Thursday, January 27, 2005

Satire is reality in a crazy world

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:14 AM |  

Good satire is hard to write. It’s easy to succumb to ridicule or to downright meanness. Good satire has two essential elements -- first, good satire has enough truth in the specific situation to make the exaggeration funny, and second the specific folly lampooned has a more general application. This piece today by Andy Borowitz is good satire.

Move Seen as Olive Branch to Women

In an effort to "level the academic playing field," Harvard University President Lawrence Summers announced today that the university would introduce a home economics major designed specifically for its female students.

"Starting in the fall, Harvard will offer home economics for women who find economics too tricky," said Mr. Summers, who called the move "long overdue."

Mr. Summers said that the new courses would help women at Harvard improve their grade point averages, adding, "When it comes to getting busy in the kitchen, women are second to none."

The home ec major, which will consist of courses in cooking, sewing and what Summers called "the allied domestic arts and sciences," is considered a major departure for the curriculum of the storied academic institution. Coming in the wake of Mr. Summers' recent controversial remarks about purported intellectual differences between the sexes, the Harvard president's decision to introduce a home economics major for women was widely seen as an olive branch of sorts.

But the move may have backfired, as an angry mob of female faculty members protested outside his office today, demanding his immediate ouster and burning Mr. Summers in effigy.

In a meeting with the protesters, Mr. Summers promised that he would recruit additional women to the Harvard faculty but refused to tell the protesters how many: "I don't want to fill your heads with a lot of big numbers you won't understand."
First, following this controversy, one gets the sense that Summers' remark that women may not have the same innate abilities in math and science as men is something that he really believes. One need not even read between the lines of his non-apology apology. From the Boston Globe --
In response, Summers wrote that he did not believe "that women lack the ability to succeed at the highest levels of math and science."

"I apologize for any adverse impact . . . on our common efforts to make steady progress in this critical area," he [Summers] said in a return letter sent within hours of hearing from the committee [protesting his remarks].
One can almost hear him saying, "When it comes to getting busy in the kitchen, women are second to none.”

Second, Harvard establishing a home economics class is exactly the kind of program a “redemptive liberal” would put in place to show “sincere remorse.” One need look no further than the plethora of welfare programs that are implemented that do more to make liberals feel good than are of actual help to intended recipients -- programs that no one ever dare call into question.

The satiric irony is that a Home Economics major at Harvard would only hold women back. We laugh at that notion. But today's liberals fail to note the same irony in the notion that only white beneficence can pull minorities out of poverty. In fact, that attitude, as would home economics at Harvard, only domesticates the people it intends to serve. It does not empower them.

[Sneaky how we got into a serious discussion with a bit of light humor, isn’t it? But then all life is metaphor.]

Case in point. This week I attended a lecture given by Rebbeca Nieves Huffman, a highly-degreed Hispanic woman and President of Hispanic CREO, an organization promoting educational opportunities for Hispanic children. Following her prepared presentation, she opened for questions. A woman from the Minnesota Department of Education asked about a current state program that buses kids from the inner city to the suburbs. She wondered why the Hispanic kids didn't take advantage of it.

Ms. Huffman was professional and gentle explaining cultural issues and some types of possible outreach programs. Then a young Hispanic man from the audience (I’d met him earlier in the day at San Miquel School in Minneapolis, where he has a daughter and nieces and nephews) was given the microphone. Basically he told the woman from the MDE that Hispanic parents didn’t send their kids to the suburbs because they are afraid their kids would get the crap beat out of them.

The woman from the MDE didn't get it. The Hispanic community doesn’t necessarily want to send their kids to “white” schools. They want good neighborhood schools -- integrated by the make-up of the neighborhood. No parent of any color wants to put his kid on a bus for a couple hours everyday just to send her to a school where she has no common ground for building solid relationships with her classmates.

But nonetheless, you know damn well that some politician, (as Borowitz portrays Summers) is going to claim this program for credit with minorities.

Rethinking -- perhaps the world is more satire than metaphor.

UPDATE: Proofing this, Ijust noticed that Borowitz uses the hackneyed word "storied" for humorous effect. Now I get it. The Mark Dayton paen in the Pioneer Press was satire! (Slapping hand to forehead.) Silly me!