Apparently, apologies are in order. From me.
So, yeah, I'm sorry and stuff.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a story about a group of youths that found something disturbing in their fortune cookies after a really kick-ass vegetarian meal at a local Chinese restaurant. Right-wing somethings. Lots of them. So many, in fact, that I thought that the point of the article was obvious.
Judging by both the mail that I've received, and the comments directed at me by various Planet staff members as I've walked through our spiffy new headquarters (there's bauhaus, and then there's warehouse), the column in question did its job far too well. It didn't exactly pull a War of the Worlds or anything, but it flew right by my intentions, toward a horizon that inspired fear — within me, at least — of allegations of willful manipulation of the truth, of partisan hysteria, of Stephen Glass-style fabrication. I didn't want to cause misperception; I wanted to write a funny column that took a serious current-events issue and rendered it more manageable through caricature.
I wrote a fake news story that was intended to lampoon the influence of right-wing causes on mainstream media by suggesting that they'd gone so far as to create a company that delivered conservative sentiments to consumers via the fortune cookies they received after a meal at a Chinese restaurant. Fake. And I thought that the joke was obvious.
I received mail from readers who were outraged at this latest infringement upon Americans' right to decide for themselves. I was bombarded by questions from the Planet's sales staff regarding the location of the fake Asian restaurant in question, and whether or not such a thing could be considered "creepy." I even got an e-mail from a woman who hasn't been able to locate a nice portion of General Tso's Tofu, and was willing to forgive the political leanings of the restaurant's post-dinner treats in order to get one. I have yet to receive one response that assumes what I thought was obvious when I wrote the piece:
That it's a joke.
That it's satire.
I've been taught that good satire is so convincing that folks should be confused. Then again, I've been shown Al Franken, who, for all of his intellect and facility, is perfectly willing to lob some pretty questionable grenades from behind the shield of satire, confident that none of the idiotic Republicans in his target zone are aware that what he's doing isn't satire at all. (Believe me, it hurts me to say it. But Franken and Bill O'Reilly have at least one thing in common — according to each of them, spin isn't spin when it's being spun in the direction of their chosen cause.) Satire is deadpan, satire is indistinguishable from the truth, satire addresses crucial social issues in such a casually blasphemous way that it's scandalous. This is by design; what's more interesting than scandal?
Anyhoo, the best satirical piece written before The Onion perfected the form for hipsters was penned by Jonathan Swift during the Irish potato famine of the early 1700s. "A Modest Proposal," anyone? If you're not familiar with it, you're cheating yourself. If you're not applying it in spirit to everything that happens around you on a day-to-day basis, you're deluded. I won't go into it, other than to let you know that it was such a perfect piece of writing that the folks on the other end of his particularly poisoned pen actually considered what they thought he had in mind — and what they thought he had in mind was cannibalism.
So, yeah, there is no Asian/fusion/whatever restaurant in Tampa named Kimono's. There is no NewsCorp conspiracy to punctuate your exotic meals with little sugary right-wing jingoisms. I made it up. But I made it up for a reason, and the reason is this: in the current socio-political climate, it doesn't sound outlandish at all. It sounds like the next step.
How fuckin' scary is that?
And how scary is it that a number of Planet readers, as bright, equivocal and news-savvy as they are, took it as gospel? I mean, to borrow from Stephen King, I'm so full of shit I squeak going into a turn. I'm not former Planet newshound Fran Gilpin, though I often wish I was and am uniformly disappointed by the results of the comparison (as I'm sure you are as well, dear Planet reader). I don't often write news. And when I do, I try to find the funny in it.
A number of readers and staff members didn't find the whole right-wing-fortune-cookie thing funny.
They found it completely plausible.
That's the scariest thing of all.
So, anyway, I'm sorry.
Now, given what you've read, it's up to you to decide whether or not the above apology is sincere.
Contact Scott Harrell at 813-739-4856, or [email protected].