hadn’t they showed up in droves for the trek? Hadn’t the stake been required to charter seven buses?

A trek is where the teens and leaders do a three to four day reenactment of the pioneers pulling their handcarts over the plains to Utah.  True stories are shared as well giving the teens an appreciation for their heritage.

Still, I had high hopes and waited eagerly for my son to come home. There was so much to ask him. With whom had he danced? Had he talked to any girls? Had he actually tried using complete sentences?

But when he got home, he grumbled and turned on the television.

When I tried to pump him for more information, he said, “Mom, it wasn’t like that, OK?”

I grilled him later only to have him say, “I don’t know, Mom. I wasn’t paying attention.”

His dad asked, “What? You didn’t notice whether people were dancing?”

“Well some were kind of jumping around together and then some were doing the Napoleon Dynamite dance and some were just sitting around.”

“When you say jumping around together, you mean they were just jumping all together in one big group?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he answered.

I’m making fun of the overeager mother (and I shamelessly include myself in that group) who waits for her son with high hopes only to have reality hit her like a semi-truck.

Why don’t kids pair off for a dance anymore? Why is  it so hard for boys to ask? Since asking a girl to dance is such a gallant thing to do, and since most 15-year-old boys are dying to be gallant, I don’t see what the problem is.

I truly thought at this point, I was basically announcing that this was all just fun.  The choice to use the word “gallant” was a deliberate one.  Even as Ms. Blumke pointed out, who really uses the word gallant anymore?   (Apparently only people writing satire and overbearing mothers.  I hope I belong only to the first group although yes, I do have my days.)  The choice seemed good because how many 15-year-old boys even know what the outdated word “gallant” means?  For two, assuming a 15-year-old boy knew what the word meant, we all know that the the last thing he’d want to be is gallant. Again, there’s a huge gap between what a mother thinks her son wants and what he actually wants.

It’s why I felt brave enough to write this outrageous section.  Truly, no one thought I was serious?

What can we do about it? I have an idea that will solve this whole problem. Back in the times of Jane Austen, a lady was given a card that allowed fellows to reserve certain dances with her during the night. Those were the good ol’ days, when there were so many men wanting to dance with a girl that she had to make appointments. If a man asked a girl for the first two dances, then whoa! He was pretty into her. She could go home and put that card under her pillow, kissing his name to her heart’s desire!

Maybe we need the dance cards now, but I think it’s the boys’ turn to get them. After a boy asks a girl to dance with him, she signs his card. Three signatures means he gets access to the refreshment table. Since his best friend Joe has been known to down six of Sister Brown’s famous peanut butter cookies in under two minutes, he quickly finds the girl closest to him, mumbles something unintelligible and points to the dance floor. She smiles at him and pulls out her pen.

Maybe 10 dances get him a free trip to Taco Bell.

Parents could be a great support. When the boy comes home, he better have 15 names on his dance card or it’s going to be 15 days before he sees his Xbox again. They may even have to call a few of the girls for verification, just to make sure the signatures aren’t forged by a few of the buddies who proudly claim they can write like a girl, but I’m pretty sure the system will work.

Apparently, many people thought that I really meant this proposal.  Just to be clear on this, NO, I didn’t.  This proposal is ridiculous! Preposterous! If actually implemented, it would be catastrophic! The truth of the matter is, I was just cracking up when I thought of buses parked waiting to take the boys to Taco Bell, the bus drivers being required to check for the ten signatures (in the dark).  But then again, I have a wacky sense of humor.  For the record, I truly do feel for teens who must who must navigate the modern dance.  It’s truly awkward and confusing for both them and the chaperons, and if anything, I think we need to have a little more compassion.

Now some of you may wonder whether this story is really true.  Yes, it is although, in the attempt to mock myself, I painted myself a bit harsher than I really am.

2.  So.  For the entire story.  

Yes, I did call a mother to see if her son was going to the dance.  She called me back to tell me that she was surprised to find out that her son wanted to go to the dance.  The boy and his friends, in turn, invited my son, who went to the dance without any prodding from me.  Was my son still reluctant to go to a dance?  Yes, because it was a dance, but the friend factor trumped all.

Another point of clarity.  We just moved and the transition had been really hard on my son.  While he is usually an extrovert, this move left him feeling insecure and shy.  He was feeling too nervous to invite other kids to do anything, and while he wasn’t thrilled about the venue, he was thrilled to be invited.  Memories, anyone?  (I’ve got loads.)

Did we try to bribe him?  Yes.  Even now I don’t know if it was the greatest idea, but for those of you that haven’t raised teenagers yet, parents are generally trying to get teens to do things they don’t want to do (school, homework, shower). Direct confrontations are brutal and so yes we sometimes resort to incentives as well as positive peer pressure. While some of you might think these attempts are quite nefarious, please understand these attempts for what they truly are—desperate.

Also, yes, I was excited for him to come home after the dance although given his texts, my hopes weren’t too high.  I also admit that I am shameless fan of Downton Abbey, Jane Austen, and any other production that requires a lot of fancy dresses and starched shirts.  That being said, I was mocking myself. Shannon Hale wrote the hysterical Austenland which was about a place where die hard Austen fans could actually live the Austen experience. While even Shannon Hale is an avid fan of Austen, she completely mocks all of us over the top fans in her book and movie (and yes, I loved them both!)  So yes, it is possible to love something and mock yourself for loving that something at the same time.

