Weaponized Writing

I have a busy week ahead of me so I’m doing this blog post early (this is meant to be the one for Wednesday the 22; yes my schedule is that crazy). Also I saw something that inspired me. That something was this:

Now, some of you might wonder why museums are relevant to writing and might even (rightly) accuse me of trying to combine coursework for two classes to create less work. The least charitable among you might think “WTF, cartoon cats?” To this imaginary quarrelsome audience, I would respond that it is not about the “what” but the “how.” I’ve written at least forty pages on museums yet somehow in a five minute space of time, two cartoon cats have upstaged me. This is the power of satire. Saying things without saying them.  Subversion through imitation. Using that which is cute and soft to portray some hard and sharp insights. Professors often talk about how form should match content but in this case, by creating a juxtaposition between form and content, the content becomes more powerful in some ways. A kitten criticizing public institutions somehow exposes the ridiculousness of these institutions, which like to portray themselves as august and authoritative, yet the criticisms are not ridiculous. They are enough to make many museum professionals sweat, bluster or go silent.

This brings me to an aspect of writing which we touched on a bit with Orwell but never fully developed. Writing as a means of social change and satire as a means of social change. Orwell has been perfectly serious and for the most part, in our writing for this class, although humor has doubtlessly been employed, satire has been left in the dugout. Writing as social change brings about awareness and is best when it uses the kind of persuasion we find in other kinds of writing; appeals to reason as in Malcolm Gladwell’s work, and appeals to emotion like that of Thomas Paine (the guy who wrote “Common Sense”).  Satire in my mind can be potent as a tool for social change in that it makes you aware by exposing how unaware you were before. It takes societal notions like “museums house valuable objects”, which many buy into and flips them on their head, “museums make their objects valuable.”  I make it sound boring by talking about it this way. The key aspect to satire is what makes it not boring; it’s wit. The way it turns things on their heads. For example, these lines are some of the wittiest, though they are probably only funny to me as a Museum Studies Minor:

“Chances are the museum people who decide what gets to be put in a museum probably don’t have anything in common with you.”

“Inside the objects are usually lined up against blank walls; blank walls are good so that the visitors won’t have to deal with so much context or history .”

“Actually, at first I though that there must be some kind of law against having poor people on a museum’s Board of Trustees.  But then later, I found out that actually there isn’t any law like this. This is just the way they like to do it.”

“It’s like that because no matter how much museum people try to copy reality it’s never going to come out right but then all the museum visitors say this is the actual Pinky [an object on exhibition]. This is very educational.”

A hallmark of satire is using wit as a weapon. When I first read this phrase, most likely in a high school lit book, I didn’t question it. But now I have to wonder who this weapon is aimed at. In the case of this video, which is obviously scripted and perhaps based off of some academic paper, the weapon of wit seems to be aimed not only at museums but at the viewer who buys into them without thinking. People often write to persuade people of something, and this is persuasive, at least to me, but this showed me that people also write to challenge the reader, to challenge society. The relationship between reader and writer can intentionally not be a friendly, chummy one or an authoritative relationship. It can be deliberately advesarial.  instead of appealing to someone’s world view to persuade them (as is often what seems to be meant when we say we’re “writing for an audience”), satire like this video rocks people’s world view.

Here is a link to their website FAQ if you’re interested: http://www.pinkyshow.org/faqs

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