“Satire is a kind of mirror where everyone sees anything but not himself,” wrote 18th-century Irish author Jonathan Swift.
In addition to writing “Gulliver’s Travels” and wearing a powdered wig, Swift is known for writing one of the most important and best pieces of satire ever penned.
In “A Modest Proposal,” Swift (appeared to) advocate for the idea that poor Irish families should sell any burdensome children they may have as food for the wealthy. The deadpan, dark comedy of the piece was a criticism of the public’s apathetic view toward the poor and of Britain’s oppression of the Irish.
It also raised questions like, “well, if you won’t eat a child, why are you OK with poor children dying from starvation and curable diseases?” Obviously, I’m paraphrasing the subtext — if that’s even possible to do — but it’s a pointed question that is still valid today.
The essay got people upset, as all good satire does.
And, as all good satire tends to do, it got people upset for the wrong reasons. Instead of becoming infuriated at the institutions that would allow for extreme poverty, as Swift intended, they were mad at him for modestly proposing such a horrible idea. Some were angry at the thought that Swift was actually making a literal baby-eating proposal and there were others who got the joke but still found it to be in poor taste (no pun intended.)
Some folks got the joke and liked it. Politician Allen Bathurst, First Earl Bathurst, wrote Swift to jokingly tell him that he tried to convince his wife to sell their “plumpest, finest” child but that she wouldn’t allow it.
Recently, Universal Pictures pulled a satiric horror film, “The Hunt” from its release schedule because we live in a nation that lacks that cool Earl of Bathurst sense of humor.
In a poor marketing move, the film was originally titled “Red State vs. Blue State” before it was renamed to strip away the indication that, yes, it's satire. Judging from the trailer, the film is about a group of wealthy elites that kidnap poor rural folks and then hunt them for sport.
It’s not the newest idea. It’s the same plot as “The Most Dangerous Game,” “The Hunger Games,” “Turkey Shoot,” “Battle Royale,” “Surviving the Game,” “Hard Target,” “Hard Target 2” (I assume, anyway. I didn’t watch the sequel because Van Damme wasn’t in it), “You’re Next” (I think. I fell asleep during that movie) and it's kind of what happens in "Cabin in the Woods" if you happen to feel that the world's richest one percent are also ancient eldritch demons.
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Despite being unoriginal (it was co-written by Damon Lindelof, after all), the idea of the rich preying on the poor is a time-tests and solid metaphor for class warfare and income inequality.
The movie was shelved after President Trump tweeted “the movie” “is made in order to inflame and cause chaos” and that it would be “very bad for our country.”
To be fair, this tweet could also describe the recently-released trailer for that horrifically disturbing “Cats” movie, as well.
The outrage over “The Hunt” seems fairly arbitrary. This weekend a movie called “Ready or Not” with the same exact plot of wealthy people hunting humans is being released. The newest Rambo movie is coming out in a few weeks, which will see aging Vietnam veteran John Rambo travel to Mexico to kill everyone in a cartel to save his friend’s kidnapped child.
The studio behind “The Hunt” released four movies and one TV show in the “Purge” franchise, which has the same basic rich vs. poor theme but with a much more in-your-face anti-government message. They were wildly successful films.
I guess in the wake of recent shootings, America just needs a scapegoat — any scapegoat at all — to avoid actually doing something. Instead of passing laws, it’s easier for those in power to just blame movies and video games and call it a day.
A statement released by Universal stated that the movie may be released one day and that the studio stands by the “bold and visionary” creators. This, of course, is silly. You can’t stand by “bold and visionary” creators while you actively silence them.
The statement goes on to say, “we understand now is not the right time to release this film.”
Nothing could be more wrong. There’s no other time to release this movie. To release the film when it no longer reflects the current political climate it strives to mock and criticize would be pointless. If Jonathan Swift released “A Modest Proposal” in 1970, it would undoubtedly have less impact and bite (pun intended).
Author Philip Roth described satire as “moral outrage transformed into comic art.” It only works when we’re outraged.