The conversation between my son and me and my husband actually happened.  (I asked my son more in depth about the dance when I was preparing the essay so I actually took notes.)

Finally, one more think you might like to know. I’m not a mother that forces my son to endure dances every weekend. (For that matter, I’m not really good at getting my kids to finish their homework or brush their teeth, but I digress.)  Before this dance, my son hadn’t been to a church dance or school dance in over a year and neither had his friends in our old neighborhood.  On weekends my son hangs out with friends, playing sports and far more video games than I would like.

The reality is that our church dances are a waning enterprise, and we don’t even know when they are holding a dance nor are we on the ball enough to figure out when they are.  (There’s a pun in there if you look hard enough.)  I don’t blame this on our church; I just that the decline of the dance is following modern trends.

My grandmother used to talk about her dances—dancing all night with boys in the Navy on their way out to serve in World War II.  While I know it’s nostalgic to remember this, I don’t think that looking to the past is an entirely bad idea.  There might be some things that can be rebooted!  (One commenter has been doing just that, and the dances she has been running are all the rage.  Jitterbug, anyone?) However, I think it’s important to look to the future,and the best way to to that is to listen to our teenagers.  So, I hope we’ve cleared the air here!  There’s no hard feelings here.  I will deconstruct my other post about dances tomorrow.  Or maybe next week  Do you guys really need it?

** Mrs. Bluemke criticized my use of the word “youth” saying this made me seem out of touch.  This again is a matter of Mormon culture.  Our church refers to teens as the youth and that encompasses kids ranging from 12-18.  This term has been used by our church for years which is probably why it seems outdated.  We have not switched to the word teen because the church’s definition of youth (12-18) is different than the definition of teens (13-19).  Turning twelve in our church is a big deal since these “youth” get to participate in week night activities, do baptisms at the temple, go to girl’s camp, and go on scout trips.  They are invited to start attending church dances when they turn fourteen.  However, if any of you have another hip word for youth, I will be sure to pass it on!

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13 comments

  1. Ms. Blackburn,

    I am one of the people who took your article seriously. I apologize for not getting your satire. I would say that your article fall under Poe’s Law. I hope your son enjoyed the dance.

  2. There is nothing on your original article indicating it is satire. At the very least, you should admit that you wrote a misleading piece, not chastise others for thinking you were serious when you gave zero evidence to the contrary.

  3. I just read your original article again and you have yet to add an update informing unsuspecting readers that it is in jest. Plus all three of the comments seem to support the article as real.

  4. Mr. Ross, you may have a point. Generally, people don’t announce that they are writing a satire. It’s kind of like announcing that you are about to make a joke. Part of the fun element is the surprise.

    However, given how many people misunderstood and were offended by the article, many I need to put that in anyway. Unfortunately, it was published by another news source and so I can’t change it on my own. I will be in contact with them tomorrow so we can get this all straightened out.

    Thank you for your comments!

    Becky

  5. I just read your article published in the Deseret News. For anyone to take it literally, especially the last paragraph, may need to take an English 101 class. Mr. Ross, since you seem eager to critique’s Becky’s inaccurate use of satire, can you provide me an example of a satirical essay where they make it known prior to reading the article that THIS IS ONLY TO BE TAKEN AS A SATIRE. NOT LITERALLY. Have you ever heard of Steven Colbert? I would hope his audience knows that his whole show is a satire and not to be taken literally. Before you critique something you obviously know nothing about, try learning the definition of satire and sarcasm while you’re at it.

  6. Except that satire is a tool that uses humor and overexaggeration to expose something that is wrong in a situation or a society. Johnathan Swift, as you pointed out, did this to great effect by using the concept of cannibalism to draw attention to the plight of the starving Irish. So what great wrong are you exposing? What attitude or behavior does your article mean to correct?

    I don’t think this is “a satire deconstructed.” I think this is “a furious attempt at backpedaling.”

  7. The wrong? The declining popularity of dances, why are they declining, and the understanding gap between parents and teenagers. You may not agree with me, but I think dances are really important—but I also see such a huge disconnect as the teens don’t understand why the older generation loved them so much and the older generation doesn’t understand why teenagers avoid them. I don’t know how you could possibly think that I am backpedaling if you look at the tone and style of the original piece. I’ve done all I can to explain that all, but you are free to think what you would like.

  8. Really people? We live in a time when our children are socialized by a handheld device in their pocket. If parents are not involved and diligent in their efforts to create for their children (and adolescents) real life experiences with real life people – these kids will spent their entire youth living life as fast as their thumbs can take them.

    Becky is trying to make the point that these dances serve a purpose. She took the time to share her insights with us, and for our enjoyment added some humor into the article. Let’s not trash her for being a good mother who is sharing some much needed wisdom. Apparently the teenagers aren’t the only ones with poor social skills.

    Sheesh!

  9. Anonymous
    November 19, 2014 at 3:58 pm
    Really people? We live in a time when our children are socialized by a handheld device in their pocket. If parents are not involved and diligent in their efforts to create for their children (and adolescents) real life experiences with real life people – these kids will spent their entire youth living life as fast as their thumbs can take them.

    Becky is trying to make the point that these dances serve a purpose. She took the time to share her insights with us, and for our enjoyment added some humor into the article. Let’s not trash her for being a good mother who is sharing some much needed wisdom. Apparently the teenagers aren’t the only ones with poor social skills.

    Sheesh!

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